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Finishing up a Career…

A series of celebratory events took place in succession as the 2016-17 school year drew to a close. We had final meetings yesterday and today I bid farewell to a career that I have adored in so many ways, a career that has brought me such immense joy and satisfaction. A career that brought purpose to what I did each day as a classroom teacher and as an administrator.

I cannot look back on my career without considering how and why I decided to dedicate my life’s work to education. One of my earliest memories is a bird’s eye view of my self sitting on top of a 45 gallon oil drum printing letters while my mom hung clothes on the clothes line. I decided at age 4 or 5 that I would become a teacher so that others could experience the joy of learning as much as I did.

What’s most compelling for me about this memory is the fact is that despite mom’s painful legacy as a residential school survivor, intuitively she knew that I needed books and other paper and pencils.  Despite having only a primary education, mom was able to order these from a catalogue and she made sure I would have many opportunities to practice. The order form was carefully filled out and then mailed out through Canada post. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the freighter carrying these precious supplies, along with cases of peas and carrots, meatballs and gravy, and other canned goods that she stocked up on regularly. I had paper and pencils when we sometimes didn’t have much else. Even through the most challenging times all primary educators  take great pleasure when students can print their names or reach a similar milestone. Dad instilled in me at a young age, the expectation that I would attend university.  Although I took some time away from university, I never wavered from those early expectations.  In fact, I went beyond that and completed a Masters degree to satisfy a deeper need to grow as an educator and I attended some amazing pro d events throughout the years.

One of my biggest challenges as a classroom teacher was teaching a remedial math class in the late 80s. I had no idea what I was getting into when I took on this assignment. I had to learn the math the night before in order to teach the lesson and I know I did little more than a mediocre job in an unadorned portable away from the beautiful main building so if I felt alienated; I’m sure the students felt that as well. Inclusion is for everyone and this experience taught me that.

The same year I taught a grade 7 English class and we read Banner in the Sky, a fictional story based on the first people to climb the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. At the end of that school year, Vic and I took the year off and took our kids on a trip through Europe. I sent those grade 7 children a postcard from Zermatt with the hope that they too, could consider going on an adventure to experience life in other places and to work hard to conquer a life goal as Rudy did in the novel.

Another challenge and source of joy was teaching the AVID, Advancement via Individual Determination program at CSS. The students had to apply to get into the program and they had to meet specific criteria. Typically they were kids who had proven academic ability, but were getting mediocre grades in mainstream classes. They were first generation kids whose parents had never attended college or university. They had to have a sincere desire to go on to post secondary school. All those children have personal gifts and talents and they were a joy to work with. How I survived taking 40 of them on a fieldtrip to universities in Lethbridge, Edmonton, and Calgary. I will never know, but I know it had a lot to do with my upbeat and fun-loving colleague Gail Vodden who was a chaperone and navigator on that trip. I also had solid support from talented colleagues like Ji Ai Cho, Diane Chapman, Dale Halcrow, and so many others in the Chilliwack school district. If we could give the same kind of attention and experiences to all children, we would see them grow and thrive in the way that these AVID kids did. That lesson became so evident for me.

I learned so much about the craft of teaching as a Faculty Associate at SFU. This experience was pivotal and it shifted my teaching practice upon my return to the classroom at the end of this secondment. I still keep in touch with a few of those student teachers who have developed into fine teachers and parents. Intuitively successful teachers know that clear, structured lessons with an infusion of inquiry and necessary differentiation can help move student closer to meeting expectations. They also know that developing a trusting relationships with students is integral to creating a joyful and productive teaching and learning environment. Many BBCS teachers display this mastery and this has allowed most of our elementary students to meet and exceed grade level reading expectations. Our PM benchmarks show lines of light and dark green for meeting and exceeding expectation. Sue Gower, Instructional leader of FNSA would be thrilled to know that all of our grade three children, age 8, are reading at their grade level. Maintaining high expectations, providing solid instruction, and providing carefully crafted interventions have paid off! Keeping in touch with parents as partners in learning is critical to their success because children need to be at school and they need support and encouragement in order to be here regularly.

I had no plans to move into administration,  but when the opportunity came up in my ancestral home,  I pulled up the deep roots that I had established in Chilliwack, resigned from my district position with Surrey SD, and moved to Bella Bella. It has been both a challenge and a joy and fond memories will remain with me always. I can summarize my administrative experience with this because no one knows the work of an administrator unless one has done the job: I laughed. I cried. I cheered. I wondered.  I lay awake at night sometimes. On the days that I made my way home as late as 9 pm, I felt like a survivor. Having said that, it has been my dream job and I am leaving with a deep sense of fulfillment. I have such high hopes for the children. Clearing out my office will be my last big task and it will signify my departure not only from BBCS, but also from Bella Bella.

