Monday, February 23, 2015

It was the Best of Times...It was the Worst of Times.

The last thing I want to do is create panic or fear, but I think we need to be thinking about current economic trends and the impact it may have on Bassano. I don't know how many of you have ever been unemployed for a short or extended period, but it's no fun. I used to pride myself that I was only on unemployment for four months when I was 22 years old. So for thirty years, I was fortunate enough to be employed even through college and university. My dad taught all of kids the value of work, he has been a great example for me over my life. At 76, he still makes his way back into the bush behind my parents house and cuts brush, limb trees, plows, hauls, and whatever he can find to keep himself busy. So I have learned a lot from him, and I have tried to model myself after him in terms of working hard. But sometimes life hits you, and hits you hard.

Many people from the area probably don't know that in May 2014, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) cut our funding for our school that we created in 2005. Credenda Virtual High School laid off all its employees on May 16th, 2014, and yet most staff volunteered their services until the end of June with no pay just so students could get their credits. The fact that AANDC did what they did is still a sore point for me, especially since we had an agreement until the end of August. But that's for another time. What I want to highlight is the tremendous stress being unemployed puts on families. Going from a decent salary to waiting for unemployment to kick in and then trying to live on less than 50 percent of what you were used to was extremely challenging. Then add into the equation, both of us lost our jobs because we both worked for the same organization. It was a difficult time, and we have spent months trying to get caught up. I don't share this for people to feel sorry for us, but for the purpose for people to know we didn't come to Bassano under the easiest of circumstances, and we understand tough times. We are very thankful that this opportunity opened up for us, and we have adapted well to our new surroundings. We have no complaints about the weather. We gladly left the cold north!

That brings me to what is happening in Alberta at large and specifically here in Bassano. A few weeks ago, I caught wind that CPR was closing our local maintenance shop. Quite shocking since CPR is reporting record profits of $1.76B for last year. When I spoke to Tom Rose, Mayor of Bassano, he had this to say, "There are a myriad of reasons as to why I'm concerned with the potential closure of our CPR maintenance shop. First and foremost, I'm concerned about public safety. Fewer workers servicing more track will most certainly lead to more derailments. There is a tremendous amount of dangerous goods passing through Bassano on an hourly basis, so I find it reprehensible that CPR is considering cut backs of this nature and putting not just our community, but others as well, at risk." 

Tom and I reached out to Jason Hale, MLA to see what he could do to help. Jason had a couple  of conversations with the VP of Gov Relations for the CPR regarding the closure. "I asked him to look into keeping the Bassano shop open, but it was a decision made above him. Although he explained it as a corporate restructuring with no effect on safety, I agree with Tom, the fewer people looking after the track, there are more chances of derailments and increased safety issues." CPR has already been quietly making cuts though. Unknowingly to the general public, we only have three CPR workers stationed in Bassano, instead of the designated six, because CPR didn't fill the other three positions when they became vacant. So we have three fewer workers sharing the workload of six people and covering more track. In addition, it makes more sense to maintain Bassano's shop that is heated and only one mile off of being half way between Calgary and Medicine Hat. Take these three employees from Bassano and the impact to the community could be even more significant economically. If we lose these three families, that's seven students from the school (which amounts to about half a teacher's salary), fewer local shoppers at the local grocery store, restaurants, and other businesses.

Now add to that reports of other layoffs from the oil and gas sector, which could affect more families. The drop in oil prices is going to hit Alberta hard. The government needs to find ways to make up for lost revenue if it's going to keep programming at the same level. Hiring freezes are in place at various government levels. In addition, the government is proposing health care premiums. And let's hope that the BSE cow in Spruce Grove doesn't add to matters and affect that industry as well.

Once again, I don't say this to scare folks, but because we need to rally around and support our affected families. In order for our small communities to survive difficult economic times we need to be resourceful and very creative around economic development. Alberta cannot build its entire economy around oil and gas. Saskatchewan learned this lesson through twenty plus years of economic drought. They invested heavily in multiple industries and diversified their resources so that when one resource dropped in the market, it didn't collapse the entire economy. That's why Saskatchewan is growing. So if Bassano wants to continue to grow, we need to attract businesses that do not depend strictly on oil and gas. 

This gets personal for people like Jason Hale, who added, "I was born and raised in this town and this is where we have raised our children who are the 4th generation of Hales to live in Bassano. The current financial situation in the province will have a negative impact on many businesses and families. But we must all work together to come up with solutions to keep our communities and businesses sustainable. I care deeply what happens here and will help however I can." So when we have our Bassano Vision meeting on March 3, 2015, maybe you need to come join us and give your input. This is a time for action and not just sitting back and talking about it.

We've already one family move away up north to secure employment this year with two students. It's hard on kids to relocate, make new friends, or become accustom to new surroundings, such as schools and teachers. Sometimes we have to move, out of necessity. However, lives are affected. So what do those who find themselves in these situations need from us. Most importantly, empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is that coming alongside someone in need, listening, and understanding what they are feeling. We don't empathize from a distance, being overly detached and unfeeling, or even self-centered caring about only our own needs.

