“The secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage.”
To the best of my knowledge, the above clip represents my official debut on You Tube- courtesy one of our intermediate students- and yes, I did agree to it being posted
When we get to the end of May and into June two things intensify in most schools; the heat and the level of stress. It’s true that the last month of school can be a time filled with lots of great memories and traditions but it also a time where families get busy with out of school activities and the nights get later, while students and staff are working to complete the many end of year assignments and responsibilities that are part and parcel of the school year. Included in this time frame is the annual provincial EQAO assessment written by all our grade 3 and 6 students- a two week process that, in spite of our best efforts, always increases the level of stress that both the children and adults in the building feel.
This year, we’ve tried to keep our May and early June as quiet and on-routine as possible and really scaled back some of the events and activities that were previously part of this time of year- and it has helped. Keeping routine is a critical component of an effective school- regardless of what we may think- children crave routine and are quick to let us know through their behavior when we deviate from the norm.
Keeping our routine, however, doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun- especially at this time of year! So, when our students challenged me to perform a Justin Bieber song after they had exceeded the target for funds raised in our spring dance-a-thon I agreed and set to work.
The theme of this month’s assembly was courage so I decided that, rather than lip synch ‘JB” I would put myself out there and belt out a tune at our May assembly for students, staff and parents- scary as it was, it was a lot of fun! I’m very grateful to Shane Jeffers; one of our Classroom Tutors, for his skilled guitar playing and harmony. The video does a nice job of capturing the moment; you can hear the kids chiming along, see the arms waving and the dancing and the laughter. This dancing and laughter was not particular to my little piece- I was proud to follow a wonderful, lively song and dance by our Mrs. Jagoe’s Kindergarten class and a drop-dead brilliant flash mob by Ms McAlear’s grade 6 class- the same grade 6 students who spent the previous 4 days writing the EQAO assessment!
The dichotomy of a public school is intriguing: as serious a business public education is; it is equally essential that our schools be places of joy and fun- and the adults have an important role in modeling this for our students and families. I’ll close with a great quote from Todd Whitaker; a former school principal who now writes and speaks widely, that has always stuck with me:
“We are very fortunate to work in education; sometimes we just forget how blessed we are. By consistently filtering out the negatives that don’t matter and sharing a positive attitude, we can create a much more successful school. Consciously or unconsciously, we decide the tone of our school.” ~Todd Whitaker~
Serious business, this fun thing, serious indeed
While our daily focus remains on the well-being and learning of our students we are starting to lay the foundation for the school year that will begin next September. We have scheduled our Welcome To Kindergarten information session for the evening of Thursday, June 6th at 7:00 and are looking forward to meeting our new JK students and families at that event.
We are also starting to plan the class placements for the students that we already have. Class placement is a complex and comprehensive process that involves a great deal of time and consideration. We seek input from the current teacher(s) and our support staff and Special Education staff when needed. We also seek input from parents and guardians.
The following link is the Class Placement Form 2013 that parents may download so they may have an opportunity to provide input into the class placement. On the form you will have the chance to share some information about your child that we may not know- emerging interests or peer concerns that you feel may help us in making our placement decisions. Please note that there is no space on the form for a parent to request a teacher. Staffing changes and circumstances present too many variables to make this viable and I don’t believe in offering something unless it can be delivered.
Though we value your input, the placement decision is ultimately one that we make here at the school.
Democracy works best when we have the leisure to do some hard thinking together. ~Deborah Meier~
Of all the issues we deal with as a school bullying is, by far, the most volatile and and delicate. In the range of issues I manage as our principal it fits into that box labelled ’important and urgent’. The reasons for this can be rhymed off by most of us, parents educators and students, with fluency; perhaps not with the urgency and potency of the poetry that is linked to this post.
We all know that ‘bullying’ is an issue in schools. We know this because bullying is an issue in our society and schools are nothing more than a DNA samples of our communities; with one important difference, of course. Unlike our communities, in schools our children co-mingle and co-exist in very close proximity, sorted by age with adult supervision that is far different, in both ratio and role, than they experience in their families and homes.
It is in our public schools that our children receive their first, and longest lasting, impressions of what the ‘real world’ is all about; struggles, joy, despair, triumph, cruelty, justice and injustice- all played out on a daily basis. I’m pretty certain that each of us has as a goal the elimination of bullying, it would be pretty hard to advocate for this type of behaviour. But, this goal is both complex and demanding- and achieving it will require that we make some significant changes to the way we operate our schools.
