I was the Principal at my last school for many years. Before that, I was one of the Vice-Principals on the team. When I left this school in July of 2020 to assume my role with the Association, I knew every brick and tile of the building. And even though years had passed, I clearly recall the initial impression its walls had upon me. The school was shiny and new – only four years old – when I pulled into its parking lot, ready for my interview.
The interview came in the middle of a weeklong field trip with 80 grade eights, but that’s another story. The school in our bus’s rear view mirror was built sometime in the 1950s; and, while I felt pride and affection for my school, it would struggle in comparison with the sunlit hallways and vaulted ceilings of this new place. My interview was unusual in that its first stage was a panel interview: me and five other candidates, together, answering questions asked by District leaders, teachers, support staff, parents, and students. This somewhat tense inquisition was preceded by a school tour, conducted by student leaders and the current Principal. The pride and affection these people felt for their school was clearly on display as we walked through its classrooms and teaching areas. All the while, they shared stories of extraordinary teachers and students and their achievements. By the time our tour wound its way to the large classroom set up for the panel interview, I already knew my answer should this job be offered to me. On a summer Saturday, two months later, I used my new key to let myself in and strolled through the hallways of my new school.
I strolled those hallways again and again, often in the company of guests and visitors. Whether I was offering a tour to a family considering a move to our town or to a visiting colleague, like the tour guides who introduced me to this place, I made a point of highlighting the extraordinary achievements of our students and our staff. When I had these opportunities to elevate my community and showcase their work – to cast a spotlight on their exceptionality – I felt that they deserved nothing less. I wanted to honour both them and their accomplishments by telling the world. In my role with the BCPVPA, I have had the pleasure to be on the receiving end of that tour many times now.
In the last eighteen months, many of my visits with Chapters have been virtual. The occasions when in-person Chapter meetings were possible, Principals and Vice-Principals were welcoming and, invariably, they each offered to show me around their schools. It was a pattern repeated, again and again, and one I recognized: strolling through school hallways and learning spaces, listening to our members honour their teachers, staff, and students. It would be predictable that Principals would put a spotlight on the extraordinary, efforts that were unusual and remarkable, and examples of people going ‘above and beyond’. And they did. However, I also heard Principals honour the commonplace, those actions that would earn no special distinction in normal times. But these are not yet normal times.
It is reasonable that when looking to honour and praise a group or an individual we seek out stories that illustrate what has been ‘extra’. Every June, at the year-end celebration assembly, I prepared recognition for staff who were retiring. It would have been poorly received and considered disrespectful to simply thank retirees for being there to take attendance each morning, or for preparing each day’s lessons. So, it comes as no surprise that those wishing to honour and recognize our Principals and Vice-Principals are seeking the extra ordinary. Throughout the two years of this pandemic, the commonplace and the standard – the everyday routines – have become extra.
The efforts expended to monitor staff vacancies and to begin strategizing their replacements before trying to sleep each night… are extra. The measures employed to engage with parents and community members, communicating school news and fielding questions and concerns, often in the face of heightened anxiety and emotion… are extra. The hours invested to establish and reinforce safe practices, while keeping on top of shifts in direction and rationalizing these changes for the people in their care… are extra. All the things that school leaders must do on a daily basis, such as coordinate with various ministries and community services to ensure inclusive and barrier-free learning opportunities for all students… such as assure equitable access to technical supports needed… such as partner with services to assure food security… such as protect the safe and orderly operation of their school… all extra. In a time when our members’ own health, security, and well-being may be diminished or compromised, maintaining the everyday operation of a school in the face of a two-year pandemic is, itself, extraordinary.
To be sure, there are stories of Principals and Vice-Principals engaged in remarkable and important work, embedded in each day’s routines. School leadership teams are implementing initiatives to combat racism and foster equity in their school communities. They continue to support and promote Indigenous Principles of Learning within their school cultures and classroom curriculum. School leaders realize the importance of extra moments of joy and celebration, and they continue to make space for these whenever and however possible.
To be sure, the leaders who keep open the doors of their schools, smiling and greeting BC’s children each morning, despite the challenges, are anything but ordinary.