We Are Doing Hard Things!

Before I begin the main thrust of my post today I’d like to acknowledge and thank all those educators who are going well beyond expectations this year in the many situations we find ourselves. Those pivoting to online learning again when we were so hoping to stay face to face and a special thanks of appreciation to those educators in Spec Ed classes who are now face to face in situations that might cause anxiety and stress, we want to thank you. Your work for all our students, under very difficult circumstances is not going unnoticed. Thank you.
Which brings me to a recent presentation we had from Dr. Robyne Hanley Dafoe, who presented on Everyday Resiliency.   Through the context of an incredible personal story of a life changing event Robyne shared her maxim:  I can do hard things. Five powerful words.  Yes, there is no doubt that leaders are tired, but , as Dr. Hanley Dafoe shared, exhaustion can co-exist with the ability to perform challenging tasks.  You are doing hard things!

One characteristic of being human is for our desires to come easy and instantly.  Many societal advancements and daily habits reinforce the expectation for things to happen quickly, if not immediately (e.g., fast food, Amazon Prime, Google searches…).

Doing hard things often feels, well…hard.  But this is where personal growth happens and the outcomes can be transformational. Our actions through challenge can be the catalyst for impact and change. Challenging ourselves to take on difficult tasks is where leaders come alive. Leaders have the courage and determination to do things that other may not want to do or may not have a vision for doing. Through a belief in one’s abilities we can, and do, move mountains to support the well-being, learning and safety needs of our students and school teams.

Drew Dudley also spoke to our system leaders recently and shared the following quote, “Leaders create moments that cause other people to feel as if they are better off for having interacted with you.”  There is no doubt that the heavy lifting work of leadership leaves others and ourselves better off.

At the end of our educational leadership journey, will we cherish the moments of comfort, or the moments where we worked with determination, overcame obstacles and had a positive impact on the lives of those we served?  To me the latter choice leaves me with hope and purpose knowing that I will have had impact.

Lisa Munro

Leveraging Digital Learning

Lots of Acceleration and Little Steering…yet – How do we Leverage Digital learning during and post Pandemic?

The introduction of new technologies has always brought with it a myriad of responses from users. For example, some are willing to wait in line for countless hours to be the first to own the latest and greatest cell phone, others cannot imagine being without a landline. Some find merit in both. Regardless of where each of us was a few months ago, technology has become an essential tool to address an urgent need as a result of the pandemic. The recent move to learn remotely has administrators, educators and students propelled into accelerated learning on the technology learning continuum.

When remote learning began, the key focus for many was on learning the basics of site navigate and content upload to the virtual learning environment. As familiarity with digital tools have increased at a rapid rate and basic skills are developing with greater automaticity many are using technology as an effective tool to be leveraged to enhance and transform teaching and learning.

Now that school systems have been accelerated into a digital world teaching and learning will forever be transformed to involve technology. The status quo will no longer suffice for many educators and students. Even so, anyone who has driven a vehicle knows that acceleration without steering can have dire consequences. School and system leaders need to consider how to effectively leverage new digital capabilities to support deeper pedagogy. When face to face learning resumes and the urgency of the pandemic is not a significant driver in the use of technology it will be imperative for us to consider how to keep the momentum going for effectively using technology in new and innovative ways in education.

We need to consider:

  • What is your vision for digital in the next year?
  • What conditions need to be in place to continue to leverage technology in schools to enhance learning?
  • What are the ways that technology can be used for transformative learning and the creation of new learning opportunities that were previously inconceivable?
  • What practices will need to discontinue?
  • What is your first move?

We are currently in a state of flux in education with momentum to make significant strides in the use of digital technologies to support student achievement. Putting on the brakes when we return to a more familiar classroom experience should not be our next move. Now is the time for steering. Leaders have opportunity to choose the path rather than having the path chosen for us.

A Superintendent in another Board near us recently posted this Dave Hollis meme on her Twitter feed and it succinctly summarizes exactly what we need to continue to consider together as we move forward.

Reflecting and Celebrating

Flickr Images

Classroom Distancing – Flickr Images

In the recent weeks school boards have reshaped what school looks like for students, staff and community during the pandemic. Enough time has passed that we are likely able to now spend some energy reflecting on all the change that has happened is such a short time. Sometimes when reflecting, we can be hard on ourselves. There can be risk of focusing only on what we might have missed or what we think did not go as planned. If we consider that the structures which we have come to define as modern, formalized education have taken 150 years to shape this should put the progress that has been made in just a few short months into perspective.

Educators and school board teams have accomplished SO much and created new roadmaps. We would not expect a family member who just received their beginner’s license to navigate a road trip across Canada in their first week behind the wheel, nor should we expect perfection in the structures and processes we have created with school start up. Although it is certainly true that our biggest growth often comes from our greatest challenges, we are challenged to also think about where we have already come in such a short time. Take some time to celebrate your progress.

