Monday, November 17, 2014

Celebrating the Generosity of the Small Town

Few people get to experience what I saw last night. Let me back up first. We've only lived in Bassano for two and half months, and we are fitting into the community quickly. My wife has been invited to two different book clubs that are exclusively for women. Sorry men, I guess we don't read. But that's beside the point. Our girls are waitresses at the Roadside Grill, so they meet lots of people passing through on the TransCanada, or the locals for the daily coffee. It feels like we are out at least two nights a week doing something in the community, whether it's a meeting, making pies at the Presbyterian Church, or helping out with the Fall Turkey Supper. That's a far cry from our experience in Prince Albert, where we spent most nights at home, and rarely participated in community events. Not sure why, other than there's over 40 thousand people living in the city and no way to meet or know everyone like we're starting to do in a small town like Bassano.

So when Daryl and Carrie Lassiter invited Janice and I to a fundraising event at the community hall Saturday evening, we were expecting the regular Bassano evening of lots of food and visiting. When Carrie asked, we were like "Sure, sounds like fun." We had no idea what we were in for because it was the Bassano Arena Fundraiser. And if you have never been to one of these events in Bassano, you really are missing out.

Around the perimeter of the community hall were items that were going to be a part of the live auction, other items were displayed for the silent auction, and another group of items for bucket draws. The quality of the items were impressive and not cheap either. Janice and I spied out an outdoor fire pit donated by Graham Douglass, and she really wanted it. I was told to break out the cheque book, because we were going home with it. We'd been to silent auctions in PA before, so if it was anything like what we've been to before it was going to be a fun evening. We never expected the night to turn into a wild, fun filled extravaganza it became. Wow. The evening of prizes and auctioning began with Jason Goudie winning the $600 dollar 50/50 prize and donating it back to the arena fundraiser.

The auctioneer opened the bidding on a load of gravel valued at $250, and it went for $550. And things heated from there. A homemade quilt went for $16,500. The fire pit, we were eyeing up, went for $3500, well out of our price range. So no fire pit for us. A snowmobile jacket went through three or four rounds of auctions, because the people that bought it for $1500, donated it back and had people bid on it again. When it was all done, I'm sure it went for over $5000. With the evening over, this event that would have been happy to raise at least $75,000, raised $129,000 for the arena.

People can say whatever they want about small towns. Yes, I've lived in small town Saskatchewan before and it could be cliquey. You either were from the community by rite of passage because your grandparents were pioneers or you were an import from away. The only time people got together was when there was a funeral, and everyone showed up, especially for the food. I'm not saying Bassano is like this, because I haven't been here long enough to see it, but what I saw last night was a community that uniquely cares for more than the arena, they care about the youth of Bassano. They didn't just raise $129,000 for a building, this was for the kids.

I'm told this what Bassano folks do. Last year the community held a benefit concert last year for the Siksika Flood victims and raised $30,000 for families displaced from their homes. The community also raised money for the swimming pool  and the Zamboni, as well. What this says to me is that Bassano is a community of generosity. It has a rich history of giving when it counts. This speaks loudly to the quality of a community when they can come together for an evening and give so generously. My wife and I feel particularly blessed to have the opportunity to come to Bassano and hopefully become a part of this rich heritage for a long time to come. Coming from a city where crime, drugs, violence is on the rise, we have never felt safer than we do in Bassano. And people look out for one another. Last weekend, we had to run back up to Prince Albert and two different neighbours removed the snow from our driveway while we were away.

So with that experience on Saturday evening, we want to extend that opportunity to practice the virtue of generosity in the school with our students. This year we will be collecting winter coats, mitts, toques, and boots that we will be donating the Innovations Project in Brooks. If you have spare used items that are taking up space in your closet and you would like to help out folks in need, please go through those closets and send the items to the school. We would appreciate you helping us with this. There's no need for kids to be cold because they don't have the proper attire. Besides this seems like the right community to ask such a thing.

