1) If I were to meet you now for the first time, what would you like me to know about you?
If you were to meet me for the first time, I would hope that you would find me open, honest, hard-working and interested in what you had to say. And I love a good sense of humor!
2) You were awarded “The Best Principal in Canada Award” for Nova Scotia, what does this mean to you?
In 2016 I was honored to receive an award as one of Canada’s top 40 Principals by the Learning Partnership of Canada. I got to go to Toronto, meet wonderful administrators and educators from across the country, and experience some top-notch professional development. But more than this, I was nominated by the staff, students and caregivers from my school. Their faith in me and the work it took to acknowledge me (lots of paperwork in the application!) meant more to me than anything else. It’s also quite humbling. You spend so much time being around extraordinary educators every day, you feel guilty that you are being recognized and they are not. I am someone who likes to give credit where credit is due, so believe it or not, I found it somewhat difficult to take the accolades knowing I could not be successful in what I do without the work and support of my staff and school community every day.
3) What motivated you to switch from teaching to becoming a Principal, and what got you moving into a more administrative role at the school board?
I originally had no intention of going into administration, although as a circuit music teacher who travelled from school to school I could easily see the massive impact the Principal had on a school’s climate and culture. I enjoyed my contact time with students every day too much to give that up. I had several Principals and teachers over the years ask me if I had ever considered becoming an administrator. Eventually, I decided to ‘give it a go’. That was 18 years ago, and I truly enjoy what I do!
4) What are the most important elements for being an effective Principal?
-I believe that a Principal first and foremost needs to be able to build positive, trusting relationships. If a person at any age does not get the ABC’s (Accepted, Belong, Connected) no learning or moving forward can ever take place.
-I think that a Principal needs to have a clear vision moving forward. With this comes a growth mind set and high expectations, and the belief that everyone can achieve.
-A Principal has to be fair. Some people misinterpret “fair” with “equal”. They are not the same thing. And consistency goes along with being fair.
-Being open-minded is key. Otherwise, we become too judgmental.
-I also believe having a strong sense of social justice helps with the ABC’s, and everyone being included.
-Being a problem-solver and being a team player can get you through a lot!
There is so much to say on this topic: being knowledgeable, current, an excellent listener, reflective, hard-working, passionate, the list goes on. But if all else fails, you better have a good sense of humor…or at least be able to laugh at yourself!
5) What do you think is the most important contribution you can give to our school system/what does it need that you are able to provide?
Something that I have that many of my administrative colleagues do not is a passion for the Fine Arts. Often times, children become disengaged in learning, particularly in Literacy, Math and Science. Infusing the Arts into these subjects helps students enjoy them more. Also, Fine Arts trigger different areas of the brain. This is important, as children need to learn in different ways. And creativity is key no matter what you do. Not to mention building what are called ‘soft skills’. Those are the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and positively with other people.
6) My kids and I have been to many schools, but we never felt as attached and secure as we did at your school. We credit it to your staff and school community, but in large part to you, because you made the environment very welcoming and open for all of us from the very start. This is a remarkable achievement. How are you able to make people feel so comfortable?
I think it is all about perspective and attitude. If someone believes that they hold the ‘truth’, it’s easy to see others as wrong, and differing thoughts or beliefs may not be valued. This egocentric way of looking at things is one of the reasons why there is so much hatred in the world. I try (not always successfully!) to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking. I try to remember that I don’t know everything or have all the answers. I also try to remember that other people have lived experiences that I do not. We all have a lot to learn from each other. And I keep the ABC’s close at all times, because that’s what I want when people get to know me.
7) You once told me that you strongly believe in the ABCs of life, can you please explain what they are and why you think they are so important?
The ABC’s (Accepted, Belong, & Connected) are important for any human being no matter your age. Humans are constantly trying to figure out where they belong in the world, and being accepted and having value within the larger group is hugely important. I think about children trying to fit in with their classmates, their families, their social friend groups and communities. The same with staff or community members. Nothing feels more isolating than knowing you are not wanted or you are not respected. Everyone needs to feel valued.
8) What important aspects of your career surprised you most?
As a teacher, I was surprised to see how political education can be. Decisions are not always made for what is in the best interest of students, but rather for specific groups or agendas. This became even more evident when I became an administrator.
I was also surprised to find out everyone expects you to be an expert-at all times and in all things! When I entered my very first classroom, I was supposed to have all the answers. I am sure that other professionals probably feel the same way.
And unless you actually do the job, you don’t fully understand how many hats you actually wear: caregivers, psychologists, behavior specialists, data analysts, public relations officers, diplomats, cheerleaders, nutrition monitors, health care professionals, colleagues, mentors, learners, managers, conflict resolution specialists, actors, entertainers, committee members, responders to a deluge of emails, and communication specialist. And somewhere in there you teach!