Many of our most deeply and dearly held school traditions will need to be examined if we really wish to tackle this issue here at Park Ave. PS. The emphasis on competition, incentives and rewards; reflected in practices like honour rolls and awards; though greatly appreciated by the ‘winners’, do need to be examined. If we set as our common goal the creation of of a school that is truly inclusive; then we will need to take a hard look at all our practices and ‘do some hard thinking together.’
For me, bullying is a manifestation of the absence of empathy- the cold, hard application of ‘me first’. As a father, I know too well the protective instinct I have for my children- and how easy it is for me to place the interests and needs of my children before those of others. It is the struggle I have to find a place in my heart for the children of my neighbours that is tested when my children go to school. These are the conversations I have as our principal when I am working with families inside that ‘important and urgent’ box. I know that each of our parents send the best children they have to our school every day. And I know that these children struggle to learn who they are, make mistakes and, as a result, often hurt one another in many ways- the poem by Shane Koyczan illustrates just how impactful those hurts can be.
Our staff know I’m fond of using witty, pat phrases and one of my favorites is ‘I don’t just want to take the skeletons out of the closet, I want to dance with them!’ I’m proud that we will be focusing on bullying awareness, inclusion and the issue of homophobia on Pink Shirt Day this Wednesday and I’ll be wearing pink with pride.
I want more than another shirt day though, I want us to have a real conversation about how we can work on this in a democratic, inclusive and impactful manner- do you?
“We shape our tools and then they shape us.” Marshall McLuhan
We had a great conversation at our Parent Council meeting this week on the changes that are underway here at Park Avenue P.S. Some may know that our staff and students have been quietly re-tooling; changing the way that we use technology for teaching and learning. Specifically, our staff and students are exploring the ways we can use mobile devices as tools for learning.
If you look carefully, you will see evidence of this all over the school. Several of our classes have been engaging in a pilot project on the ways we can incorporate students’ personal technology (iPods, tablets) into daily learning, how to appropriately use web-based learning systems like Edmodo and many of our primary classes have launched class blog sites.
As a first year principal, I take a great deal of pride in how willing our staff have been to embrace these innovations. Not only because I believe they are important innovations that our public schools need to adopt but also because these are observable and tangible evidences that provide me with feedback on the impact of my leadership. It’s important to note that everyone, even school principals, want to make a difference. It’s also important to note that all of these changes trace directly back to our school improvement plan goal to continue to work to ensure our school is inclusive, our learning is inquiry-based and our practices are innovative.
The video above gives a poetic view of how we can help our children learn that the tools we have now do allow for meaningful connections- to, as my friend Royan Lee often says, ‘expand and not escape.’ Of course our teachers play a critical role, as parents do, in guiding and structuring this learning. This is why we have provided many of our teachers with iPads so they may inquire into the ways that these tools can support their professional learning and their classroom practice.
At our Council meeting, some of our parents did admit that all this ‘hopey-changey stuff’ was putting them on a pretty steep learning curve and that is perfectly understandable. For many adults, when we enter a school, we expect it to be the school that we attended rather than the school that it could (and should be) in the now. Too often, I’m afraid this remains the case.
My colleague Jackie Gerstein has written a great blog post that breaks down how the evolution of the internet has and can impact the pedagogy and practice in our classrooms. Another great read is the book Too Big to Know by American author David Weinberger.
Schools only work when there is trust and trust exists when all stakeholders feel they have a voice and a choice. As parents and community members I hope you feel welcome to ask questions about the changes we are undertaking; why, when and how. I also hope you will feel that you can also respond; through conversations, notes and to these blog posts- it’s pretty simple all you have to do is click in the Leave a Reply box and share your voice- and you are all welcome to do so.
“One kind word can warm three winter months.” ~Japanese Proverb~
Like our wild and varied winter weather, the past few months have brought challenges, and many questions. In the midst of these events swirling about; weather and otherwise, we have remained focused as a school community on the well-being and learning of each of our students.
This past Friday the staff spent part of the day reviewing our School Improvement Plan; working together to identify some key areas for us to focus on over the rest of the school year. To start the day off, I shared a short video, produced by the Dalai Lama Centre, titled Educate the Heart. The two minute video, embedded above, speaks softly about the importance of educating both the mind and the heart.
