Why I Teach

A former student of mine from way back wrote me this letter – for me, it is a testament about the power of relationships in education.

The reason I am writing you is to thank you. All teachers affect us in some way as we move through our school years, but there are only two that I would say stood out in shaping who I am today. There are two teachers that I think back and say I would not be the same person if they weren’t part of my life. The first was my acting teacher, Ralph Dale. He was the one who helped break me out of my shy demeanor. The second is you. I learned so much in your class, and very little of it was related to Earth Science.

A couple lessons have stuck with me. First, you taught me not to take it all so serious. I saw you take a few minutes at the end of class to have fun, and/or plan revenge, and learned that it is okay to turn off school or work once in a while to enjoy the rest of life. I take that lesson with me to the office every day. Second, I learned that it is okay to ask for help, regardless of the source. Earth Science was a new class for you and at times you came to me, your student, to help you figure out a concept so you could explain it to the rest of the class. That meant a lot to me and it has stuck with me. It helped me realize that no matter what you do you can’t know everything and the people learning from you or working with you are often the best people  to help you. I have carried that lesson with me into my professional life and am a strong believer that the people who supposedly work “for” me, are often the best people to learn from.

These apparently simple lessons, and others which can’t be easily explained, have affected me more than you could ever know. I hear you are a principal now. On one hand I’m happy that you can affect so many more students in that role, but I am also disappointed that fewer students will have the hands on “Ranu” experience. Either way, I appreciate the affect you have had on my life.

Thank you Mr. Ranu.

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Teaching Saved Me, Leadership Freed Me

“Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it”

I cannot remember where I got this quote but I really wish that had been my motto in my early adult years. I have not blogged in the past year as I have been tasked with running a school in Surrey and blogging went by the wayside so I thought I better get going again. As the principal of Clayton Heights in Surrey, this past year has been quite a eye opening experience. I had assumed originally this I was going to the “county club school. It turns out that I was a bit wrong on that point but that is for another day.

As I come on the 20th year of teaching, I thought that I would write down a bit about my journey and how teaching really saved me and placed me on a path. I graduated from high school with good grades and embarked on my university journey. In all honesty, high school did not prepare me for post secondary life in university. Support structures were all but absent, teachers did not know my name, accountability was restricted to the two exams I had in each course. University life was not exactly what I thought it would be.

During this time, I also decided to get a part time job (which eventually morphed into almost full time). I never wanted to rely on my parents to support my education and my job at the airport would fulfill that for me. Unfortunately, I went to school from eight to two and then worked from three to midnight. What was I thinking?

In a couple of years, I moved from customer service rep to a station manager with a company car and a decent salary. This was at twenty two years old. I continued this while trying to complete my degree in biology. Though at this point, I wasn’t too sure what I would do with that degree. I finally graduated at twenty six with a degree in animal biology and an almost minor in history. At that time. I assumed that I was going to work at Hertz for the rest of my life. I looked at my plan and thought that promotion was the way to go. Thirty five thousand a year with a company car wasn’t so bad. I could move up to middle management and do well.

I went in for what I thought was an interview in January of 1997. I was handed a termination letter with two weeks of severance. No real reason was given but it didn’t really matter. Here I was, twenty six years old with no real prospects. I had not planned for a tomorrow. I had coasted along on a path which provided me with adequate rewards and a possible future but now what?

What was I good at? I had this wonderful science degree that would get me a lab job. Was there a need for someone who had deft skills at plating microscope slides and dissecting animals with flair? My future wife started to give me suggestions for the future. Teaching popped as an option. My cousin who taught in an elementary convinced me to volunteer for her. I helped out in a grade four classroom and found my calling. All my life, I was called a bit immature and finally this was in my favour when dealing with children. I spent the greater part of of the first half of that year volunteering with young children and loved every minute of it.

My entry in the secondary education program occurred in the fall and it was been one of the best experiences in my life. Teaching gave me confidence in who I was and who I could become. Teaching gave me a clear path and allowed me to use my education for a proper use. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching position right after graduating albeit with 6 different classes in 6 different classrooms. I clearly remember my interview with Chuck Nelson and Peter Johnston at Tamanawis Secondary. These two admin told me of all the amazing opportunities available to me as a teacher. It was in that interview that I told Peter and chuck of my ten year plan; I had a list of things I wanted to achieve: running a pro-d day, getting a department headship, teaching grade 12 courses, and getting involved in coaching. Teaching saved me; there were some dark times after I lost my job but teaching got me through. I really found something that I felt I could succeed at.

If teaching saved me, it was leadership that freed me. My teaching mentor, Vim Valera, pushed me to be and do more. During this time, I got married and started a family and this all added to my growth as a teacher. I felt fulfilled but I knew I could expand my teaching horizons. My principal offered me an opportunity to leave the science department and move into careers and further grow as a leader.

Leadership opportunities allowed me to control where I was moving and also to develop a team that would work with me to achieve goals. Moving into administration was similarly a developmental piece for me. In my interviews, I made one statement that stuck with me – you are not hiring a VP, you are hiring a principal who will one day sail his own ship.

Leadership as an administrator forced me to make the tough decisions. As a teacher, you are often a yes man. Adminstrators are often Dr NO. I had to learn how to navigate students, parents and teachers from an entirely different perspective. As a principal, leadership allows me to justify decisions. I have to be able to stand by my actions and use those decisions to place leadership in others. It has been an amazing experience for me so far. I firmly believe that in the creation of my ten year plans gave me something to strive for, something that provided me with purpose.

My narrative since I entered the teaching profession has always been based on a growth model. Teaching moved me forward and I have not looked back since. I look forward to the next ten.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

Make it so!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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