Sept 25, 2020 Message to Members

“Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it?”

Have you seen Spinal Tap? Those of my vintage may know exactly where I’m going with this. For everyone else, Spinal Tap is a seminal mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner, who also plays the role of the fictional filmmaker Marty.

In the film, Marty records the exploits of an 80’s rock band, and in one classic scene Marty is schooled by the lead guitarist Nigel, played by Christopher Guest. Nigel introduces Marty to a customized amplifier with numbers that “all go to eleven.”  As Nigel says, “if we need that extra push over the cliff … eleven …one louder.” 

 This week I heard a member say that people are “living in their amygdala,” living in a constant state of fight or flight. Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote of amygdala hijack:  an immediate and overwhelming personal & emotional response that may be inordinate to the actual stimulus. Principals and Vice-Principals are living and working with communities in a state of amplification. 

 These past two weeks have felt amped up, as each day brings news of another possible exposure to COVID-19 in our BC schools, and this information is being documented on public websites. In the interest of transparency, it makes sense to keep our public informed; however, in each case, we can imagine the flurry of communications unleashed between public health and the school, and the school and the community. 

 Who is responsible for keeping this communication flowing? Certainly, district leads are crafting news releases and assisting schools through each situation. Despite this, it is the desks of the Principal and Vice-Principal which see most of the communication traffic with parents and families who are seeking information and assurances. These are the external communications set in motion in the event of an exposure; the internal communication needs are equally demanding. 

Communication isn’t merely a matter of putting information out there: to a great degree, it is listening and understanding our people, helping them to find calm through our compassion and care. I spoke last week with Dr. Reka Gustafson, and she noted that our interactions and communications with our people must be “measured and sensitive to people’s fears.”  The compounding challenge to that direction is time, something in very short supply right now. 

 Spinal Tap is funny; our circumstances are not. School leaders have been operating at ten for weeks, and now the amplification is approaching eleven. The pressure of the music is getting louder and louder, and we are struggling to hear. It’s becoming distorted. 

 What would happen to Nigel’s custom amps, pumping it out at eleven over time?  Recommendations for operation suggest it may cause the “voice to overheat and burn out”, it may cause the amp “to move farther … than it was designed to move, causing … failure,” and that “turning things up too loud can shorten the life of components.” 

How are we controlling the volume? How are we amping things down? This spring, the BCPVPA launched The Learning Brain, a series of weekly tips and links in support of member well-being. It is well organized for quick reference, and worth a look. And next week, you will see the launch of our new health series ReCharge, focusing on a range of coping skills and self-care strategies. 

 The BCPVPA is actively advocating with our provincial leadership to address points which may lower the overall amplification in the sector. Tell us what needs to be dialed down to allow your leadership to find a moderate level: we are listening for your voices. 

 I wish you a good weekend. It’s a good time to take in a classic flick … just keep the volume low.


The BC Principals' & Vice-Principals' Association is a voluntary professional association representing school leaders employed as Principals and Vice-Principals in BC's public education system. We provide our members with the professional services and supports they need to provide exemplary leadership in public education.

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