One of our guiding values at the Calgary Board of Education is that Public Education Serves the Common Good. I share this value and love that public education is for everyone.
As a principal, I am asked to contemplate my commitment to this value on a daily basis. Sometimes it comes in the form of responding to parents asking me about "That Kid in their kid's class". You know That Kid. He's the one who talks way too much and can be distracting to others. Or maybe she's the one who randomly swears. That Kid may also be a bit of a bully sometimes, or perhaps even a thief.
We all know That Kid.
The truth is That Kid, like all kids, has a story.
That kid who talks too much actually has ADHD. His parents have chosen not to medicate him because his father was medicated as a child and his opinion was the drug has had negative and lasting repercussions. They are currently trying dietary changes and herbal remedies before pursuing trial medication.
The little girl who randomly swears was recently adopted by a loving foster family after years in other foster homes. While in the care of one of these other foster homes she lived with some older children who swore at her, telling her to "f#%k off" whenever she came near them or their toys. Thankfully, she's now getting some help from a counsellor.
The bully is looking for a bit of attention because his single mom is working two jobs to make a good life for her and her only son. The thief spent the first seven years of her life in a refugee camp where the only way to survive was to steal. The bully meets regularly with a play therapist who is helping him to make positive choices. Through a charity organization, the thief recently received the first toy she could call her own.
These stories may sound dramatic, but they're not. These are real stories encountered in my life as both a teacher and principal. My response to the parent asking me about "That kid in their kid's class" often comes out as what might sound like a stock, canned answer like this: "we know that this is a concern, but we assure you that we are working with the teacher, the family and others to ensure school is a safe, positive environment for everyone." I know this can come off as dismissive, but it's not. I can't relay the details of That Kid's story to you because, quite frankly, it's not my story to tell. These stories come to me in confidence from the parents of That Kid who help me to understand what's happening in their child's life.
The inquiring parent doesn't get to see the work behind the scenes. That inclusive, detailed work involving meetings, email exchanges and phone calls between the teacher / school and the family of That Kid. They don't get to experience the ways in which the teacher has planned out his or her day to make sure That Kid is accommodated and successful. They don't get to feel the positive response, love and respect from the classmates of That Kid who want nothing more than for them to be happy.
And what we don't get to see is the tears of the parents of That Kid because they don't want their child to cause trouble at school. We don't experience their sleepless nights as they wonder what tomorrow might bring. We don't get to feel the anguish that occurs when they see an email pop up from the teacher, or the school number appears on their call display.
With all this said, I would be the first to say that continual disruption, swearing, bullying and stealing have no place at school and need to be handled directly. What I do know is that your child's teacher is often the first to know and the first to respond. You can bet that by the time you have come to see the principal to talk about That Kid, that we are very likely already on top of things. Just as we want the best for That Kid, we also want what's best for Your Kid.
Public education, after all, is for everyone.
The family was forced to divide and conquer this weekend, leaving my son and I holding down the fort at home with the dog. It probably comes as no surprise, but on these occasions my son and I often use this situation as a good excuse to slip away for a burger and some father-son bonding time. As we were enjoying our burgers together and I was contemplating this week's blog post, I realized how passionate many feel about burgers. I mean, who doesn't have their favourite burger place? I think it's something about the burger place that connects with people. Well, I got thinking about my local favourites and wondered if this topic might spark some commentary.
Before I offer my list, I have to qualify a couple things. First of all, when I rank my favourite burgers I am considering the following:
1) I'm looking at the traditional cheeseburger of the joint. I don't really go for the fancy "Smokehouse" or anything with fruit or some kind of gimmick. I like a regular cheeseburger with a good compliment of fixings.
2) Size doesn't matter. In fact, I am learning to appreciate the smaller, tastier burger of late. I find a good double burger to work, but anything meatier takes away from the experience for me. Also, I won't get bacon on any burger larger than a single.
3) The atmosphere of the joint can't hurt the burger, but it can certainly help. Also, the significance of the place to me can adjust some ranking in this case.
Here are The Passionate Principal's Top Ten Burgers in Calgary:
10) Boogies Burgers - for many a staple in their top three. I have to admit, I've only recently tried it and was a bit underwhelmed. Cracks the top 10 because I trust my friends and there must be more to it so I'll give it another shot.
9) Peter's Drive In - Mostly here for the iconic nature of the experience. While most like the milkshakes, a Peter's burger is my favourite part of the visit. I also like how the single is really a single plus.
8) Fatburger - My feelings about Fatburger fluctuate from time to time. I love the hand-made patty, and a single is way more than filling. Extra points for choice of complimentary fixings.
7) Five Guys - Like Fatburger, the Five Guys hand-made burger is awesome. I feel it's a bit more consistent and I love their basic menu. No "Hula Burgers". Just burgers.
6) Earl's - May have bounced off the list if they didn't commit to Alberta Beef, but the Earl's experience is always good because it's almost always a family event.
5) Regrub - Charging hard up the list. Again, often overlooked because of the fancy milkshakes, the Regrub burger is so so good, and so much better than that sweet stuff. I like the odd and varied patty sizes from burger to burger. You get the sense that the owners want you to feel like you're really sitting in the family kitchen eating a home made mama burger.
4) Smashburger - A nice addition to Calgary chains. Best part about Smash is that their burgers are so tasty. Maybe a bit salty for some, but their gimmick of "smashing" the patty really works for me. I find it to be the perfect size.