We are also adopting some families that we can help out for Christmas. This is another Innovation project. In the past, we have helped out 4 families each year, and if we have enough interest, we could help more families have the kind of Christmas that many of us are fortunate to experience. You can adopt a family and either buy gifts for them or donate money. All this is done anonymously. If you want to participate, please call the school and get more information about how you can participate or call Kathy Irwin, Innovations Project directly at (403) 363-1790, or email,

If you missed out participating in the arena fundraiser, these are just some ways you can help out at the school and extend our virtue of generosity throughout the community and beyond. Let's make generosity a part of our growth strategy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Great Principals Do Differently

Intentionality in our Personal & Professional Growth Plans (PPGP)

Our school division asks each year for teachers and administrators to submit a Professional Growth Plans. I think we need them, but personally I share John Maxwell's ideology that stresses we don't have the same level of success if we don't combine our Professional Growth Plans with our Personal Growth Plans. In fact, I don't think you can really separate the two, so I call it the Personal and Professional Growth Plan (PPGP). This isn't allows an easy task to complete, but yet an important exercise if not for the administrator who collects them, but particularly for the staff member. When we get the busiest, if we don't have a plan for our growth, it's easy to get off track. I realize the School Division wants PGP - Professional Growth Plans, but I like the PPGP - Personal & Professional Growth Plans because it about setting goals for the whole person. None of us live our lives in complete isolation and focusing only on the professional goals. Life is always happening around, and it's important to think about personal goals that will help reach our professional goals. It's all connected.

Following the First Nations model, I like the staff to consider the four dimensions - Intellectual, Spiritual, Emotional, and Physical when they set their goals.For example, to grow intellectually they may read journals or books, engage in PLC or PD by going to conferences or workshops, take extra classes at university, or learn a new skill. For spiritual growth it can range from reading a good book, participating in church ministry opportunities or cultural activities, having regular quiet time, or practice speaking the language of the virtues. Emotional goals may be working on relationships with a spouse, children, family or friends, taking personal time to recharge and energize, reading, or schedule regular for you and a loved one to talk and visit. Finally physical goals are losing weight, eating healthy, stop smoking, running a marathon, getting active, and get more sleep. All of these goals directly effect our ability to be the kind of professional we want to be or need to be.

Maybe it's the years of virtues training, but I want my life to practice purposefulness with a level of intentionality. Here's my PPGP for this year.

Personal & Professional Growth Plan Framework

Name:        Vincent Hill                                         School Year: 2014 - 2015
“The Vision”Personal Professional Goal(s)—What will I achieve?

Intellectual: I will have a greater understanding of Alberta Education, and the inner workings of the Alberta school system at large. I will stay abreast of current education trends and strategies and after carefully analyzing our Bassano School practices and shortfalls make appropriate adjustments to ensure we meeting the needs of the students.

Emotional: I will take the appropriate time to foster my emotional health that makes me a positive influence in the school with students and staff.

Physical: Continue to maintain my fitness level and stay with my fitness plan that demonstrates to students and staff the importance of staying healthy and fit.

Spiritual: Continue to strive to live my life according to the virtues that sees the good in others and lives it as well. I want my life to count for how I can positively affect change in our students

“The Plan” Strategies and Activities —How will I achieve my goal(s)?
Intellectual: I will:
  1.            Attend conferences that relate to learning strategies,
  2.            Apply myself to asking questions, or participate in events that will help me fully understand how and Alberta Education is doing,
  3.            Read the books on my list that I have started or yet to start: Out of our Minds – Ken Robinson, Sparks, How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers – Peter Benson, To Sell is Human – Dan Pink, The Progress Principle - Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer, and other recommended,
  4.            Lead and participate Jr. & Sr. PLC at school discussing Cross-Curricular Competencies,
  5.            Participate in #SatChat and #SunChat PLC Twitter discussions regularly,
  6.            Start Twitter PLC group with #, like I did in SK with #SKMathChat,
  7.            Maintain weekly blog as a Reflective exercise,
  8.            Read Zite and Flipboard articles daily to apply to my teaching practice and Tweet to those who follow me on Twitter,
  9.            Watch TedTalk videos weekly to stay informed on current topics,
  10.            Work together with staff on Project Based Learning strategies,
  11.            Write a proposal to speak at a conference with Sean Beaton. 
Emotional: I will:
  1.            Meet with my mentor regularly to bounce ideas and challenges affecting me at the school,
  2.            Maintain a healthy balance between work and home,
  3.            Read books purely for my enjoyment and help me unwind,
  4.            Go out on date nights with my wife and talk about life,
  5.            Get together with friends and family regularly.
Physical: I will:
  1.            Continue to work-out in the gym over the winter, and run outdoors when the weather warms up again,
  2.            Get the proper sleep that I need to operate effectively,
  3.            Eat healthy and keep the weight off that I lost before I came to Bassano,
  4.            Drink more water
Spiritual: I will:
  1.            Attend church regularly,
  2.            Participate in the Church Bible Study
  3.            Maintain my personal daily devotional time
  4.            Love myself and be true to myself

"The Support"Resources—What do I have do or need to achieve my goal(s)?

