A Principal’s day in Canada
The plain white school building comes to life when the children start pouring into its premises. Mrs Angela Martin looks at the children, her heart swells with love and trepidation at the same time. Mrs Angela is a petite woman in her early 50s, looking at her fragile frame, it is difficult to say the extent of passion she has for the work she does. The weight of the responsibility she bears drives her to give the best she can. She is well aware of how her decisions and actions can impact the lives of the children.
Mayfield School is located in the area which is mostly inhabited by the indigenous population. The issues prevalent among them are not unknown. Drug abuse, gang activities, troubled marriages, divorces, alcoholism are just a few to mention. Children hailing from these families are often seen with behavioural needs. Apart from the indigenous people, the area is home to refugees and immigrants. Mayfield opens its gates wide open to welcome children irrespective of the issues they face, the motto of the school being inclusive education for all reflecting the motto of the government, ‘student comes first’.
Mrs Angela is usually among the first to be at school, coming in as early as 6:45 in the morning, an hour before her staff or students. She doesn’t like missing the opportunity of interacting with students. Children shivering because they do not have warm jackets to beat the subzero temperatures or children dragging themselves with tired eyes, nothing misses her keen eyes. She is usually on a lookout for newspaper ads that inform about a sale or charity drive organised by some generous donor. She herself picks up things that the children in the neighbourhood of the school might need, sometimes it is winter coats or boots or even bikes for the children to ride to the school. She not only brings them to school but also personally checks the fit to make sure that the children get what they need.
The EAs (Education Assistants) along with the Vice Principal, monitor children during breaks and recess with walkie talkies in their hands like an indomitable team. Children with ADHD and behavioural needs throw unthinkable challenges. A little child from a refugee family had come along with his sister on his first day to school, the hustle-bustle of the campus and panorama of new faces must have left him shocked, and the little explorer took off in no time and was nowhere to be seen. Mrs Angela was soon seen with a map of the school in her hand, directing the EAs to different gates and streets of the neighbourhood, while his sister was asked to rush home and look for her brother. The boy was soon found in his home too bewildered to respond.
Not only such cases, but Mrs Angela is involved in devising customised timetables and lesson plans for every child with behavioural needs or learning challenges. She collaborates with the teachers to provide personalised help to improve reading and math literacy among the students, either by inviting a Math coach or an EA to step in. She regularly checks with the EAs for their progress, looking for improvement and also for scenarios of intervention. She strongly believes that children learn better when they are allowed time to play, so she makes sure that resources are allocated to buy instructive toys for the students. Every classroom has a quiet corner called the break-out room to help students read and relax when they feel overwhelmed or disturbed. School is an inseparable part of the community, Mrs Angela does not leave an opportunity to connect homes with school. Her idea of inviting grandparents to be a part of the reading club was one of her most successful initiatives. Children not only loved seeing their grandparents at school, they also improved their reading by a couple of levels!
The specialists are called to assess the students whenever the need arises and a tailored intervention is provided. The real challenge arises when the parents are reluctant to acknowledge that their child needs help. Mrs Angela not only gathers evidence to convince the parents but also shows utmost patience, kindness and empathy to help parents understand that only a healthy parent-school collaboration can create a better future for the child. She does not shy away from going to their homes, to share her concerns with them.
For help to be provided for students, be it a dedicated EA or a psychologist, breakfast or lunch program for students, Mrs Angela has to manage the budget and justify her demands. A yearly 350 million dollar budget has to reach the deserving students and Mrs Angela makes sure that every penny is spent for the benefit of her students.
Her team is her strength. On every third Saturday of the month Mrs Angela is usually busy sending emails to her staff inviting them for the ‘Ocean side chat’, an informal meeting where her teachers and support staff share their concerns and challenges. Together they come up with creative solutions. The involvement of the entire team in the process of decision making ensures that the efforts of every team member are directed towards the Vision of the organization. Mrs Angela is a leader, a guide, a friend for her staff. Mrs Mohiuddin, an EA puts it all in a word when she says that Mrs. Angela is the most approachable leader she has ever met. She is well aware of the fact that only a teacher with a healthy body, heart and mind can aid in holistic development of the child, so she doesn’t leave a stone unturned when it comes to professional development of her teachers, be it art classes, literacy clubs or creativity workshops. What amazes her staff is how Mrs Angela injects every session with loads of witty humour making every session a unique learning experience.
The Principal’s office is most often found unoccupied. Throughout the day Mrs Angela is on foot, receiving calls from the teachers for assistance, helping students finish their lunch, wear their winter coats before going out to play, cleaning the premises, even helping them board the busses or dropping them home when the need arises. All the while, talking and interacting with students assuring them that Mayfield is a home away from home.
Her day has not yet ended, scores of emails, loads of paperwork, planning for days to come, all await her, it’s usually 6 in the evening by the time she is able to wrap it all up. But when she leaves for home and reflects she feels warmth of contentment engulf her and motivate her to wake up again at 4 in the morning ready to take the challenges of the coming day head-on, after all, students do come first!
As reported by an Education Assisstant working in an Elementary School in Canada.
Sabahath Fatima, Research Associate
MS Education Academy, Hyderabad, India.