Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and Protecting your Source Work

This morning’s walk allowed me to listen to Part II of the conversation between Priya Parker and Brené Brown entitled A Meeting Makeover. And something that Priya Parker shared resonated when I heard it, and then returned to me throughout my day: Protect your Source Work .

“I am continuing to develop my mastery in my craft, and then I can write about it and read about it and talk to others about it, but if I’m not close to my source work, I’m going to shrivel up and I’m going to become pretty boring”.

What does this mean for leadership in Education? For me that means I continue the work that supports my purpose: teaching, hiring, mentoring and learning. If I get caught up in management I lose my focus on doing what is best for kids. So I need to hone my craft by teaching each time I meet with my teachers, revisiting my values and vision when hiring new teachers to my team, mentoring my teachers through Annual Learning Plan and Teacher Performance Appraisal processes, and always, always, always learning.


As a Principal there aren’t a lot of opportunities to teach in the traditional meaning of the word. However, at least once a month, we get the opportunity to lead a staff meeting, and so mine are designed more like lesson plans than meeting agendas. I try out new tools and strategies, embed new technologies, and try to model processes that I hope to see followed with our students. I also look for teaching opportunities outside my school, both formal and informal, in order to continue to grow and develop my skills.


When we bring a new teacher into our system, we have begun a relationship that will last 30 or more years. So we have great responsibility, both to our students and to our new teachers. My hiring process includes providing candidates with the questions ahead of time, so that they can prepare (as they would each day for their classes) and I can be confident that I will be able to make a decision based upon all the possible data. And I begin building a relationship with each candidate I meet, ensuring that they hear my hiring decision from me, not from their friends, and offering to provide feedback to help them learn and improve. I have often met great teachers who weren’t a great fit for my vacancy, but were perfect for one at my colleague’s school, and I am proud to have supported them to that destination.


Once teachers are in our school, we then can bring our experience and skills to the process of mentoring them. Each year is an opportunity to meet and discuss their Annual Learning Plan. Sometimes the plan isn’t directly related to their teaching career: one of my teachers expressed a goal to get married and start a family and, though I told I couldn’t help her much with that, did achieve her goal! Every five years our teachers get a chance to share their practice through the Teacher Performance Appraisal process, and to have us observe and confirm their strengths and achievements. When we get to know our teachers we can network and connect, supporting them to broaden their perspectives and deepen their knowledge.


If student learning is our goal, then we have to keep ourselves in learning mode as well. Curiosity and wonder must remain constant, even as we work through the paperwork and administrivia that seems to fill our day. I’m currently taking an Additional Qualification course, as readers of this blog will have recognized by previous posts. But the greatest source of new learning is found within my work: my teachers and their students. Each classroom observation, each email or phone conversation with a teacher, and each problem that presents itself is a gift of learning. 

I’m protecting my source work by continuing to teach, hire, mentor and learn. And I love it!

Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and how a Return to Work relates to K-12 Return to School

My morning walk is my time to listen to podcasts, and one morning last week I was captivated by a conversation (part 1 of 2) between Brené Brown and Priya Parker entitled “How We Return and Why it Matters“.

Priya Parker is the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters“. In this conversation, she and Brené Brown discuss how the world is going back to work, and what that might look like.  As a K-12 Principal, it’s also been a topic at the forefront of my thinking, and I was struck by how similar our concerns are.

Access and Equity

Priya Parker and Brené Brown discuss the possibility that a return to in-person work might inadvertently be punishing those who choose to continue to work from home. Priya Parker suggests that “if not everybody is in the room, is it important to have two facilitators or two hosts, an in-person host and a hybrid host?”  She recommends that in order to not exclude those working from home, perhaps everyone has to take the meeting through their computers in separate rooms, so as to not limit power and access.

In our K-12 educational context, this is exactly the concern of our educators, who worry that a hybrid model with a single teacher will shift the focus to the teacher from the students. And they share a concern that students at home and students in the classroom will not have equitable access to resources, to the attention of the teacher, and to opportunities to collaborate and learn together.


