THE PRESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE - Darren Danyluk


April 23, 2021 Message to Members

"How are you?"

Let’s call her Yvonne. I met Yvonne at the beginning of my teaching career. She was in grade 10 at the time, a student with spark and a gift for sarcasm. She was upbeat and involved in school. I seem to remember that she was interested in student government and keen to use her voice on behalf of her peers and friends. I can still see her face in my imagination, although I haven’t seen her in more than thirty years. And, among the many moments of my career that have stuck with me, one belongs to Yvonne.   

Before she graduated high school, Yvonne’s father became ill, and his passing was imminent. By this time, my role at the school had evolved, and I was one of the school counsellors. Young and with little formal training, most days I was making it up as I went along. Because I was aware of Yvonne’s family situation and she had also been my student, I was keeping tabs on her, making sure that she and I connected with some regularity. And then, one afternoon, there was a knock at my classroom door.   

I paused in my teaching and answered the door. The doors of this school did not have windows, so only when I opened the door did I realize who was knocking. There she stood: Yvonne. She appeared to be fine, no signs of distress or concern. After apologizing for interrupting my class, she said very plainly that her father had died, and she just thought I would want to know. She delivered that line with stoic composure. And then she promptly crumbled.   

She began to fold into herself, shoulders and chin dropping. Her face was no longer composed, revealing her pain.   

I have six little brothers and sisters – the youngest twelve years my junior – and I did what came by instinct: I embraced Yvonne, right there in the hallway. Closing the door to my classroom, I left the group unattended and took her to my office space where her grieving could be more private. There she cried, and talked, and cried some more. There would be more occasions in the weeks to follow when Yvonne connected with me as she processed this tragic loss, but that day sticks with me because of what it revealed to a new educator. On this day, quite possibly the worst of her young life, Yvonne brought herself to school… to me. She brought her bravery, her fear, her sorrow, and her need to my classroom door, and she likely could not articulate what she wanted nor why she’d come. She also followed her instinct, and went to a place of trust. For Yvonne – for countless students, parents, and families – school is a place of trust and support. The last year has surfaced this truth.    

Throughout the pandemic, Principals and Vice-Principals, along with teaching and support staff, have been attending to the welfare of their communities. We have worked to put health, safety, and assurance in the forefront of our daily work. Our school leaders are at the doors of their schools each morning, often spraying sanitizer on the hands of arriving students as they say good morning. The sanitization is, of course, just an excuse, a vehicle for connection and check-in as the students arrive. Similarly, we have been engaging with parents who have questions to ask and concerns for their children. They come to the school, trusting they will find the answers they seek, or that they will at least find some reassurance and an empathetic ear.   

And all school staffs – teachers, custodians, support workers, drivers, everyone –come to their schools each day. They arrive with their bravery, their fear, their sadness, and their need, and often they may seek answers and reassurance. They, too, move on instinct and turn to a trusted source of compassion and empathy who can lead the way. With the introduction of enhanced safety measures and the ‘circuit breaker’, followed by new, stern restrictions for travel in the face of rising case counts, school leaders may be managing an intensity of need not yet seen. I know they will continue to embrace their communities, listen, and offer support. And after the long day ends, they will go home. Before they leave, it’s likely that someone on their team may ask “How are you?” And I’m willing to wager that, in that moment, our school leaders will say, “I’m good.”   

First of all, that’s not grammatically correct; and second, it’s likely not true.   

In a recent conversation I had with a colleague, we talked about the purpose of our provincial association. We concluded that the Association exists to respond to the needs of our members.  This is true, and there are a great many supports available to help our members in times of need, whatever that need may be. Our conversation continued, though. Together, we took it further: how can the Association respond so the needs of our members change? And, how can we expand the services of the BCPVPA to meet the needs of our members upstream, to be proactive and preventative rather than reactionary? Three partner initiatives, which aim to better equip and support our members, are on the horizon.   

The BCPVPA has partnered with WelTel in a pilot project that involves more than 100 of our members, representing 38 Chapters. WelTel is a ‘disruptive’ company with a vision to “change the way health care is delivered around the world”. CEO Gabby Serafini speaks with passion about the power of one simple question, delivered in a text message. The question provokes the recipient to take inventory – to check on their canary – and the ensuing exchange can help reset the trajectory of one’s mental and physical health. We look forward to sharing the findings of this pilot with our members.   

The BCPVPA has partnered with several organizations in our sector in order to mine the experiences of our members so that we better understand how to meet their needs; this mining will be set out in two surveys. The first is a brief set of questions that explores how best to prepare our leaders at the outset of their journeys. In partnership with associations representing leadership throughout the sector, BCPVPA will invite our members to weigh in on their experience with the preparations and education required to be a Principal and Vice-Principal.   

The second survey is a more substantial exploration, developed in alignment with the BC Association of School Business Officials (BCASBO). The survey is titled Thriving in Education (you can read more in this week’s eNews), and it offers a platform for our members to share what they are experiencing, and to talk about what causes strain and what does – or would – help our members to thrive in their roles.   

Our school leaders have good instincts. They are perceptive and intuitive, and they have plenty of experience building the plane while in flight. My own instincts served me well on the day Yvonne knocked at my classroom door. If I knew then what I know now, I still would have embraced that child and provided her with a safe place to be vulnerable. Yet I have learned many lessons the hard way, and upstream guidance on my journey would have been welcome.   

We recognize that your time is precious, and in short supply. We appreciate hearing your voice in these partner initiatives, and we are grateful for your investment of time to help our Association to better represent, advocate for, and serve our members.   

Keep well and safe.