I will leave with memories and recollections of a time that will always remain with me. I will leave knowing the culture and traditions are strong and there is a strong sense of resilience in the face of any threats to the territory or resources. I know that the children are proud of who they are and they know the dances and the gvilas. I know they have ample opportunities to practice traditional food harvesting and preparation as part of school curriculum and that on Fridays, they will practice the songs and dances.  I know there is a strong staff with compassion and commitment to do what it takes to ensure their success.

Having the opportunity to live and work in the village where I spent my formative years has been so rewarding. I have enjoyed a lifestyle that is slower paced and simple in that there is not the urgency to get in a car and go somewhere and be back at a certain time if traffic permits. If anything, we can decide to go out on our boat and be out on the water in 15 minutes often returning with a catch of halibut or salmon. Fresh prawns and crab has become a staple for us along with our freshly dried seaweed over rice. If it was an easy process to have a home here, I would be staying, but I am not wiling to wade through the time intensive bureaucracy that it takes to secure a lot and build. After five years we are uprooting once again and moving to what we want to refer to as our forever home on another island.

Our official address until we can get a post office box will be General Delivery, Quathiaski Cove, BC. V0P 1N0. We are looking forward to exploring life on Quadra Island where we will be closer to family, but we will still have the luxury of going out on our boat or getting into our car for a drive up or down island. We look forward to staying in contact with family and friends and creating the next chapter in our lives as retirees. Look us up if you are nearby. We will have lots of time for visitors.


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The Little Spirit Club

The Little Spirit Club at BBCS

On Friday, Oct 10th at 3:10, I realized we were heading into a long weekend. I went into my vice principal’s office, knowing full well that he was intensely focused on a time-sensitive task. I suggested that we take a break and move into the hallways to say goodbye to the kids and wish them a wonderful weekend. We happily abandoned our work and headed out.

As I stood at the Eagle head doors saying good-bye to the children as they made their way out the door, I could see Mr. Douglas walking down the hallway singing and playing his ukulele. A group of children smiled in awe as they walked alongside him – the pied piper wearing a check shirt. It filled my heart to see the joy on the children’s faces. The small act of greeting them as they left the building brought smiles to every face as each child left the building; it is possible though that the two administrators wore the biggest smiles at the end of that day.

Something else has taken hold of the heart of the school. It is called The Little Spirit Club. The club formed with a handful of intermediate students with a mission to recognize birthdays and to plan school events intended to raise the school spirit in the building. Their favoured event, it seems is Pajama Day as there have been several PJ Days. Membership in this club grew overnight as so many children clamored to be part of this wonderful club.

Each child’s birthday is recognized with the rallying spirit of about forty children singing in various tones and volume levels. The birthday child is also given a cherished birthday badge to wear for the rest of the day and it is worn with great pride. I’ll never forget one birthday event. During a rousing birthday song in the high school learning center, I watched an intermediate child spontaneously leap onto the lap of a high school kid to give him a great big hug and a big smile; the high school kid was overwhelmed with both surprise and heartfelt emotion.

The club has grown to about forty members as everyone wants to be part of the club whose enthusiasm and energy is able to light up the face of the “coolest” kids in the building. When the club moves, the children fill the hallway and they fill the hearts of onlookers as they go about their mission – to recognize someone special.

At the Christmas concert, several Little Spirit Club members distributed wrapped gifts to random children in the audience. These gifts were donated by children who found it in their hearts to give away some of their most cherished toys so that someone else could enjoy them. They worked hard to wrap each gift and to put ribbons and bows around the most bulky stuffies in order to be able to gift it to someone. One child commented about how hard it was to give her toy away but she wanted to do so that someone else could enjoy it as she did when she was younger.

Every child and indeed, every human want to be “seen” and to feel that they “belong” and The Little Spirit Club is making this happen at BBCS.


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40 Years of Heiltsuk Control over Education


On the Eve of the 2016-17 School Year

On the eve of the 2016 -17 school year, the school is gleaming with freshly waxed floors and classroom bulletin boards are ready to feature a representation of the children’s best work. My job, as Principal is to support the staff with all that it takes to provide quality instruction to our students. My expectation is that staff will maintain high expectations and provide a high level of support for each student. As well, each staff member must convey a warm acceptance of each child in order to develop a trusting relationship – one that is most conducive to effective teaching and learning. Each child can enjoy progress and meet appropriate and relevant goals given encouragement and support.

In the weeks leading up to the start of school, I have had time to reflect on my experience in the field of education from student to educator. I have had several diverse experiences in my career as a teacher and I decided to pull it all together and finish off as a school administrator. I was thrilled to accept a wonderful opportunity in my ancestral home community after being in the Fraser Valley for most of my career.

