Sometimes It Just Takes One

For this week, I have decided to send out my test of my yearbook quote. Service learning is the foundation of this school and with only a month in, it has been an amazing thing to see.


As the new grade 8s of this year will tell you, moving to a new school is never an easy transition. All of a sudden, you have to learn new names, navigate new hallways and in the case of Clayton Heights, figure out the bell schedule.

I have been very fortunate to have been placed at such an amazing school. Students and staff greeted me with warmth and kindness as soon as I entered the doors.

I am amazed at the extent of the leadership and service learning that occurs at this school. The quote that I want you all to remember is from a blog that I read a while ago – “Sometimes it just takes one “ from the book One by Kathryn Otoshi. It only takes one person to start a movement, we only need one person to help change the world. This spirit and enthusiasm that is shown by our Riders is evident in every aspect of the school. You epitomize what it means to be a caring 21st century global citizen. My hope is that you continue to work to take care of this community and this planet.

I challenge all students of Clayton Heights to make a difference in our world. It is easy to fit in but much harder and more rewarding to “think differently”. The innovations of our world did not come from those trying to fit in. I firmly believe that if you take a chance on something, there will be challenges but the outcome will fill you with much more.

I also wish to congratulate the amazing Grad Class of 2016. High school is always a long journey but it always leads to better things down the road. Graduation is just one milestone– there is so much more that is going to happen and fill your life. May your post- secondary years be filled with happiness and excitement.


Shifting Again


At the beginning of this school semester, I was promoted to principal at Clayton Heights secondary, a midsize school in the middle class neighbourhood of Cloverdale, Surrey. I must admit that the paradigm shift in leadership for me occurred almost immediately.

That first day of school was very interesting for me and eye-opening. I walked into a totally new environment and watched my two vice principals, office staff and counselors in full work mode. Schedules were being printed, students were being directed to classrooms, furniture was being moved, and more. All the time, I stood back observing from afar. It felt a bit surreal giving up control to everybody else.

I have never been a micro-managing leader but the anxiety that I felt while standing there must have been evident to those around me. It was an almost out of body experience where I had no control of all the things that were happening – very efficiently, I might add. There was even an inkling of my mind about whether I had made the right decision.

As the week wore on, I finally became more accustomed to my new role. The most important thing that I did learn was the principle of “letting it go”. This is new to me – whether it is at home or at school. Allowing myself to “relax” and trust in the process. Having confidence in your staff is a big thing for me – as a vp, there were times where it was just easier to get it done but that shift in working to build capacity in others is starting to happen for me as each day goes on.


The best advice that I received from my peers was relationship advice. Go get out there and visit teachers and classrooms; get them to know who you are. As I have always thrived on the building of relationships, this should be an easy task.


Wish me luck on this journey – stay tuned for exciting stories from the principals office.

Make it so!


The Grand Tour

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As I finally get back to blogging (after a year away), it comes at a very interesting time in my career. Recently, I received the news that I have received a principalship and will be given the opportunity to run my own school, Clayton Heights Secondary, in several weeks.

With the major changes that are about to impact the educational landscape in the next year, I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to affect change at a different level of education.

My three years at Kwantlen Park Secondary have been the perfect training ground for me. My partners will agree that the amount of different experiences that have we have had to deal with  have provided us with the ultimate “pro-d”. When I first arrived at KP, I was totally unprepared for the onslaught of what our school had to deal with on a regular basis. The amazing part of our school was the massive amount of support that is available for every member of the school. We have a support system that is at its very heart designed strictly for the well being of our students and one that works solely for their needs. In doing so, the teachers and school benefit greatly from the work that the KP support team does.

As I embark on my new “Grand Tour” at Clayton Heights, I can only take the model that I worked with at KP and transfer it to a new setting. In addition, I have been at three schools in the past eight years under four amazing principals that each provided me with a bit more for my toolbox. The skills that I have learned have become invaluable to me.

Moving back to the cycling analogy that weaves its way through Shifting Gears, I no longer have to be the “domestique” working for the team. I can work with a team to help move the school from great to greater. I look forward to this next chapter in my educational and administrative career and I hope you will join me on my Grand Tour (the posts will hopefully be more regular).