What can we do from the school side? First of all, we can't assume we know what is happening in people's lives at home. So please contact us if you need to talk. Maybe there are things we can do by way of recommending retraining programs. We are currently in talks with Medicine Hat College about bringing the University Transfer Program to Bassano School. Maybe it's time to start working on the university degree before transferring to the University of Calgary, or Lethbridge. But why not do it here in Bassano without having to move. These would be evening and weekend classes. We only need 15 people to register with Medicine Hat College, and sign up for the Fall to make it run. We are also looking at the Healthcare Aide program as well, since we have the simulator that was donated by Cenovus, Dick Haskayne, and others

There are a few things we can do help those in need in the community, but we need to all pull together with one concerted effort. Reach out to those in need, or call us if there is any way we can help with pointing you in the direction of training, upgrading, or just listening. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

5 Reasons for Every Teacher to Have a Digital Presence: A Principal's Perspective

More and more we need to control the message that goes out from the school. We don't have to look far to find reports of schools doing poorly, or a news story about another violent act in a school, or some bad news that affects schools, or whatever. In the midst of all this, we need to control the message and ensure that we are getting our message out to the general public, or parents about the good things that are happening in our schools. When I look around, I see so much good happening in our school, and we have been very purposeful in engaging in Twitter, Instagram, and even Facebook for our students and parents. The result? I think many students and parents are very happy about what they are seeing online.

I realize there is a skepticism among some about using social media in education, but the truth is that there are more pros than cons for engaging in social media from an educational perspective. I will not let the misuse of these mediums limit my use of them for the good of our school and community. I've heard the stories of cyber bullying on Facebook; I've heard of students hacking into Instagram accounts and putting up rude and hurtful comments about another person; I have seen some of the disgusting tweets put out there for people to read. But in the end, I want to use these mediums for good, because they really are powerful tools that can spread a message of hope and bring about positive outcomes. We just need to know how to use them. That being said, I have 5 reasons why every teacher should have a digital presence.

1) Control the message about your classroom success


One of the most important tasks a teacher needs to do is let parents know what is happening in the classroom. It really is about relationship building. It's not any different than the relationship building that needs to happen in the classroom, as well. With the access we have to technology, whether it is email, texting, using Remind 101, connecting with home shouldn't be the challenge it was 20 years ago anymore. So with a tool like Facebook, I encourage teachers to create a Facebook page and invite all the parents to LIKE it so only they have access to see the student work that is being posted, the pictures of students working on activities, or just to send out announcements or homework.

I think one of the best examples I have seen of a teacher controlling the message is Kathy Cassidy, Gr One Teacher from Moose Jaw, SK. Here's a couple of her links for her blog, Primary Preoccupation that she posts weekly with video, pictures of students and her Twitter account, where she promotes her blog, and her classroom activities. She's an excellent example of getting the message out there for parents to connect to the school. I would want my children in her classroom by what I have seen her doing with students. Check it out.

2) Network with peers for ideas and support

Matt Davis wrote a blog, Social Media for Teachers, a few years ago that is worthwhile linking here that highlights how teachers can use Social Media effectively. Over the years, I have tried a number of different tools. I've had an page, which I eventually deleted because I didn't see the value of it for networking purposes. I've used Linkedin to expand my network, but I'm not sure I felt more support or gained more ideas because I used it. I've created my boards on Pinterest, and pinned lots educational ideas that I shared with others, and I've gained a lot of good ideas too, but I don't feel connected to the people that follow my boards or vice versa. So before I open up a bunch of accounts and getting caught up in the novelty of a new fad app or tool, I've started asking myself the question, why am I opening another account, and what do I hope to achieve with it.

The more I work with social media, the more I find the need to network with peers about ideas. For that, I use Twitter. I'm getting more selective about who I accept to follow back, as well, because I want it to have value for my learning. I can pose questions for discussion and get the feedback from other teachers and administrators. I receive immense value from tweeting. Those that I follow and who follow me back provide valuable insights to issues and ideas that either give me validation or correction.

3) Manage your professional development

In addition to the networking, one of the greatest values I receive is the professional development. I engage regularly in #satchat, #sunchat, #sblchat, #TN2T, #skedchat, and more. They have become my greatest source of professional development. I am in contact with people all over the world who share their enthusiasm for learning as I do. The ideas I learn are invaluable. It forces me to keep up my reading, which I access through Flipboard, Zite, or Feedly. I have subscribed to feeds, blogs, and news articles that register with my interests. By linking them to Google+, Linkedin, Twitter, and Scoopit, I can share the articles I read with others and give my feedback as well. As a principal, I feel it my duty to take the lead for my learning and set the example for my teachers. As more teachers from my school connect to Twitter, I make sure that I include @BassanoSchool to Tweets for my teachers to be able to see, where I retweet for our parents and students, who follow our school Twitter as well. It's all part of the bigger plan to spread the word so we are all learning together.