When the local school board initially interviewed me, I made a commitment to stay for four to five years and here I am beginning my fifth year. Time has flown by and my work in the school has been incredibly challenging, yet very rewarding. I feel very much at home here, more than I have anywhere else that I have lived. I have a caring and dedicated staff and the children are beautiful.

I have so much hope for the children and I have worked hard to learn their names to be able to greet each of them by name when I see them in the hallway or in the community. I have a new crop of K4 names to learn and I am excited to know them.

I recently added eight wonderful new teachers to the current pool of caring and hard working teachers, several of whom have been at BBCS for many years. I can say with certainty that the staff is comprised of people who care deeply about doing what it takes to make a difference for the children. I also have a group of caring and very committed support staff who provide support to students with special learning needs. They are an important and integral connection to the community, as they know the families of the children and many are aunties or uncles to the children.

I am proud to say that 46% of our teaching staff is of Heiltsuk ancestry; this includes three Heiltsuk language teachers who have been granted permission from TRB to teach our language. Each one of us has enduring ancestral connections to this territory. Having such a high representation of local teachers is a feat for reasons, which have historical significance. Things have changed dramatically since our people, the Heiltsuk, took over the education of our children.

At one time, the Bella Bella Day School, which was operated by the Dept. of Indian Affairs, only went to grade seven; children around my age were systematically sent off to boarding homes in order to attend high school. It was a heart-wrenching experience to go through as many of us were 12 or barely 13 years old when we were put on a plane and dropped off with strangers, people who were paid to provide us with a bed and meals and for many children, this was the extent of the care they received. For our parents, it must have been equally heart wrenching. My mother began having nervous breakdowns as four of her children left home in succession at the end of each summer. My siblings and I lived in separate cities for the most part and rarely saw each other. When her fifth child was ready to go to high school, my mother packed up and moved her remaining children to the city. Enough was enough. Both my parents were residential school survivors and I can only imagine what went through their hearts and minds as they watched each child board a plane to move to the city to live with strangers. There were some very strong parallels between boarding home and residential schools in their minds, I’m sure.

My boarding home experience was immediately troubling. I lived in three homes before I found my forever “other” family in grade nine; I lived with the Cashores to the end of grade twelve and I can say with certainty if it wasn’t for their loving care and support, I may not have been able to graduate from high school. To this day, I have a unique bond with them. I wonder how many children had the same kind of loving support that I had with this wonderful family.

When I arrived to my first boarding home in Sept 1969, I was extremely lonely and could not feel at home living in the basement of a family who invited the four of us upstairs for meals only. The population of my school, New Westminster Secondary was the same as my home community; a community where I knew everyone compared to a school where I knew no one except the other girls who lived in the basement with me. It was culture shock for us and school personnel had no idea about our situation. They knew nothing about a small group of disenfranchised First Nations children who simply could not obey school rules.

Most of us came from remote communities where we had electricity for only a few hours in the evening. That meant we didn’t have a phone, fridge, electric stove, or television and we didn’t have indoor plumbing or garbage pickup. The adjustment to a big city took a toll on us and the separation from families became too great for many. Several students chose to return home at various stages throughout grade eight and beyond. This made the possibility of graduating from high school very remote. In the mid 1970s, a group of dedicated Heiltsuk community members decided to address this situation and they formed a grass-roots school committee and lobbied the federal government to have our own school built.

This dedicated committee raised their own funds to travel to Ottawa and after lots of hard negotiating, a school was eventually built and they hired their first batch of teachers; the elected school board has been doing this every since.  A NFB film, Bella Bella documents this historical time in our history as a nation.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of local Heiltsuk control of the education of our children. The education of the children has seen many changes. The graduation rate has improved tremendously. Children do not have to leave the community to attend school beyond grade seven. Children have pride in being Heiltsuk; they know where they come from and they know the songs and dances.

In 2016, Bella Bella Community School is the center of the community. We have a strong language and culture program and we have a strong SEAS program and we have a committed staff. There is a clear focus on merging language and culture with leaning about the land and sea. Children go out on the land and water to participate in traditional harvesting and medicine gathering as part of school curriculum. Each child in elementary school takes a minimum of 30 minutes of Heiltsuk language instruction daily. Students in the high school can take a range of courses (in class and online) to meet specific post-secondary requirements.

The faces of the children when they are drumming and singing radiates Heiltsuk pride. It is wonderful to see the confidence that comes from knowing who they are and where they come from. Schooling has changed so much in our community and I am proud that what we do at BBCS is a reflection of who we are as indigenous people.  I look forward to the school board’s plans to celebrate this important milestone – 40 years of local control of the education of the children of Bella Bella.