Priya Parker shared a story about a parent who tried to protect guests to her child’s party by providing t-shirts that indicated their vaccination status. In an effort to allow her guests to make informed choices, she was inadvertently creating a caste system.

As our children ages 12 to 18 begin to be vaccinated, we will be entering our middle and secondary schools in September with both students and teachers who may be fully or partially vaccinated. I know that there will be students who will use this as an argument to push back against cohorting, masking, social distancing, and use of sanitizing processes. And I fear that those who still do not feel safe heading into our schools due to personal or family circumstances will run the risk of being excluded, both socially and physically.

Physical Distancing

In business we shake hands, and in schools there is often a culture of hugging and other forms of physical connection. Elbow bumps, bowing, and air “high fives” may need to be developed as a form of connection when we meet in person. There is a risk of “micro-moments of perceived rejection” as we develop our sense of connection, and consider physical proximity as a measure of how much or how little we are “liked”.

When working online we are glued to our seats, not moving. We cannot be moving around the room and still able to maintain connection through our cameras. Will a year of inactivity result in students who are no longer comfortable moving around the classroom, interacting with each other? Will teachers be driven to return to the 1960’s model of the teacher at the podium, lecturing to the class?

Principles and Policies

The principle behind the the t-shirts was caring, but the policy of providing shirts served to exclude. In order to get to meaningful policy we need to aim for policy that reflects people’s “deepest experiences”, through a participatory process so that people “feel that the policy is the best way to coordinate their work”.

As I write this blog post, some Ontario school boards have communicated an intent to deliver program through hybrid classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year. This policy decision has been made, often without any experience of the hybrid model. And for boards where hybrid models are in place, little attention may have been paid to the genuine experiences of the teachers, students and their families.

Policies provide the “handrails and guardrails” that Brené Brown says need to be designed from “power with and power to, not power over”. However a policy of hybrid instruction provides neither handrails, which would be created through successful models and exemplars, nor guardrails, which could only be formed from the experiences of our teachers.

Rather than impose a policy, we need to consider ourselves to be “in beta”, and continue to be creative and innovate as we remain in this period of great transition. Imposition of policy as an act of power can only be destructive to our education system, and to our students.

Next Steps

I look forward to listening to Part 2 of this podcast, and to continue my thinking about how we gather, be it online or eventually in person.

I am also interested in how the plan for hybrid learning will be framed by some of our school boards as anything other than a power and money move. In the long run, I cannot see how we can defend a system that creates worse outcomes for all participants. Will we hear from parents who want in-person-only classes, so that the teacher can provide individual attention to their children? Will parents begin demanding “paper packages” so that they don’t have to deal with technology at home?  Will teachers leave the profession, burnt out by the demands of teaching two different groups at the same time?

As a Principal of a fully virtual school I have seen how effectively each of the three remote models: fully synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction via an effective Learning Management System, and remote learning with well-design print materials, can be for different student needs. But I cannot imagine how a teacher can do their best in all three models while simultaneously providing a rich, in-person classroom experience. We have the potential to develop the “handrails and guardrails” that we need, but not with an imposed policy based upon money and power.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #3 – Misconceptions and your Backpack

This week in our course we discussed three types of information: that which you know through experience (your backpack), that which you hear through the media (often misconceptions), and that which is the truth.


We began our class with a Backpack activity, shared with us by an educator who has used the activity to reveal what our students carry with them. By writing with a white crayon, and then painting over with a wash, hidden information is revealed. She talked about how some students chose to participate in the full activity, while others chose not to reveal what they are carrying with them. However, the process of writing served to validate, and focus their reflection. I could see this being a valuable minds-on activity, to set the tone for subsequent activities that might be triggering.