9) Is there something you tell yourself or do regularly to keep motivated?
There’s an old story about a person watching an old man on the beach every morning. The old man walks along the shoreline, picks up star fish that wash up on shore, and throws them back on the water. A person asks the old man why he bothers doing this knowing that star fish wash up on the beach every day. Did he really believe it made a difference? The old man smiles and replies, “It made a difference to this one.”
It may sound corny, but if I can make a difference to one person, even in the smallest way today, it was a good day. And sometimes we don’t even realize that a very small action can have an extraordinary impact on others without realizing it.
The famous astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson, has a quote that I love, “…I am driven by two main philosophies: Know more about the world today than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” That says a lot!
10) What does leadership mean to you?
There are different definitions of leadership, but the one that rings truest to me in my role is being a servant leader. Servant leaders focus on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. This does not mean that you don’t make hard decisions or that you don’t have a vision as to the path an organization should take, but it takes into account what is in the best interest of the greater good. That means a servant leader should be an active listener, be empathetic and empathic, have self-awareness, be persuasive, be a problem-solver, be able to conceptualize, and have commitment to growth and emancipation, and community building.
11) What was the best advice you were ever given?
My parents gave me three pieces of advice that have always rung true for me from an early age:
-No one owes you anything, so learn to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, and when someone does something for you, appreciate it and be grateful.
-You don’t need to know everything; you need to know how to get the information when you need it.
-Whatever you decide to do in life, be the best at it you can be and enjoy it!
12) Could you share the most defining moments of your career, and why you think they were crucial?
That’s a tough one to answer, as there are so many little moments that make up the big picture. There are so many experiences and people who have come in and out of my life that I have learned from, both positively and negatively. There have been things that validate what and why I do what I do, and times I have said to myself, “Don’t ever do that again!” But I think the biggest moment of my life would be the birth of my daughter. Before she was born, I was very career driven, to the point of it being unhealthy. She helped ground me, give me perspective, and bring balance in my life. Both my husband and I believe she is our greatest accomplishment. I truly believe you cannot have an effective career and be of use to anyone unless you have a balance in your own life. My daughter and husband help teach me this every day.
13) What’s your spice for life?
My spice? Creativity, humor, laughter, connecting with others, humor, music (singing, playing instruments and dancing!), acting, honesty, humor, learning new things, humor, respect and dignity, humor, finding joy in the little things…did I mention humor?
14) What would you like to be most remembered for?
I hope that I am remembered for bringing joy to others, whatever form that took!
15) What motivated you to get into the field of education?
All through my years as a student, I was always put in situations where I was either helping or teaching my peers. I thought this might be something I could continue doing into adulthood.
b) What are your greatest challenges?
I am constantly trying to find the win-win in any problem-solving situation. This is not always possible. Trying to resign myself to the reality that not every situation is going to work out positively for everyone is very difficult for me.
Keeping my opinions to myself is very difficult. Everyone does not need to know everything that’s in my head!
And I still work hard to keep a balance between my personal and professional life!
16) You are a successful representative of your community, working with various parties within the School District, the various communities under the HRSB umbrella, what do you think brings about the best results, in your experience?
Being able to listen and be open to (valuing) other perspectives, in my opinion, are the only ways to navigate working within multiple environments. Again, if I think I know all the answers and I have the only ‘truth’, nothing can authentically get accomplished.
And thank you for saying I am successful. I think I have my moments, but I am constantly reflecting on what I can do better. I am far from perfect!
17) If you could combine the best aspects of all the various groups you work with, what would it look like?
It’s all about the variety and diversity! Everyone has their unique perspectives, knowledge and experience. Everyone having an equal seat at the table is what is key. But in the end, the most important thing that should be driving everyone is what is in the best interest of students, not what is in the best interest of ourselves or our individual groups. If we are all combining our knowledge, skills and perspectives towards everyone growing and learning, we all win.
18) What do you see as the most valuable contribution that could be made today in the Education System?
We need to teach students how to problem-solve, be open-minded, and teach them resilience. I think we have become very good at teaching children ‘stuff’, but more emphasis need to be placed on ‘how to be’.
19) What would the perfect school look like, in your mind?
Humans are not perfect, so schools are not perfect (schools are little microcosms of society). And it’s amazing how philosophy of education is affected by politics, money and litigation.
However, I would love to see a school where everyone – children and adults:
-could feel valued, belonging, and accepted
-would be challenged but still feel successful
-learned at their own pace but were constantly moving forward
-had all the supports/tools they needed academically, socially, and emotionally
-learned in beautiful surroundings!
These are very broad strokes. It would take forever to logistically lay all this out!