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Summer Reflections on the 2015-16 School Year at BBCS

The report cards are in the mail. The hallway floors are being stripped and readied for waxing before Sept 6th. Another year has flown by. The classrooms are packed up and staff have been on holidays for over two weeks. It’s been an intense, but a very focused year for a few reasons. The first is that we have good solid data on student learning and the other is that we underwent a year of scrutiny with the FNSA school assessment process. As well, attendance has improved.

Wonderful data that tells us we are making headway in moving our children along in reading especially. Our PM benchmarking data reveal impressive results for our elementary students who have shown that with hard work, it is possible to make impressive gains. Strong supports have been in place including support from the literacy coach, the classroom teachers, the learning support teacher, and the teacher assistants.

The data below represent results for three random classrooms for three assessment periods during the school year. For each assessment period, dark green means that children are exceeding expectations. Light green refers to those who are minimally meeting expectations for their grade. Yellow indicates children are approaching expectations. Red indicates that there is a ways to go before expectations are met. The children in the red are typically children who require intensive learning support or children who have missed so much school that their learning was interrupted. Kudos to the elementary staff at BBCS who have committed themselves to providing solid instruction and interventions in order to see such wonderful progress.

Along with the wonderful progress in the elementary wing, what stands out as well is the overall wonderful feeling that as a staff, we have been focussed on doing what it takes to help students meet with success. Student attendance has risen especially in the elementary wing and this contributes to the academic success, also one of our goals. There was a general feeling of fatigue mixed with joy at BBCS in the last days of June.

What, one might ask, does joy look like. It is children arriving to school early and staff having to have to ask kids to leave when we are ready to go home around 5-6pm on a Friday. Children greeting staff warmly with hugs and early morning chats in classrooms and hallways. That speaks volumes about the general school climate. Beaming faces met us in the morning and at the end of the day as they moved toward the school bus or the playground often companies by hugs for staff along the way.

How wonderful it was to have so many children encouraging others to be kind and to play safe. These included the children who were outside at recess with the walkie talkies or in the gym before school. When a teacher assistant took over as the main coordinator for that, I felt that there was yet, another important recruit with a clear mandate to promote kindness and safety.

The FNSA school assessment process revealed three clear goals for us to work on over the next four years. Improving overall in English language arts is the top priority and it must begin with strategic well-planned instruction. Instruction that will allow students to become engaged with goal focused learning in all content areas especially with writing.

A whole school write allowed us to determine areas to focus on using the performance standards as our gauge. Other areas of focus will be identified through collaboration in divisional meetings.

Student leadership is another area of focus for the next four years. Forming a student council and providing opportunities for them to develop skills is integral to allowing them to apply this into their lives and community.

Streamlining the learning support we provide to students is our third goal. It begins with the development of a policy that will guide this process. This is an exciting process as we seek to round out and provide support to promote success.

Addressing these three goals will be daunting work, but it will be exciting as we challenge ourselves to do more than what it takes in order to see some dark green results.

BBCS has a talented and dedicated staff. Some have left to make their mark in other places; in their places will be a new group of staff members with fresh energy and ideas to help us move toward becoming the school we want to be with children happy to be with us with each new day.

Come along and meet our new staff members and welcome back our returning staff and students in a new tradition. On Sept 6 starting at 9:30, we’ll line the Eaglehead entrance with smiles and cheers as we welcome back students to BBCS. This will be followed by an assembly in the school gym. Bring your cameras. Bring your west wishes to our staff and students as we embark on the 40th year of Heiltsuk control of the education of our children. This is a legacy that must be celebrated. Help us ring in the year by being present for the occasion.


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A Principal Reflects on the School Year….

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.

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A Principal Gets Ready for the First Day of School…

A Principal Gets Ready for the First Day of School

I worked steadily over the past few days to put the finishing touches on the staff and the home handbook being careful to convey what is most salient to us at BBCS. I realize that unless I spend time going over its contents with staff, it may be shuffled to the edge of teacher’s desks and eventually to a nearby shelf where it will lie hidden until next spring. Getting ready for school is labour intensive at best even for the principal. Deciding what is most important to cover in the first full staff meeting is something I had to decide on. Without a doubt, it is whatever most impacts student learning. I certainly want to see daybooks filled in for the week. I want to make sure that all staff understands that they must find ways to get a smile and a nod from their most reluctant learners in order to make the kind of attachments that Gordon Neufeld believes to be foundational to effective teaching and learning. I need to ensure that they are are committed to doing ongoing assessments  to plan for student learning. There is so much more, but I know that I have a very fine group of teachers who want the best for their learners and I am committed to supporting them, as effective instruction is foundational to effective student learning.