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Regular Maintenance


The Fall and Winter can be tough days for administrators and teachers.  We are getting close to Christmas and the holidays yet the amount of activities seem to be endless – the Christmas dinner, the school dance, student’s council spirit weeks and so on.  Though there is a holiday approaching, we seem to be even busier than normal.

Student concerns seem to increase, some from the nature of the season and some from the stress of the impending holidays.  Though joyful for a great deal, the holiday season can be challenging for a great deal of individuals and our days can often be taken up with helping students navigate this stressful.

The days also get darker and colder, and we often must tune up our vehicles to get them ready.  I often tune up my bicycle to get them ready for the season.  The road bike goes onto trainer waiting for those dry days to come back.  The mountain bike gets its chain lubed with some wet conditions grease.  At this time, I also haul out my cold weather gear.  This gets me ready for the miserable but at times glorious conditions of the Wet Coast.


As I get ready for my winter biking season, we also need to tune up ourselves as we navigate the teaching winter.  Long gone are those beautiful summery days of September (though in BC, our start was delayed until early fall).  These winter days also are a signal that the semester is coming to an end so there is the inevitable onslaught of assessments for students so that their learning can show to their teachers.  As admin, we notice a high degree of stress from all aspects of the system. This stress can also seep into our practice.  There have been a number of Fridays where I literally collapse as soon as I enter my house.  It is almost like my body and brain knows it is time to hibernate for the weekend.

It is situations such as these that really make me re-evaluate ways that I can tune-up my mind and body so that I can handle situations in a less stressful way.  I want to be able to come home on a Friday and be able to sit with my daughters and watch a good flick.  In the last couple of years, I have been looking at ways to de-stress in a way that keeps me working effectively and efficiently.

There are three things that I do that seem to work for me:

1)      Despite that fact that I wake up to dark and go to sleep to dark, I drag myself up every morning and do some type of physical activity. Recently, I have been delving into plyometric exercises.  By the time I am done, I am relegated to a puddle on the floor.  However, my mind is sharp and keeps my going for the day.


2)      Eat healthily.  I have a problem – it is called chocolate.  Halloween just ended with these amazing little chocolates which can be gobbled up by the handful.  Three little coffee crisps couldn’t be all that bad? But wait, Christmas is coming and the supplies of sweets seem to have no end in sight.  I seem to remember a time when my admin team (Rex, Bob) gobbled up Lindor chocolates like they were going out of style.  In the last couple of years, I have adapted my diet to include healthy filling options.  I start with a good breakfast – my cereal bowl (actually a dog bowl) has the words Fiber First printed on it.  This is a good way to remind me to keep it healthy and good things will follow.  I have also started using a food journal app to track my habits. Routine has really helped me a great deal


3)      Solid pro-d/professional learning.  More and more, I find myself consuming tons of educational materials.  Twitter and Edutopia have been invaluable tools for me.  I usually start off my morning by perusing some quick articles on what is hot and happening in education.  As instructional leaders, we need to stay current and this allows me to be an advocate for education. This allows me to manoeuvre situations. There is never enough education and being well versed had never hurt me.


4)      The last aspect of my maintenance is possible the most important. The creation of a support group is a crucial step. I have mentioned this many times before. You can underestimate the power of someone to bounce ideas off. This allows you a reflective piece. In each of my previous schools, the regular consultation with my principal and partner was very important for my growth as an administrator. At Sullivan Heights, that journey began when our team blogged about the things that were important to us. As an admin team, we promoted each of our topics and allowed us to use the topics as jumping off points for school development.


Those four are just some of my regular maintenance tips. I anticipate another 20 years in the education system and I believe these regular checkups can keep me sane and moving forward in a positive direction.