4) Promote yourself and your accomplishments

One of the things that many of us educators struggle with is promoting what we do. Maybe part of this challenge is that we are trained to be too modest. Whatever the case, teachers need to promote their achievements and accomplishments where they are experiencing success with students. Why should others have to experience more challenges in their classroom, because we don't want to share what's working and what's not. Blogging has become that tool for me. I find myself, with more practice, sharing what I've learned, what I am learning, and some of my greatest successes. I encourage teachers to blog. It's surprising the reach my blog has had. It's been read around the world with over 33,000 pageviews by complete strangers. Many of the comments I have received are that my insights have been helpful.

5) Be a Changemaker

Finally, if we are going to change the world of education, we need to engage in the mediums our students are using and use them for good. Recently, I took some pictures of some of our boys enrolled in a mentorship program at the school. They were mentoring younger students by taking them to the hockey arena and teaching them how to skate and play hockey. This experience was a game changer for the kids, but I put the pictures up on Instagram and shared them out to Twitter. Three different online newspapers retweeted the images, which was later retweeted by a national morning show TV host. The boys were thrilled, and they felt great about the volunteering they were doing. Parents and teachers were excited about the work these boys did, but more importantly, it produced change in a few boys lives that needed to hear something positive about themselves. Teachers have the power to be changemakers, not only for themselves, but for their students. Having digital presence makes that more than possible. It's time to get connected, and make a difference in people's lives.

What's the Virtue of Love look like? Feel like?

What is Love? 

Love is a special feeling that fills your heart. You show love in a smile, a pleasant way of speaking, a thoughtful act or a hug. Love is treating people and things with special care and kindness because they mean so much to you. Love is treating other people just as you would like them to treat you—with care and respect.

Why Practice It?

Without love, people feel alone. When they don’t feel they matter to anyone, they become unhappy. Sometimes they act angry and don’t let others get close. Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone likes to be loved. When you are being loving, you help others to feel important. They become gentler and kinder. Love is contagious. It keeps spreading.

You are Practicing LOVE when you… 
  • Treat others as you want them to treat you 
  • Say kind and loving things 
  • Share your things and yourself 
  • Love people just as they are 
  • Take good care of the things you love 
  • Do what you love and love what you do 

I am a loving person. I show my love with thoughtful acts, kind words and affection. I treat others the way I want to be treated.

Some activities to use in your classroom with students:
  • Love, List & Listen Game - Using a timer have each child tell the group as many things as they can that they love in 15-20 seconds. After everyone has had a turn to share their loves go around and ask how many things the group can remember about what each one said. Don't tell the children ahead of time that you'll be going back to ask them what they remember from their friends lists. This is a great way for the kids to learn more about each other.
  • A world made of love posters - Cut out a large pile of various colored little hearts. Have the kids use all the little hearts to make collage pictures.
  • Growing Hearts - Have the kids paint or draw pictures of hearts growing like flowers in a garden.
  • Valentine's Cards - If you're doing this lesson around Valentine's Day have the children make make home-made Valentine cards and decorations.
  • The Golden Rule - Following the Golden Rule is one way your child shows love to others. Adapt the rule by having your child consider how a sibling, classmate or stranger wants to be treated. Also consider ways not to annoy others as an extension of the Golden Rule. Present scenarios, such as a homeless man on the street, a child without toys or friends in a room full of toys and a sibling who doesn’t feel well. Help your child brainstorm ways to respond or role-play what he might do.
  • Loving Stories - Read books with your child that emphasize love through friendship. For example, for kids ages 4 and older, the book "You: A Story of Love and Friendship," by Stephen Michael King, uses simple prose to inspire children to show love toward each other. If you want to instill the message of loving each other from a biblical point of view, check out, "Loving One Another: Beginner's Stories About Being a Good Friend," by Neta Jackson, also for ages 4 and older. 
  • Crafting with Love - Encourage your child to show love to a friend by making a craft for her. One idea is to make a beaded friendship bracelet. Have your child use beads that are in her friend's favorite colors. She can also make a matching bracelet for her friend. Another idea is to make a friendship blossom flower to representing a new, blossoming friendship. Help your child to cut out flower petal shapes out of colored card stock. Poke a hole in the center and stick a small lollipop into the center. Your child can write a note on the petals for her friend as well.
  • Love Games - Engage your child and her friend in interactive games that also reinforce the importance of friendship and love. For one game, have the kids sit in a circle and give each child a pencil and a piece of paper. They must write down 10 kind things about the person to their right as fast as they can. The person who finishes first gets to go first, but they all get to read their list and give their paper to that person. For another game, take the kids outside in a large space. Two kids are the "friendship stealers," and the others are on one side of a field and must run to the other side to safety without getting tagged by the friendship stealers. If any child gets tagged, they must remain frozen until a teammate tags them. The kids cannot get on safety without everyone, reminding them to never leave a friend or someone you love behind.