I’m going to close this blog the same way I closed my last one, mainly because I feel the same way today. I will be sharing more about my learning journey in future posts and I invite you to have a conversation with me here on my blog or at my Twitter account – @LisaMunro11  If you have a personal blog or even a class blog please let me know. I would love to follow you and read about your ideas and adventures.  I want you to know that in-spite of our present situation with so many changes, re-organizing, in-class learning and at home learning, we are on this journey together. A child near my home said it best … to us you are a big deal.

Lisa …..


New Journeys

I have now been in my new role as a Superintendent of Education here in Grand Erie for just over two months. Many people have asked me about the transition, and I can truly say it has been wonderful.
Educators, support staff, system staff and trustees have been incredibly welcoming. Individuals have taken time to share advice, provide important organizational context, or reached out simply
to introduce themselves and offer support. I am very excited about the work ahead and hope the contributions I will make will support students, staff, families and the organization.
Of course, there is still much for me to learn. This is one of the true gifts of working in a learning organization. Learning is always all around us. It is not unlike when I started each September as a classroom teacher, a literacy coach, an
administrator or a learning supervisor. My first goals were always to genuinely understand the students and the staff  I would be supporting and to learn about their strengths as individuals and then the organization, of which we were a part. As a Superintendent now, really nothing has changed in that mandate for me.  I still want to find out what people define as important, what they are challenged by and how I can support their growth and help them overcome any obstacles that might be in their way.

Making a transition also comes with some challenges. Starting something new means leaving behind the comfort of what is known, as well as the experiences and connections established with the students and staff with whom I had previously worked. A positive part of this new transition is the profound pride I feel, when reflecting on the relationships that were formed and the goals that were accomplished in the past. I have been afforded so many opportunities in my career thus far and I credit the many people who have helped shape who I am today as a learner, as a leader and yes, even as a person. A special thank you to you all.

Another positive aspect of moving into this new role of superintendent is that I know I will carry forward what I have learned from each past interaction and individual, using these insights to have a positive impact on student achievement and well being. Having different experiences in my educational journey has confirmed for me, over and over again, that there are many facets of the education system to learn about, often in ways that I had not anticipated. And that is why learning together as a team is vital.

I will admit it was easier for me to blog as a principal when parents were my main audience. I have hesitated to blog too much in this system role because, misguided or not, I sometimes feel people expect me to be the expert and that is not a great feeling.  If you have ever blogged you know there is a certain vulnerability in putting your ideas into a public space; a vulnerability and a commitment.  Once you get to know me you will know “expert” is not a word I would ever use to define myself, but I do know I am someone who will always listen, always consider the different sides to an issue and then even consult others before final decisions are made.

So, let’s start the conversation. In my experience working at the system level, I find that staff  (whether Board staff, school staff or the various support staff) truly want to make decisions relevant to students, educators, schools and families. For example, the recent rolling out of the Parent Portal across the district provides a single digital access point for families and ensures the safety and privacy of student information. That decision was a team decision and it took many different personnel to make it happen. #workingtogether

I look forward to sharing more about my learning journey in future posts and I invite you to have a conversation with me here on my blog or at my Twitter account @LisaMunro11  If you have a personal blog or even a class blog please let me know. I would love to follow you and read about your ideas and adventures.  I truly hope you know we are on this journey together.

Lisa ……

Student Voice: Why Framing Their Stories is Important for our Future!

Student VoiceI recently had the opportunity to listen to a student panel of four remarkable students. They shared some of their personal stories in the context of the complex and exciting work of equity.  Each student described their path/struggles at school and a staff member who made a positive impact in their life. Their stories helped to frame the WHY behind our need to create safe and equitable spaces in our schools and reminded us of WHO is in front of the daily decisions we make as school and system administrators. The students’ honest and optimistic messages highlighted that the actions of educators, both large and small, have impact.  In fact, the impact they had in the room that morning was almost palpable.  I personally left the meeting feeling incredibly optimistic about work of equity and inclusion in my role.

This opportunity left me reflecting on the power of student voice. Student voice is so incredibly impactful yet, after listening to the student panel, I considered that there are more ways that I could use student voice effectively in my role.  Often, student voice is heard with good intentions but converting their words into meaningful actions is where there is much room for growth.  Our realities often get in the way and daily actions are impacted by mood, bias, multiple demands for time, urgent needs, deadlines, events from our personal lives, quality of sleep or even the weather to name a few.

How can we keep students and their ideas at the centre of the decisions we make? There is no doubt that many things will influence our actions but there are ways to keep students at the forefront. Since humans are influenced by what we are most connected to, keeping students in our line of sight can help to ensure that they are at the centre of our decisions.  Consider the following:

Engage in diverse student voices. Some students naturally rise to opportunities to share their voices.   What about students who are not predisposed to typical leadership opportunities?  These are the voices we need to hear. Educators need to support students who are underrepresented in conversations by ‘lifting up’ their voices. We need to reflect on how we draw upon the voices and realities of our students to make responsive decisions in our schools because not all voices need to be heard in the traditional sense of the word.

