Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Sunshine Award!

This is the view outside my office on a sunny, but cold morning! Look at that Sundog!

I am honored to be nominated for a Sunshine Award. Blogger, Lisa Friedman, nominated my blog for the Sunshine award.  This is how it goes. . . 
The Sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know!
Here are the rules listed by Lisa on her blog:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
11 Random Facts About Me:
1. I have 5 sons who are grown now but were born 7 years apart so it made for a very interesting early years.  We were never bored, that is for sure.  I remember some important dates and memories but a lot of what happened day to day is a blur!
2. I love miniature anything.  If you can show it to me in "tiny" I will love it.  I started a mini doll house as an older teenager but never finished it.  I did put hardwood floors (mini, of course) in it and wallpaper but never got the outside down or the furniture assembled.  Maybe one day I will have time.
3. I hate puzzles.  I try to understand the allure of a 1000 piece puzzle but I just get bored after a couple of minutes of lining up the outside edges. 
4.I never used to eat butter, or ketchup, or pickles and now, as an adult, I love all of those.  Weird how your taste buds change as you get older.
5. I am afraid of heights.  As a first year teacher, I took my students to the mountains to hike and I figured if I was going to get them to climb up high, I would have to be the role model.  Later I took them to a camp with a zipline and had to show my "courage" then too.  Little by little I am less fearful, but I still get butterflies when I am up high and near the edge of some structure (including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last month in Maryland- soooo scary).
6.I love to garden but I hate to weed.  I have to really force myself to pull the weeds but it looks so nice when you get rid of all the old weeds and the beautiful plants have space to grow
7. I LOVE diet coke and even though my husband says it turns to formaldehyde in my body and is pickling me, I love the fizz and the taste.  I am trying to cut down the consumption and don't drink it every day anymore!
8. I am a pretty good (but out of practice) seamstress.  I used to make my kids' clothes and one year made all of their winter coats. I even made my husband's winter coat that year.  I made my graduation gown and a lovely winter coat with tailored collar and bound pockets in high school. Now you get things for so little, it seems a waste of time to spend sewing.  I still have a lovely sewing machine so maybe one day...
9.I LOVE lacrosse!  My boys all played.  I have been a manager, coach and jersey mom.  I even started a ladies' league for moms who wanted to give it a try.  I played for a few years and then ran out of time.  I just went to Baltimore as a manager with my son's team (he was the coach) because they needed a manager! I love the pace and the excitement of box lacrosse and the finesse and strategy of field lacrosse. I could watch my sons and now my grandsons play every weekend because I love the game so much. My youngest will be trying out for the Edmonton Rush ( a pro team here in Canada) next weekend so we will have all our fingers crossed as he does his best!
10. I twist my hair when I am thinking or nervous or just need a bit of regulation I guess.  My admin assistant used to laugh and wonder what I was up to when I started twisting and twirling my hair at work!  I guess I do it when I drive because she knew when she was driving behind me because I would get twirling at the stops.  
and finally
11.  I love to learn for the sake of learning.  I am taking a grad level course at the University of Alberta on Assistive Technology because I wanted to learn about it. I could go to school forever because I love to read and learn and write.

1.If you could cast yourself in any reality TV show, which would it be and why?
I don't watch a lot of reality shows except for cooking shows and so I guess I would like to be Gordon Ramsey.  Don't laugh but he is so confident that I would like to be confident like that all the time too.  I would leave out the meaness to others and the swearing though.

2.Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?   A little of both depending on what is on sale.  I 
have been buying Wow Butter lately because one of my boys is allergic to peanuts.

3.Favorite place to vacation?  Anywhere I have to take a plane.  I love to travel.  I loved Mexico this summer even though it was REALLY hot.  I loved Seattle and being by the sea.  I love, love, love the mountains and Canmore, AB is one of my favorite getaways. 

4.What animal most describes your personality? Momma Bear.  Soft and cuddly looking until you go after one of my "cubs".  It could be a school cub or one of my own.  Then I might be scary!

5.Favorite ice cream flavor? I love Rolo ice cream but also like anything lemony.

6.Cookie or cake? either so long as some one else makes them.  I love carbs but recently gave up gluten so cakes or cookies that are gluten free are harder to come by. 

7.Describe your ideal day. Relaxing with a good book in my pjs and intermittently napping.

8.What is your favorite season? Summer for sure.  I love the sun and the warmth of the sun on my face. 

9.What is your favorite thing about blogging? Being able to reflect on what i have learned or thought about.  I love that I have a platform to share with others and like Lisa, I didn't think anyone would care what I was writing.  I am thrilled that others can find support or understanding from my writing.  I started my blog as a requirement for a class I was taking on Web 2.0 tools.  I never thought I would keep it up.  I am grateful to be able to share in such a way.