Media Misconceptions and the Truth

There are many misconceptions that are spread via the media, and then continued socially.  We listened to Wab Kinew’s “Soap Box” video from 2016, where he shared five stereotypes (the first five in the following table), and then examined many other sources of the following misconceptions.:

Alcohol as a Social IllThis issue is not unique to indigenous communities. It is when it is combined with poverty that it becomes visible to all.
Need to “Get Over It”You can be “over” something, and still need to remember it. In the case of Residential Schools, there is multi-generational trauma which must be addressed.
Long HairLong hair is worn by Indigenous people as a symbol of cultural pride. However not all indigenous hair matches the stereotypical long, straight ideal, so short hair does NOT indicate a lack of pride.
“7 Billion Dollars”The “7 Billion Dollars” that flows from Indian Affairs is less per capita than that provided to the citizens of New Brunswick.
TaxesStatus Indians pay taxes, except on property on their reserve. Those who qualify are only about 314,000 people, of which the employment rate is only 55%, so this represents a tiny portion of our tax revenues. Less than 1% are exempt from any tax at all.
First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples have similar systems of government.First Nations peoples are sovereign nations, who have never surrendered their right or title, and possess distinc tlaws and governance systems, language, culture, economic systems and social structures. The Indian Act establishes a limit form of local administration, and constrains movement towards self-governance.

The Métis Nation of Ontario has a democratic, province-wide governance structure.

Inuit peoples have united under the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on the Sovereignty in the Arctic.
Post-secondary education is Free for all First Nations studentsOnly “status Indians” qualify, and they must apply for funding from their home community. The demand often exceeds the money that bands receive, with more than half of applicants turned away.
Education is funded equally to allThe Band-Operated Funding Formula came into effect in 1988, and is capped at an annual 2% increase, with few increases even approaching this cap. As a result current schools are now significantly underfunded.
Indigenous peoples are free to hunt and fishWhile these rights are inherent Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution, confirmed in court cases, and articulated in the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they continue to be challenged by commercial enterprises. And a BC court ruled that governments have the power to declare moratoriums on hunting and fishing based upon conservation needs.
Band homes are not cared for by those in the communityBand housing is administered from Ottawa, with no local control. Bands cannot also use their own revenues to apply to housing. Those living off reserve, in search of better housing, face poverty and racism, and so are disproportionately affected.
Health care on reserve is equivalentFirst Nation citizens face high rates of chronic and communicable diseases, and are exposed to greater health risks because of poor housing, higher unemployment, contaminated water, and limited access to healthy foods. (Fact Sheet) Because of the complexity with federal, provincial, municipal and Aboriginal governments all playing a role, the system is difficult to navigate, with many roadblocks. Health Canada does not pay for palliative care or rehab therapies, and there is a shortage of mental health services.
There is plenty of reserve land0.2% of land in Canada is reserve land. 20% of the Indigenous population live on this 0.2% of the land. Of this land, coastal and tidal lands are not included, so access to waterways and fishing grounds are not included.
“Vanishing Indian”While goal of assimilation was to have Indigenous peoples “vanish”, they are now the fastest growing segment of the population.
Indigenous peoples have a lot of moneyThere is a significant gap in median income, even among highly educated Indigenous people.


We require significant revision to our Ontario curriculum, to begin to address the misconceptions held within our population.  Some are addressed within the compulsory curriculum, but only in a narrow sense. The Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum suggests consideration of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, as part of the strand on Canada and International Cooperation. In Grade 7 and 8 the perspectives of Aboriginal peoples are considered with respect to land development and the preservation of natural resources. And issues such as Residential Schools are now core to the Grade 10 History program.

The revised (2018) Canadian and World Studies document explicitly addresses the need to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action numbers 62 and 63, and emphasizes the need for cultural safety in terms of their cultural heritage. This need for sensitivity has, in my experience, led many teachers in the past to avoid issues, for fear of being unable to adequately support their students. This choice “not to go there” has resulted in inadequate attention within the limited curriculum expectations.

We must continue to educate our teachers, so that they can educate our students. I believe that students become better able to consider such issues in their senior years in school, where there are unfortunately fewer explicit expectations of Indigenous content within the remaining compulsory courses.  This is why the move to replace ENG3U/3C/3E with NBE3U/3C/3E (English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices) is such a positive move. I would also like to see more offerings of NDW4M (Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context) in our schools, to challenge students with contemporary issues at a point in their lives where they are considering their roles as adult citizens of Canada.

It is only an educated population who can counter these misconceptions with the truth, and lighten the backpack for our Indigenous friends.