It hasn’t been that long since I was in a classroom as much of my time as a principal is spent visiting classrooms. Here’s what I know about getting ready for one’s classroom.

Getting Ready for Day 1

Getting ready for the first day takes days and lots of detailed planning for teaching and learning including getting the classroom and resources ready. Teachers think of every little thing: how to set up the room; where to put resources; when students can have shared or individual reading; what to do to ensure we get off on the right foot; why we need to plan so carefully… There is so much to do. For experienced teachers, getting ready might include taking time to consider what to do differently to address some issues from last year. For example, how to fully engage the most reluctant learners. I remember the anticipation and the dreams that began weeks before and in the days before that moment when you greeted your students for the first time. What will you say? How will you gain their trust and their hearts?

What Makes a Difference in Classrooms?

What is most important above anything else? Is it establishing classroom management and routines or is it spending time on creating a sense of community or is it creating a connection each of your students? Is it providing students with the opportunity to make meaning using the resources closest to us: what is natural and bountiful in the Great Bear Rain Forest which we live and work within?

There is so much to consider and as a principal, I want to support my staff with all of these considerations without micro managing too much. We know that every child needs a champion and that sometimes is not what you are teaching, but how you are with the children.

Teacher Mentors  At BBCS

Based on a conversation with a couple of staff members, I am formalizing a mentorship program at BBCS by matching new teachers with more experienced teachers as their mentors. Alberta Education has a wonderful framework that explains teacher growth over time and the importance of having on going conversations between mentor and mentee. Sharing could go both ways as new teachers have a lot to share that would allow the more experienced educator to reflect on one’s own practices.

  • Stages of Teacher Development: how did you get to become the teacher you are now?
  • Initial Orientation: Learning About the School: What do I need to know?
  • How did you learn to plan and teach?
  • How do you plan curriculum?
  • How do you manage student behaviour?
  • What has changed over time about your  teaching practice?
  • What do you do now that you didn’t do five years ago?  10 years ago?
  • What does your course overview look like?
  • What kinds of formative assessments do you use?
  • What matters most for you?

Collaboration according to John Hattie is integral to improving instruction and I think it could work both ways between an experienced and new teacher. It is my hope that they will both benefit. I have offered to provide release time and time for teachers to meet and the least I can do is order the treats as  support.

Role of Teacher Assistants

Teacher assistants can make a difference as long as they are able to work one on one or in small groups on tasks that are associated with learning. Just as each lesson, their work must be focused. There must be daily collaboration between teachers and teacher assistants to ensure there is mutual agreement on what support and for whom. Handing out papers and photocopying does not impact learning. Sitting along side students or working in small groups impacts learning. Teacher assistants can make a difference.

What Have I Done to Facilitate a Climate of Trust?

Our staff went on a daylong orientation at Hakai Research Institute and enjoyed a wonderful day of hiking and talking at a beautiful research institute called Hakai. This is also my ancestral home as my ancestral family originates from this area. It is the most spectacular place with km of sandy beach, driftwood, and many different species of trees and shrubs. The day  began with an hour and a half journey on board a comfortable  and speedy sea bus along the spectacular central coast. It ended with a decadent meal courtesy of the institute. Check out my slide show by clicking on the photo below.

I am excited about the new school year and look forward to all that it will bring. Happy New Year to my colleagues within FNESC and my former colleagues within the public school system. I am proud to be at the helm of a school where staff care about each other and the students in our building. I am also very proud of our sasum and all that they bring.


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Tribute to Dad on Father’s Day

June 21, 2015 IMG_0042                            Dad at my wedding on Oct 11,1980

It is a bittersweet Father’s day as I sit and ponder how long dad will be with us. We celebrated his birthday last Sunday as he turned 89 on Monday, June 15. Today, he is palliative, unable to walk or feed or care for himself. I fed him his dinner last night for the first time. When we are alone, he shares the fear that I can see in his eyes and at other times, he shares the frustration of having to be totally reliant on hospital staff for his every need.

Two weeks ago, dad was still able to shave himself and go for a short walk to the store on his own. Parkinson’s disease and lung cancer are taking a toll on his feeble body and his mind and when he is lucid, he realizes the state his life is in and longs for what he had just a few short weeks ago. He is still able to display his keen sense of humour as yesterday when Pauline asked him if he was in pain, he queried, incredulously , “ Am I insane” We dissolved into laughter, as underneath the pain and confusion is dad’s trademark sense of humour. It is perhaps this wit and sense of humour that earned him the nickname, “Big Ray’.