3) Thomsons - My annual stop at the Hyatt lounge for a burger during Teacher's Convention is a tradition with my wife (who is also a teacher) and me. Great burger, complimented by the best burger pickle around. What makes getting a burger even more special is they often sell out on the Thursday of convention. It's that good.
2) Clive Burger - I don't often hear Clive mentioned by many, but it's a must-do. Again, like Five Guys, a simple menu, so you know it's all about the burgers. Smallish, but totally filling burger and you always know you're getting 100% natural, antibiotic and hormone free Alberta Beef. You can taste that awesomeness.
1) White Spot - Despite the fact that I am usually about 15 years younger than most visitors to White Spot, this is my go-to and something I look forward to. My family knows that when dad gets to pick a dinner out, we're heading to White Spot. I love the Double-Double and the sauce and great pickles complete the epic experience. Call me old-fashioned, but if you haven't really hit this burger, make a point of doing so. It's also a big hit with my father-in-law and his senior's group.
South Street Burger Co. (just a bit too pre-fab for my tastes. Too focused on satisfying many tastes. Just make one good burger)
Burger Inn (constant location changes pushed this off the list. Was probably top three in the 90s)
McDonalds Big Mac (still the "go to" after a late night out)
Note that I have yet to try the following recommended Calgary spots - Naina's (although I hear their signature is a stuffed burger, possibly making them ineligible based on my criteria), Buchanan's (likely my next stop), Vagabond (the pictures and reviews have me very intrigued), Burger 320 (new on my radar, but recommended by many friends)
Bonus List - Top Burgers Outside of Calgary
In and Out Burger - one of the highlights of my trips to Vegas or California. Cheap and awesome.
Cheeseburger in Paradise - Waterfront Lahaina, Maui. Say no more.
McKeller Confectionary, Thunder Bay - the original greasy burger. Hometown version of the Coney Island Hot Dog. You probably gotta grow up with it to love it.
Dana Clara / Patti Fero Burger - my family always tells me that you can't find a better burger than at home, and every time they step up, they back that up.
I can not wait for the reactions and suggestions. There is no way that anyone reading this list will think that I've got it all right. Please feel free to comment with your feedback. Oh, and I bet you're all hungry now. See you at White Spot.
PLCs, it's time for us to get back together.
I forgive you for interrupting my valuable teacher time.
I forgive you for making me comply in completion of all that dreaded accountability documentation that I gave to my school admin teams, for which I never received feedback.
I forgive you for your lack of direction, intentionality, and ability to connect with what I actually needed for my professional development.
I am ready to reconcile, because for the first time I realize that I have had a part in our demise. All this time I was always so quick to blame you and so quick to go to the dark side, that I never saw the beauty of our potential.
I remember hearing about you for the first time. Even before we met. I thought we would be great together for a long time. I was excited to see you on our professional development days, and even after school. For a brief while, I could say I even loved you PLCs.
It quickly turned ugly. Soon, there were those afternoons, after a full day of teaching, that I cursed your name as it was uttered over the intercom - "PLCs will start in 5 minutes in the library. Please bring your evidence of student work." Those words were almost always accompanied by the immediate scramble to try and grab some of that student work that I thought might best relate the topic we were supposed to be talking about. I remember grabbing the most generic examples I could find, just in case what I thought we were going to be talking about was incorrect, again.
"Another make work project" I would mutter to myself, and every slightly more loudly among my equally disgruntled colleagues. It started almost immediately - the clock watching, the marking, the internet surfing, and texting. Heck, we even took phone calls we would never pick up on personal time. Washroom breaks, water bottle refills, snacking, and even cutting out art materials for next day's lesson. We all took our turns in our small group rotating through any one of these distractions. We would curse that one eager teacher that was still in love with you and actually did everything they were supposed to. Then our PLC days became the most likely days to see colleagues away on appointments.
Coming into the principalship, I swore that there was a better way. I would be the one to find a new way to bring meaningful professional development to my staff. I tried everything, intentionally, to oppose you PLCs, even denying your existence. And for a long while, I convinced myself, and my staff, that we were happy. I was hopeful that I would show up to a senior leadership meeting and hear someone say PLCs were going away forever. They didn't. It never has ceased to be at the centre of the conversation.
Then it hit me, it wasn't you, it was me.
I was the closed-minded one.
Enter immediate regret.
This was the first step to me reaching out to you again.
I didn't get to this spot all by myself. I need to thank our district senior leaders for staying the course. I also need to recognize the Galileo Educational Network for providing the "how", considerate of all the obstacles which I encountered in my teaching career, and backing the need for effective PLCs with current research. Finally, and ironically, it was my own teachers who have brought us back together. They want to work with you, and for that to happen you and I need to be good. For them, and for the sake of improving student learning, I can do this. But, let's not get back together for the sake of the kids. Let's find a way to fall back in love. For this to happen, we both need to give a little. Let's go slow, stay flexible, and change just a bit.
I am optimistic.
For those non-educators, PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) happen when teachers come together to work in a group. PLCs can take on many forms depending on the direction of the school district and/or construct of school administration. When done right, they examine the critical questions surrounding whether or not there is evidence that teaching has had a direct impact on student learning. Much time and attention goes into ensuring schools are getting this right.
The above pictures depicts student work before PLC and the picture below, after PLC. The teachers in this PLC had recognized that many of the students were struggling with paragraph formation and they set this as a key learning intention After a series of lessons around forming good paragraphs, the students were able to apply the necessary concepts independently. This is the evidence that shows how teaching can have a direct impact on student achievement.
I am an elementary school principal, passionate about engagement, innovation, and learning from the unique skills and interests of students and fellow educators.