5 things I am grateful for

Ok. I know I’m not only a couple of weeks late for a thankfulness post (at least here in Canada) but I’m also a couple of weeks behind in the #bcedbloggers challenge. I don’t know why it’s been hard for me to focus my thoughts lately but I figure reflecting on a few things that are wonderful in my life is a good thing to focus on.

1. My Family. I know this seems like an obvious one, but I often feel like the luckiest person on earth to have my husband and daughter in my life. For more than half of my existence on this planet, my husband Todd and then my daughter Hayley have brought love, fun, laughter and joy to my life. Every. Single. Day.

2. Canada. It’s hard not to take a place for granted, or even complain from time to time, when you’ve lived there all your life. My family and I took a 6 year hiatus from Canada in the early 2000s and have been back for 7 years now. Being Canadian is a true gift, not only in the way of life that we enjoy but also in the values we hold and the respect our citizens have earned around the world. I try to appreciate this wonderful country, flaws and all, every day.

3. Books. I can’t imagine a day without a good book. I start and end my day, eat most of my meals, and spend a lot of my free time wrapped up in a book. They provide my mind with nourishment. They are a necessity.

4. My work. As a principal I have so many things to be thankful for. I have the chance to be inspired and energized by the curiosity and enthusiasm of children every day. I get to learn from and with a group of wildly different yet commonly dedicated educators. I receive the trust and support of the families of our students, and of our district’s senior management team. I have opportunities to follow my own interests and passions as well. And whenever I have a bad day I will reread this paragraph and remember why I am thankful for it!

5. Trees. The forest is my happy place. I am so lucky to live in a city and a province so rich with green spaces, BIG green spaces, and where they are valued and protected. Whether it’s on a walk with my dogs, or out for a run, or hiking with Todd up a new (to us) trail on an adventure, the forest restores something in my soul every time I breathe in.

Thanks to the other members of the blogging challenge for keeping my efforts going. I am grateful to you too!

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A leap of faith

Coming back to a new school year after a long and difficult teachers’ strike, I was wary of launching the plans I’d formulated to try a new learner Support Team (LST) model in the school. I was worried that the teachers, having been through so much emotional turmoil for so many weeks, might be looking for familiarity and a comfort zone on their return. At the same time I worried about the danger of losing another year of opportunity to provide more timely and targeted interventions for our students. If we didn’t start the year under the new model, it would be darn near impossible to change later. I needed to take a leap of faith in the idea and in my teachers’ resilience.

With the help of the dream LST team at the school, we assessed our new and at-risk students from the spring. Using the data we created targeted, skill and strategy based groups of students from across classes and grades. We delayed building our prep and gym schedules until we got the LST schedule in place to protect the intervention time. And we talked with the classroom teachers to clarify the philosophy behind and anticipated outcomes of the new model.

The teachers have taken a leap of faith in me. Having been principal of the school for one year, I am so appreciative of their trust to undertake a pretty massive shift in our system at a difficult time. I know that there will be bugs to iron out, but I am very eager to see the progress our students have made at our first checkpoint in 8-9 weeks. We will reassess the students and change the groupings and focus as needed.

Change is never easy for everyone, but as the saying goes,

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It’s not personal

“Carol, Don’t you ever get upset about anything? You never seem to get mad even when people are mad at you!” This comment came one day from a teacher during a particularly difficult time in my 2nd year as a principal. At the time I laughed, because of course I get upset like everyone else when situations are stressful, fraught with negative emotions, or seem personal. But there are a few core principles that, upon reflection, I hold that led to this teacher’s observation. I thought I’d share some of them with you.

Mindfulness
The concept of mindfulness was something I practiced before really knowing of it explicitly, through my interest in yoga as a fitness activity. Later, learning about mindfulness in the context of education (for example with the MindUp program for students) led me to a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, mindfulness as a technique and way of being that helps me manage my own reactions (what I can control) to stressful or difficult situations (that I can’t control). I love following and sharing the tweets from @mindfuleveryday to keep myself on track.

The Four Agreements
I was first introduced to this book by Don Miguel Ruiz through a short video from Aboriginal artist Roy Henry Vickers. The book summarizes ancient teachings of the Toltec people that lead to a happy life. One of the agreements is “don’t take things personally”. In essence, this means that each of us sees a situation through our own lenses and it is real to us. If someone else is upset with a situation and thinks that you are the cause, that is their reality but it does not need to be yours. If you believe in you own reality, and believe that you are doing your best and being honest and acting with integrity, that is enough. They are upset – that is their reality. You are fine and confident in yourself – that is your reality. This is honestly one of the most powerful things I have ever read and I come back to it often when I find myself in a situation of conflict.

Getting mad doesn’t get us moving forward
This one is just a part of my personality. I’ve never gone in for arguments, never had the need to prove I am right or try to change someone else’s mind. I don’t see the point of getting angry and making a big fuss. It doesn’t help solve the problem or move us forward; it may actually just make the situation worse by leading to words or actions that we soon regret.

So with all of that being said, of course I still sometimes get upset. I am human, after all! But I use these principles and techniques to work through it in private or with a trusted friend, or my husband or my daughter, all of whom know me well and allow me to talk myself around to a state of acceptance and calm. Like all skills, the more they are practiced the more easily they are used and the more effective they can be. In a human and relationship-based profession, conflict or disagreement is inevitable. I just don’t take it personally.

How do you deal with conflict? What strategies do you practice to maintain relationships and your own serenity in difficult times?