Dropping the Chain


During the early part of this school year, our schools were in a prolonged strike. These were tough days for the education system. As administrators, we were in a unique but not great situation. As the days went by, our team planned and re-planned our school start up plan. We changed the calendar so many times that there were times that we wanted to just trash the whole thing and start from scratch. We met with students and counselling them on course changes. We went into every classroom and moved desks/chairs in anticipation for the start of school.
The strike, though a terrible situation,  did provide me an opportunity to get on my bike. I have enjoyed cycling for a long time but I find it difficult to ride to school most days due to meetings and the lack of light in the mornings. Cycling in Surrey can be an adventure and a number of my co-workers have mentioned how I am taking my life in my hands.
So, my ride is 30km one way along several different routes. The easiest route is on a new highway that cuts through Delta. It can definitely save time but you are traveling on a 80kmh highway, although there is wide bike lane, where there are cars well in excess of that speed.  Overall, I can average just under 30kmh on that route. It is nice and flat until I get to Surrey and a couple of hills. However, there has been a fear of that highway.  Twice I have dropped my chain at speed – basically, the chain slips off one of The chainrings when shifting. At high speeds, this is quite scary as you end up spinning your cranks with zero tension. So, I fixed the issue by adjusting my gears so that the chain would be limited at the Upper and lower limits. I should have no more chain drops.
So, there I am spinning nicely feeling some burn in my legs, lungs working and enjoying a spirited ride. Suddenly, I hit a rock and hear a bang and a hiss. My back tire kicked out and I knew I had a blowout – at speed. Again, this is a dangerous situation but less so on flats. I moved as far away form the traffic as I could and set about changing the flat.  Having had my fair share of flats in my life, I was quite proficient at changing flats and in about 2 minutes. My saddle bag had a spare tube and I had a pump.  My only issue was in the knowledge that I had no more spares. The rest of my ride and rides since then have had no issues.
The lesson that came from this one day helps to inform my current practice as a leader in a school.
It is easy to drop a chain at anytime.  There are many situations that lead to this. Perhaps, you are shifting under stress or shifting too quickly.  In my job, this also happens. I could equate this to a situation that gets out of control too quickly. Often when I drop the chain in my job, I tend to slow down immediately. I move into quick reflective mode. Early on, I would use a triage method to assess situations but as I have gotten older and wiser, I no longer do things without thinking about first.  Urgency is not always the best policy. The goal for me has is in how I an work to prevent those situations from happening again in the same manner.
Getting a flat tire is something that is much more common but usually avoidable.  Keeping your tires inflated to correct pressure helps in this. On road bikes, under inflated tires can flatten in a situation called a pinch flat – completely avoidable. Sometimes the spokes can poke through the rim and puncture the tube.  However, you can use a strip of fabric or plastic in the rim that prevents this. The danger lies with road debris such as glass, sharp rocks or garbage.  You cannot anticipate these and often will flatten your ride.
In my career, the explosive situations are the road debris ones. How can you prepare for those? It might be that child who has some major needs and we must have the child and protection ministry called on their behalf. It might be a violent situation at your school. It could be a furious parent. These are the things that are unanticipated.  How can we prepare for those? Having a tube and pump in your bag can help you just in case. For my job, you must have a strong support system around you. Form a team that works as a wrap around not just for students but also for staff.  I always have somebody to bounce ideas off. Create a support plan that helps you with both the surprises and the regular situations.
Those support structures will be my repair kit just in case.

My First Tour – Year One


I have been an administrator for the past eight years.  In those years, the greatest lesson that I have walked away with is that our job provides consistent on the job training.  However, when I began my admin career, there was no real training provided for me prior to me being hired. I always felt that there was an assumption that I was ready to jump into the pool – did anybody really know if I could swim yet?

I did feel that I was ready for this new chapter in my life but nothing really readied me as I walked into my new school. Our school district does provide a Leading the Learning program for year one VPs but this occurs after we have assumed our roles. This leadership boot camp gives us lots of information but there is still something missing from those sessions.

The question that I ask is how can we “train” prospective administrators so that not only are they ready to swim, they are ready to take on any challenge that is presented to them immediately.

If I think back to year one, I am blown away by the situations that I had to deal with and the ways that I dealt with them.  Experience has obviously given me much perspective on the ways to deal with varied situations but I always look back to year one and how things might have been different.


The Surrey school district provides a multitude of opportunities for leadership and growth for teachers and leaders on the rise.  The first such group was entitled Leadership Academy. This group brought teachers together to engage in conversations based on leadership and learning. However, the focus of the academy was on instructional leadership not the bare bones leadership that I so needed. I was looking for the nitty gritty things – how to handle students and staff. I was looking for scenarios that affect much of my daily life as a vice principal.  In my first year, those were the things that I really needed.  The role of instructional leadership was definitely important but for me, it was the role of myself as a school leader that was much more important

During a recent pro-d session, we were asked to pick a card from a table and to relate what it meant to us. I zeroed on two cards: one that had a person looking into a compact mirror and the other of a policeman. The policeman motif was one that struck with me as a VP since it was a role that has resonated with me since my first day as a VP. I started at a brand new school with an old school disciplinary based principal. My VP partner was also brand new to the role so my peer mentorship was going to be limited. It was made clear to me right from the outset that my job was to “hold the line” at the school. I was the gatekeeper, the discipline, and the “hammer”.