It’s true that schools are usually seen as places where children develop their academic skills and talents; however, while not diminishing the importance of these capacities, equally important is the role that schools plays in helping our children develop into caring and thoughtful citizens. It is a given that in school and in life; we will face conflict and challenges. As a staff, we are committed to supporting our students in this area.
We provide our students with opportunities to lead in these areas with programs like our student Conflict Managers, Lunch Monitors and Reading Buddies. We invite community partners like the York Region Police and Covenant House in to share experiences and expertise through the VIP and outreach programs. Our students also benefit from the many parent and family members who bring their time and talents right into our school as volunteers, School Assistants and School Council members. All these are important, but there is more to be done.
Later on this month each of our students will bring home their first term report card. As you read through the report with your child, we hope that you will have the opportunity not only to celebrate the learning that they have accomplished since September, but also the growing they have accomplished in the Learning Skills.
After all, if the world now expects each of us to be life-long learners, then these learning skills may be better thought of as living skills, essential for our students to become the people we all wish them to be.
“The harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions the more likely there’s gold in letting go of them.” John Seely Brown
I snapped the photo above this morning during our staff professional learning session. The photo was taken while our entire academic staff; Educational Assistants, Early Childhood Educators and Teachers were exploring some media as part of our BYOD Staff Meeting. For those who are acronym weary (or wary) BYOD means ‘Bring Your Own Device’; a process that is growing in popularity in schools due to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets among our student population.As a school we are beginning to wrestle with the challenges of incorporating student-owned devices into our learning environment, a departure from the past practice of banning them. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.
A big part of our school improvement plan focus is learning how to teach and lead classrooms in this type of environment. For most of educators this is a big shift and the caution and care we are taking as we navigate this shift is critical; for our students, parents and for our staff. This is one of the reasons why we are investing in tablets for our staff to use as teaching and learning tools and refreshing our school technology inventory. It is also why we are looking at the careful introduction of the use of student personal devices as learning tools at school and why we were tinkering with our own devices today. In order to lead it, we have to learn it~ and we have lots to learn.
The nice part about today was the fact that all of us were together learning, again. We all know that last few months have, in many ways, not been business as usual, with the labour issues consuming time and attention. It’s important for me to point out that during this time our classrooms have continued to be places where children have been safe, secure and happily learning. Over the past few months I’ve observed focused, rich teaching and learning and I’ve had the chance to work closely, at the classroom level, with many of our staff. But, I did miss the chance for us to meet together as a staff to learn.
When kids ask me what my ‘job’ is I tell them I have two; making sure everyone in our school is safe and ensuring that everyone (students, staff and parents) is learning. It’s important for parents to know that on most PA Days, like today, we are at the school learning.
Of course, the other highlight of the day was the opening of JK registration. One of the things I love about my job is greeting our new JK students and parents (especially those who are registering their first born). Though I missed a few families, I had the chance to welcome most of our new families today and that; along with our staff learning session, made today a good day.
“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.” May Sarton
The muggy days of early September are a faded image in the rear mirror of our school year and we find ourselves at the end of the first third of our school year. In the true sense of the word we’ve had an eventful start to this year, especially in the past few weeks. In the midst of these events is important for me to note a few things that, I believe, truly reflect the essence of our Park Avenue PS community.
Our staff, students and families led another successful Holiday Toy & Food drive and we are grateful to the staff, School Council and Student Council members who sorted and organized our hampers in preparation for delivery. Our staff were also very grateful for the parents (pictured above) who provided lunch hour supervision so the entire staff could gather for a holiday luncheon. These little acts of kindness, accumulated, are what make our school a special place.
I’ve had the chance to spend a great deal of time in the halls, dropping in to classrooms and out in the yard over the past few weeks, spending time talking with students and getting to know them in a variety of authentic contexts and they’ve had the chance to get to know me better as well. They’ve learned that the least likely place they can usually find me is in the office and that they can usually count on me to greet them as they arrive in the morning and wish them a pleasant evening as they leave. Being visible, being available and being involved; for staff, parents and students, these are the most important things to me as our school’s principal.
One thing I have noticed is the student’s growing awareness of my presence online, through this blog, my own Twitter feed, @bharrisonp and our school Twitter site @ParkAvenuePS. More of them are reading this blog, more are stopping by the Twitter sites and some are even following. This is a good thing; my goal is to help create another source of connection for us as a school community and model for our students the positive ways that we can use social media. A reminder, you do not have to have a Twitter account to access the feeds, just type either name in a search bar and the link will pop up.
