The ides of March have come and gone and we are well over the half way mark for the school year 2015-16. It seems that the year has flown by and I struggled to find a balance between collecting data, spending time in classrooms, doing teacher observations, report writing, and working on my principal PLC work. Addressing emergent concerns and issues seem to consume a large part of my time unless I give myself a time limit. My daily arrival at 7:40 am is a given as is getting home by 6 pm including my two minute walk from my office door to my house. I’ve spent as much time prepping and planning for the job of principal as I did as a classroom teacher. I do have some clear priorities however; I set time to be with the children and all else is put everything else aside during these times.
Meeting the bus and mingling with the children from 8:20 – 8:55 is a given. This is the time where I check in with as many children as I can to see how they’re doing and what they’re doing. Several students regularly meet the school bus with me and we greet every child by name and with a friendly smile. At 10:15 – 10:35, I once again, put everything aside and head outdoors no matter what the weather is – rain, wind, or sleet. At 12:50 – 1:00, I plant myself in the back entrance foyer or at the front entrance and provide positive reminders that it is time to move toward the classroom before the 1:00 bell. It warms my heart to see children hustling to class as a prompt arrival means instructional time are not lost.
It takes time and commitment to build and sustain relationships with the children so that if and when there is a concern or an issue and they wind up in my office, the relationship built on the playground or in the hallways help us to move quickly to a resolution. Often it is a discussion where we talk about the importance of being kind to each other.
In a community a small as Bella Bella, students and many staff are connected through family ties and through traditional adoptions. When there is a cause for celebration or for mourning, the impact is deep and enduring. Lately, losses have impacted us. A baby passed away very suddenly followed by two elders, one of whom was a member of our staff. The staff rallied to support the families with contributions of sandwiches and baking. With little notice, staff rose up and presented a beautiful cultural tribute to our teacher/elder Phyllis McKay and our hallways and classrooms were filled with family and friends who in turn, expressed many accolades to the staff and cultural leaders who made the event so successful.
Staff recently planned and carried out a pep rally in honour of our two high school basketball teams and paid tribute to our elder, Cecil Reid who was a huge basketball fan and a political leader who changed the face of our community in the early 1970s when he returned to Bella Bella. Students, staff, and community members filled the bleachers with cheering support as the teams prepared to set off to the annual Jr. All native Tournament or the JANT as we know it. Being able to attend this event was a result of many, many hours spent fund raising by the students and their families in order to pay the registration, travel, and accommodation.
Today and for the next two days, students will be preparing for the annual Science Fair. Last year, it was a massive success and students were so proud of their work. This year, it looks like it will be equally successful. Students are gaining skills and knowledge of the scientific method and they are having fun at the same time – learning can’t get much better!
Along with five other staff members, I attended a regional session where we learned about the new curriculum that the BC Ministry of Education will roll out for Sept 2016-17. It is both exciting and daunting as I can see the opportunity to focus on fewer PLOs and more on deepening the learning and incorporating more placed-based learning and local cultural knowledge. April 6 will see us working together in divisions to plan for the year ahead.
I started off talking about data, which has helped us to frame our goals and put out energy into areas that we need to improve in. PM benchmarking data has shown that our students are improving and setting a 95% attendance goal has shown that our attendance rates are also improving. The grade 4 class has shown amazing improvement. In January, all of the grade four students in Ms. Foster’s class – 100% of them had 95% attendance or better. 22% of the high school students in term one had B honours – 73% or better and in term two, 26% had B honours or better. This is in stark contrast to many Sr high students who are struggling to get through government examinable courses in grade 10. While a faction of our students is showing academic success, another faction is struggling. This requires our high school staff to take a good hard look at what we can do differently. How can we allow students with chronic absenteeism to enjoy a level of success? How and what does that look like in terms of a learning program and support in that program? Data is important and we must look at it in terms of determining next steps.
On the human side, I have an amazing staff; there is a level of care and commitment that is impossible to measure. I know what is possible when a staff member cares enough to plan lessons that are capable of tweaking curiosity and making personal connections to the learning. To be able to provide immediate feedback and change the course of a lesson requires a teacher to use formative assessment strategies and a goal to move students closer toward a clear learning goal.
Now that the contractual teacher evaluations are done, I can return to conducting walkthroughs and checking with students to see if they are able to state the learning goal. I will make a sincere effort to provide feedback to teachers using what I learned in a recent webinar with Robyn Jackson and that is a concrete suggestion in one significant area.
It’s 7:45 am, 5 minutes past the time I like to be in the building.