As I moved to my third school, I have become more self-reflective about my role. This has come with experience but I really wish that I could have had more “training” prior to assuming the role. The on the job experiences were definitely rich and no amount of role-play would have given me those.

I just believe that new administrators need to have a more concise and concrete set of background skills prior to undertaking the position. I have stumbled on three things that might work for prospective leaders.

1) Counselors that move into their jobs are required to have a set number of hours in clinical practice. They often job shadow other counselors to develop real world skills that are directly transferable. I believe that new administration should, undergo a similar regimen. Prior to applying, I would have these teachers undergo a work placement type of program where they job shadow other VPs. You can underestimate the power of these experiences. As VPs in Surrey, there is a requirement for us to have undertaken a master’s degree. This gives us the ingredients but we need more to fully develop. Often, new VPs have had department head experience yet this usually doesn’t involved students as much as dealing with the management of budgets, etc.

2) All prospective VPs should have a course in how to develop relationships.  Relationships have always been the cornerstone of my practice. You cannot underestimate the power of making connections with staff and students. I believe it is the single most important factor in determining your success as a leader. Relationships, relationships, relationships.

3) A way to promote effective decision making and the steps underlying those decisions. It has to be taught decision-making should be transparent. This is something that can be taught. In my year one, we were taught the value of checklists when involved with organization. This can also be used with the decision making process. Making this a slow, discrete process will allow more reflection and success.

Those three are just some of things that I would have preferred as a first year VP. You cannot underestimate the power of a strong mentor in this whole process but without that, there are a great deal of other steps you can undertake to have a successful year one.


You can never go home again…or can you?


Kwantlen Park is the fourth school in my education career. I remember the first time that I moved schools. My first school, Tamanawis, was all I had ever known. I had forged great friendships there and felt a true connection to that school.   Moving to Panorama Ridge – a brand new school in Surrey, in a new leadership position was a surreal experience. I felt like that first year teacher again. I had to forge new relationships and become reconnected to a new environment.

However, I refused to let go of Tamanawis. I often visited the school for whatever reason I could think of. It was great to continue relationships with a place that was dear to my hear. I remember at the end of my first administration year, I was invited back to Tamanawis for their year end barbeque. I was truly in the best of both worlds. 

Life at the Ridge was swimming along perfectly until I was yanked unexpectedly in the summer of my third year. I was transferred to a new school, Sullivan Heights.  Demographically, Sullivan was quite different from my previous two schools despite being only 5 minutes down  the street. All that work at establishing relationships was gone. Suddenly, the frailty of being an administrator became clear to me. We were at the whim of the school board as they determined the needs of the district.  However, in hindsight, working at Sullivan Heights was a blessing in disguise. I was allowed to flourish and mentor a junior VP.

As I worked at Sullivan, I again refused to give up on the relationships that I had made previously. I would continue to visit those schools keeping some semblance of a link alive. It was during my time at Sullivan that I heard the expression, “You can never go home again” for the first time. I was told by my mentor principal at Panorama Ridge  that I needed to let go of the past. The funny part was that he told me just after I had been transferred and was sitting in his office on one of my visits.

I just don’t understand the expression. Why can’t you go home again? I know some principals that rarely visit their previous schools no matter the circumstance. One was a long term principal at a school for nine years, yet he felt no allegiance when he transferred. His explanation was in the fact that the old school was part of his past, he was moving forward.

My argument exists in the fact that looking into the past allows you to move forward. If you can make great relationships, I think you need to continue to cultivate those. Going home allows you a reflective piece but also perhaps a validation of your practice. If we exist on this earth as integrated organisms, shouldn’t we go out of our way to stay linked? Many of my friends have grown up with me in our careers. I have remained friends with them despite my moves from school to school.   Relationships have formed the cornerstone of my leadership and will continue to define the way that I do things in my life and my career.

Maybe going home isn’t a backwards motion but a continuation of your life’s journey.Image