It was a very special birthday celebration; very special childhood friends whom he considers to be his siblings as they lived under one roof for part of their childhood, surrounded Dad. They worked and played music together and had wonderful stories about their early lives and all the mischief they created together. Mostly though, music unites them. Dad, Percy, and Fred reminisced about playing at Dick’s hall for community wedding and New Year’s dances. Fred was the bandleader and they called themselves “The Saints”. Fred’s fishing boat bore that name. Percy told a story about having to step in as the drummer when the regular drummer was not available and he was so good that he became the drummer. Fred told a story about a time when they were playing for a dance and during a break, dad went to the washroom and came back to the stage with a big black eye. Fred asked him who he ran into and dad told him and they dissolved into yet another bout of laughter. Hard of hearing and old, they shared many stories about the life and the legacy that they shared; it was a precious afternoon as it is one that can never be revisited again. Dad grew tired after awhile and had to go for a nap. He cares deeply about the few Heiltsuk elders who remain especially his dear cousin Peggy; they spent a lot of time together as children and share a special bond.

Dad was born in 1926 in Bella Bella at a time when the flip the switch comforts we now enjoy did not exist. Homes were warmed with wood stoves; evenings were lit with coal oil lamps and plumbing was non-existent in homes. Dad was born at home with only family members helping granny at his birth. He was born into a society that was at its heart, family-oriented; as they had to work together in order to survive. Food gathering was central to daily living. Dad recalls going out fishing, hunting, and trapping with his dad and when I last asked him, he was able to recall exactly where their trap lines were. He fondly recalls going out fishing with his dad and his Uncle Willie and playing tricks on them when he became bored. One was replacing the bowl of sugar with salt; whenever he tells that story, he laughs so hard that he can hardly finish telling the story.

As a young child, dad nearly died. He recalls a near-death experience where Granny and her sisters sat weeping at his bedside as he looked over them from above. As a result, he truly believes in life after death. Dad knows he is not long for this world and he speaks candidly about it with me and with others that he trusts and loves. At his residential school hearing several years ago, Vic and I sat beside him as he gave horrific testimony about the atrocities that he endured as an innocent child at the hands of the Anglican church personnel at St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay BC. It is clear why he did not participate in our traditions as Heiltsuk people. Instead, he threw himself in hard work and when he got into it, heavy drinking. I am sure he drank to forget. He did sober up and he beat death again by surviving cancer in his 60s.

Dad’s path has been a tough one as over time the fishing industry became less and less reliable for his livelihood. He took a leap at an opportunity to move up to a bigger boat at a time when interest rates were so high that he had to back away from a mortgage and a boat when he could no longer finance the investment. He retired and focused on cycling and playing music. If he had regrets, he rarely speaks of them.

Music has always sustained dad. His rip-roaring parties from his youth were balanced by solemn and heartfelt hymns that he played at home or at funeral services even when he grew too weak to carry his own accordion. At his 89th party, he was unable to play but he mustered up the energy to lead us in singing one of his all time favourites, as a tribute to the band he and his brothers played in. Please enjoy, “When the Saints Go Marching In”,

So on Father’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the fact that dad instilled in me the expectation that I would attend university and that was that. It became my path and I never veered from it and my life and career path have been good ones. Thank you for this dad and Happy Father’s Day. I love you as much now as I did when I was your adoring little girl. Listening to you sing this to me is one of my earliest memories, Jan

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2015 Grads, It’s Your Time!

2014 is done! Our Christmas holidays are done! We are heading down the home stretch to the term end which is Jan. 30th. It is appropriate to recognize and congratulate staff and students for for staying the course with such conviction.


2015 Grads, you are on the home stretch and this may well be your 14th year if we include preschool and kindergarten as part of your time at school at BBCS or somewhere else. Be thinking about what you want to be doing a year from now. 2-3 years from now. Maybe even 3-7 years from now…

Next year or even 3 years from now, will you be gainfully employed or waiting to be employed? Will you be in school somewhere studying for a career or a job that will allow you to be independent. Will you be somewhere where you can experience something different? Will you be ready or willing to be challenged like you never have before. Will you be wishing you had been more focused in high school?

Think for moment about graduation. Who will be sitting there clapping and cheering for you when you graduate from high school? Mom, Dad, Grandparents. Aunts? Uncles? Your best friends? Imagine yourself in a cap and gown receiving your certificate. Think about what it will take to make that cheering crowd a reality. See yourself as a grad and think of that often especially when you feel discouraged. Everyone goes through that and if you think of it as a minor setback, it can help you to pick yourself up and brush it off and carry on.


Imagine yourself packing a suitcase and heading off somewhere to train for a great job that pays well and is something you will enjoy. Imagine it and then work toward that with everything that you have. Talk about this often with someone who is your biggest and best cheerleader!