10.How do you relax? I relax by reading or doing yoga.  I didn't do any exercise for the past four months (not sure why) and I recently started again. I am so glad to be able to do so.  It really makes a difference in my ability to sleep.  I also love to listen to a variety of music from country to gospel to pop to rock. I love most music and music can soothe my soul. 

11.What did you have for breakfast? My son made bacon, eggs and raisin toast.  Delicious!

Bloggers I believe should get a Sunshine Award include:

These are all super educators/leaders who are making a huge difference in their schools and their communities.  I count myself blessed to have them in my PLN.  I would have nominated all my inclusion tweeps but Lisa already did that!  
Here are your questions besides the 11 random facts about yourselves:
1. sleep on your side, your back or your tummy?
2. Is the glass half full or half empty?
3. Would you rather read fiction or non-fiction? What book do you call a classic in your fav genre?
4. Secret guilty pleasure?
5. walk or run? What is your favorite?
6. What is your favorite treat?
7. How do you "leave work at work?"
8. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
9. What was your favorite subject in high school?  Why?
10. Socks with sandals? Yes or no?
11. Finish this sentence: When someone thinks of me, they think ____________.

Have fun with the questions and we will have fun getting to know about all these rays of sunshine!

Why School? #SAVMP

I watched this Ted Talk by Seth Godin last year and it piqued my interest greatly.  I have often sat back as a classroom teacher and wondered, "What is the point of everything I am doing?  Why do we have school? Why do we do the things we do?"  As many a night went by and I marked countless papers and added countless grades to some computer program, I asked those questions. I still find that question flitting through my brain - "What is the point of all this? and How could things be different for children?"

Last year, I raised the question with staff after referring to the video in my weekly memo.  I suggested that we do a mini book study from the transcript of the video.  That was toward the end of the school year and we never did get to that study as I moved to a new position.  But what a great way to start the school year.  You could promote such rich discussion by watching this with staff.  We did have discussion about the reason for some of our practices at school; the factory model to prepare children to be obedient factory workers, the need for bells to remind us of when our breaks would be on the job, etc.  I think it made some of the staff sit back and think about the "whys" of what we have always done.  Did it change the way things were done?  Not yet, but the seeds were planted.

This year my team has a different mandate: to support students with exceptional needs in inclusive or congregated environments.  I am wondering how we could use this same video to promote discussion in our platform?  I wonder where the discussion would go from their point of view?  I will add it to my weekly memo as a video of interest and see where the discussion travels. . .

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Just Too Easy?

This week our team began the task of completing file reviews for a group of students in a class for students with severe or complex needs.  Many of these students are in wheelchairs.  Most of these students are non-verbal.  All require a great deal of care throughout the day.  We found practices in the past that appeared hopeful -  practices to break down barriers of movement and barriers of communication.  Students were introduced to switches to turn on their own equipment such as music and a fan.  Students were introduced to low tech communication devices that allowed them opportunity to communicate needs and wants. IPPs were full of goals to move forward.

Fast forward to today.  Students no longer use these communication devices.  The focus in the IPP is on actions such as reaching for an object.  Students are lined up each day and put through the same paces - simply existing in a lack lustre room that does not even get dressed up for Halloween.  I will add that the staff in the room does care for the students.  That is not the problem.  That they care, is evident.

The problem as I see it is this -
Nobody has any hope for these students.  We have given up.  We try nothing new.  We presume these students are incapable of anything much.  We do their art for them.  We park them in front of the video player and play Dora every day because "They love it."  We just deliver the same old tired program day in and day out.  We keep these students hidden at the back of the school and we even feel the need to "give the teacher a break" because it is just so hard.

I am not saying that programing for students who cannot give you verbal feedback is easy.  I am not saying that you have to do much with little money.  BUT I am saying that these children deserve our very best just like the gifted and talented student down the hall.  These students deserve an equitable education and when everyone else has given up hope, we MUST be the advocate for these students.

I wonder how our most vulnerable students do not have access to the very best possible communication devices.  I wonder how our most vulnerable students do not have access to curriculum as directed by the government?  I know we will have to make modifications but they deserve the curriculum as well.

Check out the story of Nathan who has been included since kindergarten thanks to the adults around him who have been his advocates.  Who will advocate for the students locked away in these segregated sites? When will they have the opportunity to be with their peers?

Unless we stop opening up more and more sites to keep these kids segregated, we will continue to forget about their needs and simply move through the motions, hiding behind our wall of "care" all the while giving up hope for these young people.  Unfortunate because these kids need  an advocate to bring them back to the group, back to being a part of society instead of living on the fringes and simply surviving.

Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education wrote to parents:
As a parent of three kids, I understand the hopes and dreams you have for your child. You hope that through an excellent education, your child will reach their full potential.
In Alberta they can.
We continue to build our world-class education system, delivering 21st century learning through the vision of Inspiring Education*. This vision identifies the competencies of a successful Albertan – an engaged thinker who is ethical and entrepreneurial – and lays the groundwork for how to promote those values in our youth and the learning community.
The goal is to prepare students so they not only have the knowledge to succeed but also the skills and competencies demanded of their future world – a world that will have different types of jobs that require new skills. To get students ready, you will probably notice your child’s education is a bit different than when you were in school.
Classrooms are set up to invoke critical thinking where solutions are often found by the student, not just the teacher. This is all part of developing real-life skills in students, especially in our digital age where there is an abundance of information readily available – often in the palm of your hand. 

I wonder what plans Jeff has for our most vulnerable students.  No mention of our students with complex special needs.  We read on the Alberta Ed website:

When we think about each student we must consider different definitions of student success.  An inclusive education system does not mean everyone attends the same type of school, rather it means we create education settings where each student finds success.

This is where it gets sketchy.  Who decides what is success?  It is successful if no one is noisy and nothing rocks the boat?  Or will there be direction as to success for all?  This is where it is frustrating. Success seems to only indicate what our Ableist society sees as success in the traditional school program.  We need indicators for success for our kids with complex needs also.

I am thankful for the start our team has taken to make a difference for these students.  I look forward to see what our next steps will be.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Do We Really Believe Everyone Should Have a Voice?

I have been heavy of heart this week.  I visited a class where I could not find evidence of student communication for students who are our most vulnerable.  These students have complex disabilities and many are unable to speak.  They cannot say when they hurt, when they are bored, when they are frightened.  They have no means to explain some of their behaviours, especially those self-injurious behaviours that we ableists do not understand.  We watch and we wonder why a person would want to hurt himself but we do not delve deeper to find out the reason, we just think it should stop and we tell him that.  We tell him to quit doing that because we have told you many times not to.  

What are we thinking when we say that?  We are NOT thinking... We only see something that think is wrong.  

I read Carly's Voice last year and it changed my opinion about students without a "voice".  For so long this young lady could not communicate and sensory overload resulted in her injuring herself and yelling to get some response.  When it was discovered she could type, she definitely found her voice and could explain some of the things that she did.  For a brief experience having no voice, visit Carly's Cafe: 

I know I cannot sit back and watch our students leave our district with no voice or way of communication.  I am excited our team wants to make a plan to bring communication to the classroom.  I look forward to working together with these brilliant individuals to give each and every student in this classroom a voice.

Otherwise, we will be just like every person who thinks it is enough that we "allow" these students in school; that they have a place to "go" everyday but is that enough?  Absolutely not. These students deserve our very best work to give them a voice.  If we believe it, we need to follow through.

Time for ... #SAVMP

AND GO!...

steven covey, seven habits, time managementThat seems to be the way my week starts every Monday.  As the principal of a small school with no assistant principal, there seemed to be so many things to accomplish every day.  While I wished to be in Stephen Covey's Quadrant II, I often found myself responding to crisis, whether it was a student, a parent or a teacher or answering the many many emails that came my way.  Meeting the needs of the folks in my building was part of relationship building but I still felt like I was simply putting out fires.  I spent a great deal of time in classrooms but that was definitely part of my job and in my opinion, QII.  
If I really wanted to get some quality planning time in, it was necessary to be in the building quite late or very early.  I know this work was important but was more reactive rather than proactive.  Our school staff and parents were trained in the Leader in Me program and by the second year, if I put my door hanger on that said, "I am in QII, please leave me alone," they would do just that.  However, I felt kind of awkward putting the sign up because it felt like I was ignoring the people I needed to build relationships with in QII.  In my last year in the principalship, I was learning to take the time to do the those important tasks and feeling okay with asking people to make appointments to see me.  I found if I did this, I wasn't at work until all hours of the night or coming home, slamming dinner together, only to sit down and work remotely on what didn't get done during the day.  

This year, I still feel like I am running, but I realize I have much to learn in my new position.  I did ask a staff member to come and see me this next week for a longer appointment because I had some important QII items to complete on Friday.  And you know?  I didn't feel so guilty. It felt so GREAT to get everything done that needed to be done on Friday.  I think I will continue to grow in my ability to manage my time appropriately. I need to remember what my bottom line is; what is my purpose and the vision of our department and ultimately our district.  Like a friend of mine said, "You gotta keep the main thing the main thing."  And what is our main thing? Supporting students and staff to provide the best and most equitable education for every student in the classroom.

I love this quote and I think I will keep it close in the future...
Start by Doing What’s Necessary, Then What’s Possible and Suddenly you are Doing the Impossible..
~~ St. Francis Of Assisi