I’ve been talking a lot with our older students this week for lots of reasons and one of the suggestions I’ve made to students and parents as we approach the holiday is to unplug for a bit; turn off the connection devices and invest some face to face time with family and friends. That’s what I’ll be doing so you can expect our school social media spaces to go dark for a few weeks while I rest, let my thoughts wander and relax.
So, on behalf of our Park Avenue PS staff; I wish you a happy holiday season and a New Year filled with opportunity and will look forward to continuing our work together on Monday the 7th of January, 2013.
“The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief.” William Shakespeare
I snapped the photo above this morning as our students, staff and parents sorted through the proceeds from our annual holiday food and toy drive in preparation for delivery to some of our families and our friends at the fire service. We have a couple of park bench style chairs that sit astride a round table in the foyer of our school that I often sit in during the school day. Many of these blog posts are actually written as I sit in this spot. I like the fact that the chairs are right by the front door so I’m able to greet visitors and parents as they stop by the school. I also love the fact that the foyer sits at the intersection of the three main hallways in our building; by the gym and library entrances, so I get to see lots of kids as they move around the school.
It’s pretty quiet now, as our students are all in classrooms learning, likely in the half distracted state that the week before a holiday often brings. As I it here I’m thinking about my principal colleague at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Dawn Hochsprung; like me a 47 year old elementary school principal who was active on Twitter. I can only imagine the shock she must have felt, and can only admire the protective instinct that prompted her to rush towards the intruder. I think about the many courses and workshops and training sessions that we as principals are involved in; trying to prepare us for every possible incident that could occur in a school and wonder how could one ever prepare for that.
As parents come and go, dropping off lunches, picking up kids for appointments I realize how open and inviting our little public schools is~ we have protocols that ensure all but our main entry door is locked all day, we have a CCTV system with an office monitor and our school office is located right in the main entry and we have an experienced staff who know our community and know our parents. One image I can get out of my mind is the school sign for Sandy Hook; with the message “Visitors Welcome” in black block letters across the bottom. How do we reconcile the role of the school in engaging young learners with the larger world while keeping them safe from the tragedy and threats that exist in that world?
Lastly, I’m thinking about the communications that our staff and I have received from parents over the past few days. Quiet offers of support, a squeeze to the arm, a smile. Some concerns about whether, and how, we would be addressing the events. Of course, we did respond to the events as they were raised by our students; appropriately, with sensitivity and discretion and, I believe, the same mix of admiration and sadness that I feel in the wake of this event. More than ever, the world comes into our school in a myriad of ways and there was no way we could’ve stemmed the media accounts of this event from reaching our children. I’m appreciative and proud of the way in which our staff supported and guided our students in these discussions, some very brief and some much longer.
The school I lead is not perfect, it is a place where great things are accomplished and where feelings are hurt, where both joys and disappointments occur at the same time. It is a place where children work closely on a daily basis, learning to take risks, show empathy and get along. They learn this because examples are more powerful than words and the adults who work at this school, model these very things on a daily basis.
So, as painful as it is to think about the incident last Friday, I remain committed to the idea that our schools are ultimately places of joy and hope. I believe that the actions of the brave adults who responded last week deserve that.
Notice has been provided by the local elementary teachers’ union that elementary school teachers will be on strike December 13, 2012. This includes Park Avenue Public School.
Please note that, on December 13, 2012:
- transportation services are cancelled (including busing, taxi services, etc.);
- all programming and classroom instruction is cancelled;
- before and after school care programs are cancelled;
- there will be no teacher supervision prior to school and during dismissal at the end of the day;
- attendance will not be recorded for report card purposes;
- calls home to check attendance will not occur;
- and teachers may be picketing your child’s school and entry to the school property may be delayed.
You are strongly encouraged to make alternate arrangements for your children on December 13, 2012. School operations and instruction resume December 14, 2012.
Please send your child to school on December 14, 2012.
Please feel free to contact me at the school if you have any questions.
I sure that many among our Park Avenue school community are continuing to monitor media accounts of the ongoing job action on the part of our teaching staff, members of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario-York Region. Job action is a legal aspect of the collective bargaining process and this case is no different.
Please click on the link below for a communication from the Director of of board, Ken Thurston, and know that that as a school and as a board, we remain committed to the learning, well-being and safety of each student.
A paper copy of this letter is being sent home with each student today.