The BBCS expectation is this: that you will finish high school and make a transition toward further training or gainful employment so that you can become independent and self-sufficient. When your teachers hold you back for study hall or hassle you to get here on time, it is because they want the best for you. Graduating from high school is a minimal achievement in the big picture of life, but don’t miss out on this important milestone. Be a part of it!


I want to ask you to dig deeply to find the will to see what you can do if you put your mind and your will into it. You might surprise yourself and you might find yourself standing alone with that, but it is a sacrifice worth making. Finally, when you need help, ask for it. When you are discouraged, close your eyes and imagine the pride on the faces of the people who love you when you cross the stage as a grad of BBCS.

Happy New Year to the grads of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019….


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Bella Bella Community School Welcomes You to 2014-15!


Please click here to see our Sept 2014 at BBCS power point. Also check out SEAS photos

While the public schools waited for a reasonable settlement that would see teachers with a secure contract and students back in classrooms, Bella Bella Community School started school with a bang on Sept 2 and it went from there.

Let me first say that I was in solidarity with the teachers of British Columbia who stood behind what they know is in the best interest of learners. I too walked the picket lines for two full weeks in 2005 and then again for three days in 2011. This year, my former district colleague has 22 children in her kindergarten class and at BBCS, this is an unheard of class size.

BBCS has the privilege of small classes and dedicated support for students who require learning support. There is a teacher assistant for each classroom. There is a solid commitment to addressing the needs of our learners in classes from our school board and from FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and FNSA (First Nations Schools Association). Smaller classes allow for more individualized support.

Already, we have had two professional coaches visit our school, along with a speech and language therapist and a visiting pediatrician. Our teachers had the opportunity to sit with a special education coach to ensure the needs of our children with special needs and IEPS are addressed. Our teachers had the opportunity to meet with a regional principal who works with administration to provide instructional support to teachers. Our school strives to meet the goals inherent within our mission statement. In October, a literacy coach will visit our school to ensure we are providing a rounded literacy program.

Students are able to enjoy breakfast each morning at BBCS and once a month, the health center staff provides an extra special breakfast for everyone. Our students are also provided with the opportunity to grab a healthy snack at recess – usually cut up fruit. Healthy eating is a focus at BBCS.

On Sept 2, our day began with a Welcome Back assembly where students had to find their teacher with help from their parents and then they got to sit together for the assembly.  We then witnessed the unveiling and blessing of a Welcome Pole that was installed into our foyer. The pole was carved last year by many staff members and students each contributing in some way and it introduces a new legacy for BBCS.

The Welcome Pole is intended to turn the page on the grief stemming from residential school where our children’s’ parents and/or grandparents faced the wrath of an assimilationist policy intended to eliminate all aspects of Aboriginal culture. Our chiefs played an important part in this ceremony, as did our two school elders who along with several children blessed the pole before it was installed. It is our hope that many people will visit the school to see our Welcome Pole.

The weather in Sept. was spectacular; it supported several events that brought BBCS outdoors. Stream of Dreams spent a week in our school educating our children and engaging them in a series of hands on activities. They left us with a tribute – a colourful school of painted fish plaques along the fence in front of our school. The finale for this was the Salmon Festival organized by SEAS and many staff and student volunteers from BBCS. Students helped with the preparation from getting the fire going to prepping the fish. It was an event that drew hundred of community members out to enjoy a demonstration of seine netting, drumming and singing, and many other events including a delicious bbq salmon luncheon.

Several of our students went on daylong fieldtrips with our SEAS coordinator and were able to participate in land-based and locally relevant learning. Some students went to Beales or to Gulchucks and others went to the lakes at Denny Island while others went to Koeye for an overnight camp. A group of our students attended aweek-long fieldtrip with elders, community members and their teacher to attend an historic peace treaty signing with our neighbours, the Haida. They will give a presentation at our first recognition assembly on Oct 11th.  Everyone is invited!

In the elementary wing, several amazingly dedicated teachers hosted parents and grandparents in literacy events as an opportunity to put faces to names. These included We Read teas in several classes and a PALS event, Parents as Literacy Supporters for our K and Gr 1 students. Staff organized a meal, a presentation for parents, crafts for children, and a bag with a book and crafting tools for children to take home. The Home Ec students in grades, 8, 9, and 10 prepared a delicious spaghetti dinner for this wonderful event.

In high school, our students have eagerly participated with our Wednesday afternoon clubs, which is our way of raising the fun factor at BBCS, and so far, it has been a rousing success! This is a new initiative this year and one that we are very excited about. They have enjoyed kayaking, photography, archery, among other opportunities. I have never before had to remind kids that they were dismissed as they seem content to remain at school after hours.

Another highlight was the Terry Fox run which raised over $2000. for cancer research. As the principal of the school, I am proud of the effort that staff and students put forth to make this such a successful fundraiser.  I am always grateful as well for the community support.