Intellectual:  I need to practice the virtues of Excellence, Determination, and Self-Discipline to grow myself professionally so that I can continue to raise academic achievement levels for students,

Emotional: I need to practice the virtues of peacefulness, joyfulness, and love to grow my emotional wellbeing so that I can be the support I want to be for the students and staff,

Physical: I need to practice the virtues of commitment, purposefulness, and respect to maintain physical health to do the demanding job I do that requires lots of hours to make it the school I want it to be,

Spiritual: I need to practice honour, idealism, and unity to create a positive school climate for students and staff alike where everyone feels the care we want to bring to everyone.

“The Proof”Indicators—How will I know I have achieved my goal(s)?

Intellectual: The school will continue to improve academically with the vision and leadership I bring each day. If I want the staff to grow, I must grow and be willing to try new ideas that bring results.

Emotional: The students feel safe and know that we care about them and their needs enough to find the resources and help for whatever challenges they are facing in life.

Physical: The school commits themselves to be healthy in every area of life meaning making good choices about anything that we eat or drink or put in our bodies.

Spiritual: The school unites with al our diversity and treats one another as we would wish to be treated with honour and respect.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Understanding Teacher Workload

I've been sitting on this blog for weeks. I think part of the problem is that I have too many ideas going on. So I'm going to break it down and do three separate blogs on three different topics.But as I'm typing this, my eyes are burning, they're tired. I'm tired. Since I've come to the school, I've really tried to make it a priority to be in the halls and mingle with the students and staff as much as possible. But does the administration work ever suffer! I'm not complaining, but I don't think the general population realizes how draining a day can be at school.

People make comments like; "It must be nice to only work 10 months and have the summers off?"  Actually it's very nice, and if I didn't have the summer off, I think I would burn out. The average day is busy with dealing with student matters, teacher challenges, administrative paperwork or reporting requirements, maintenance issues, safety concerns, or upset parent. The list goes on. And that's just the demands that I have on my day. The teachers have it tough too.

I feel empathy for teachers who are busy with daily lesson planning, tweaking up long range plans, doing assessments, Individual Programming Plans (IPP - which are incredibly time consuming), and then add extra-curricular on top of that to the daily routine. Then if you are teaching the Grade 3, 6, or 9, there's Performance Achievement Tests (PAT) or now the new Student Learning Assessments (SLA) to have the students prepare for. Or any of the elementary teachers who are required to do FnP reading diagnostics on every student, which take a minimum of 30 minutes per student multiply that by 25. Or the Grade 12 teacher having students write practice Diploma exams in preparation of the Provincial Exams at the end of the semester. Then there is the School Division required Professional Learning Community (PLC's) hours that need to be completed for Lieu days. It's a lot of  work being a teacher, and somewhere along the way they need to teach. In the midst of all the busy work or "administrivia" it's easy to lose sight of the real reason we are here in the first place and that's the students.

Did you know that the average teacher works more than 50 hours a week, which is causing alarm about happiness and wellbeing in the profession. As I'm writing this I overhear a teacher outside my office talking about how exhausted they are. They are so tired they are feeling dizzy, and when they go home at 8PM, they are going straight to bed. It's 7:03PM, and we're still at the school.

n=60 hours per week (the extra is due to extra-curricular
like coaching sports teams)
n=52 hours per week

Unfortunately teachers don't get a lot of recognition for the time they put into the day as they teach and the evening or the weekend they spending planning and preparing. I love the analogy from Alex Quigley, who recently wrote in his blog, Teacher Workload in the Shadow of OFSTED, comparing the working life of a teacher to an iceberg.

The hours in the classroom, visible to all, are merely the tip of the to-do list. The workload iceberg sinks deep into evenings; it can crash into weekends and it looms large in each supposed ‘holiday‘. Marking, lesson planning and a mass of paperwork are ubiquitous for the vast majority of teachers. Each teacher careers headlong toward exhaustion until rescued by the end of each half-term. Those give us pause to breath and recuperate; plan some more; finish off marking; prepare resources and mend our health before jumping back onto the swim to do it all again.

And yet teachers are not looking for sympathy, they just want people to understand what they do everyday. That's our virtue this week at the school, "Understanding." Understanding is using your mind to think clearly, paying attention to see the meaning of things. An understanding mind gives you insights and wonderful ideas. An understanding heart gives you empathy and compassion for others. Understanding is the power to think and learn and also to care.

As I spoke to the staff this morning, I encouraged them to practice understanding with the students and each other. I hope that the general public can also practice understanding and appreciate the work our teachers put in to our schools to ensure that students have the best education possible and a bright and promising future.