BBCS staff started the school year two days earlier than students. They spent two intense days working with each other; the first was spent at Koeye where staff mingled and explored one of the most beautiful sites in Heiltsuk territory. They walked, fished, and watched for wildlife and finished the day with a traditional BBQ meal. Along the way, they had the opportunity to look at pictographs at Port John and at the once thriving abandoned town of Namu, which is situated on traditional Heiltsuk territory. The next day was a pro d-day intended to raise awareness of lateral violence with Denise Findlay.

We are off to a great start. October is just around the corner and we look forward to our annual Career Fair; our first interim reports for high school students, our recognition assemblies and our annual open House. Life at BBCS often takes us beyond the school day. In October, we plan to open the gym at 8:20 am for students to get their heart rates up and put smiles on their faces before they go to class. The smiles on the faces of the children open the hearts of our staff members who work hard to create engaging learning opportunities for all children. It is a pleasure to be at the helm of such a wonderful school.

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A Reply from BBCS…

Last August our school was vandalized and because of the hard work by a number of teachers and support staff, the school was cleaned up, the books and library were cleaned up and we were ready to go for day 1 of the 2013-14 school year. We were missing a few windows and we made do without the technology that was damaged beyond use.

One young man was responsible for the vandalism and the news of what had happened flooded the national news for several  days. He was held criminally responsible for the vandalism.

The young man’s family requested that he be permitted to return to school a few weeks into Sept. and after a meeting with the school board, he  was allowed to return to school on certain conditions. One was that he publicly apologize to the community. The young man left his treatment program for a short time in order to do this.

Last Friday, in front of a large crowd of chiefs, elders, and community members he gave his public apology.  It was a moving and heart felt apology that obviously took a lot out of him. The community listened to every word and there was quiet in the building as he spoke with his family all around him as a display of support.  Afterwards the community members in attendance gave him a standing ovation.

This young man is headed back to treatment to finish this off and I invited him to my office as I wanted to provide him with a response as the principal of the school. I wanted to encourage him to stay on his path. Here is  what I read to him as part of a meeting we had on Monday morning before he left to return to treatment:



May 26, 2014

A Reply…

When I met you (name,) I only knew you by what I was told by others and by what I saw that early morning in Aug when I walked into the school and saw the aftermath of what you unleashed on the school.

It was a terribly disturbing scene to see. A walk through the school was a challenge because there were chunks of glass and splinters everywhere in the office, in the hallways, and on desks in the main office. The library shelving was overturned and sprayed with the fire extinguisher so there was a film of residue everywhere. A brand new smart board was damaged before it could be installed. Phones were ripped out of the wall jacks. Some laptops were damaged. It was an upsetting time especially for brand new teachers who had just arrived. One of them asked me if this was how it is here…

A few weeks after school got underway, I received a letter requesting permission for you to return to school. The board and the vice principal met with you and your guardians to discuss your return to school and they gave you a conditional return.

You were placed on a limited school timetable as we wanted to give you no opportunity to get into trouble. You must have felt that you were under our scrutiny because you were.

(Name), you rose to the challenge and it must have been very hard for you some days. As principal, I was firm with you, but I hope you thought I was fair. I had clear expectations and at least once verbally reminded you of our expectations. You never talked back or complained.

Over time, (Name), it was obvious that you grew to enjoy school and we saw another side of you that showed what you are made of. Teachers’ hearts softened when they saw they saw in you a beautiful and talented young man who just needed a chance. You showed that you had a great sense of humour, a ready smile, and a bit of a mischief to go along with that. (Name), you did everything we asked you to do and more.

  • You attended school every day
  • You were respectful
  • You showed your academic potential and achieved B Honours on your first report card.
  • You found a place in the hearts of many people at the school.
  • You showed us what a skilled athlete you are.
  • You allowed us to see your beautiful spirit and kind disposition.

Before you left (Name), to go to treatment, you publicly thanked your teachers over the PA for believing in you and for supporting you. It was an emotional time for all of us. That was a courageous and heartfelt thing to do. It took a lot but you did it. I’ll never forget that.

The school board took a chance in allowing you to return to school and you rose to the challenge.

This crisis in your life presented you with the opportunity to turn your life around and you are doing it.

(Name), on behalf of the staff at BBCS, I want to wish you the best as you forge your pathway in life. You have our hearts and you have what It takes to stay on this path. Teach others about how you have been able to turn your life around and grow from this. You have a lifetime ahead of you. Fill it with all that is most precious to you. Send me a note now and then please… and yes, come back next year and speak to the student body. This is after all, your home.

Mrs. Gladish, BBCS Principal

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