Connect with students regularly in different settings As a principal it means intentionally booking time each day, even with the multiple demands for our time, to walk through the school, visit classrooms or interact with students during recess or during inter-curricular activities.  So much can be learned from students during both structured and less structured times in the day.

Invite students to participate in ‘adult’ meetings where decisions are being made on their behalf. Students can be incredible agents of change. Often they do not see the barriers that adults can see and are able to solve seemingly complex problems with the most creative and often simplest solutions. Student insights are astounding and who knows better about what a student needs than the student.Honour Student Names

Get to know students by name (and how to pronounce it correctly).  Speaking to a student by name changes the dynamic entirely and often helps to create a connection that may lead to an open dialogue. If you don’t know how to pronounce a student by name, just ask.

Get to know a student’s story. Understanding who a student is and their story is one step to building a genuine con

nection. When you are connected to a student they are more likely to engage and share their voice.

See students as School Leaders. At my most recent school many assemblies, some clubs and all morning announcements were student-led.  This cultivates student leadership and engages the student body in meaningful ways. Think of the traditional forms ways things are lead and how students can be incorporated more.

Be explicit about how their voices had impact Share with students – “Here is what you said…here is what we did.”  Let them know that their voices actually matter.

Surround yourself with student work. In my most recent school-based position I had a wall of the work shared with me by students. The wall was plastered with work samples as well as notes and drawing given to me by students. It was amazing the power that the rereading of a kind note can have to keep me focused on the ideas that students have shared with me through their writing.

These are just a few of the personal ways that I have stayed connected to students and plan to revisit these more frequently.  I encourage others to share the ways that they stay connected to the voice of students in their daily decisions.

I began by talking about a student panel I was fortunate enough to help host. Here are some tweets from various educators in our system who were also at that event. Their responses resonated with me and confirmed again why giving students a “voice” is so very valuable to all of us here in Thames Valley.


Susan Bruyns – Principal at Sir Arthur Currie P.S. in London Ontario – TVDSB  Follow Sue at @sbruyns

Sue Bruyns - Principal of Sir Arthur Currie PS


Riley Culhane – Associate Director of Education – TVDSB – Follow Riley at @RileyCulhane

Riley Culhane - Associate Director - TVDSB


Lisa – Follow me at @LisaMunro11

So What? Now What? Privilege as a Tool for Allyship

The other day I found myself with some car troubles. As a result, I was required to walk a distance on a frigid winter morning to meet one of my children at their place of work to get a vehicle so I could continue on with my day. The sidewalks were completely buried in snow making the walk difficult as I tried to position my feet in the deep ruts left by the walkers who preceded me. This experience immediately gave me an alternative perspective of winter travel – with my daily access to an (almost completely) reliable vehicle, I had never considered the point of view of those without vehicles who regularly navigate snowy sidewalks and long walks to connect with public transportation in the dead of winter – an alternative point of view.
This story is a bit of a metaphor for my journey understanding privilege. My experiences in my life are my own. As such, I recognize that I do not always understand that which I have not experienced. With respect to privilege, it is something I have mostly had so, until I had the opportunity to do some professional learning, I had never really given much thought to the experiences of those without the same privileges as me– like having heat in your home – you only really think about it when the pilot goes out on your furnace.
As I began to explore more about what it means to have privilege I began to immediately appreciate the privileges in my life – I do not have to worry about my personal safety because of my ethnicity, race, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. I have never had to worry about whether or not it will be possible for me to navigate a physical space or being teased because of a disability. I am confident I know where my next meal is coming from. I do not worry about the assumptions people make about me because of my nationality, the way I dress or who I choose to love.
Although I felt appreciative of what I have been afforded as a result of my privilege, emotions such as guilt and shame began to prevail. But privilege is unearned. I have learned that having privilege does not make me a bad person. When reflecting on privilege, guilt and shame are not productive. How do I make my experiences with privilege positive?
In the past, my final thoughts (if any) in the walking scenario I shared earlier would have ended at frustration and inconvenience. My learning about privilege has helped me to approach even the most familiar situations with new found curiosity and questioning from a privilege lens. I will not claim for a even a second to deeply understand what it means to live in poverty but I now have a better understand what it might mean to have to rely on public transit and navigate uncleaned sidewalks in poor weather conditions to get to the places I need to go. I still have much to learn in my journey to understand privilege. In order to learn more and leveraging what I have been afforded in meaningful ways I am choosing to regularly challenge myself with the following questions:

How will I continue to challenge my assumptions about privilege?

How will I develop a greater understanding of privilege?

How I can make things better for those who may not have the privilege that I have?

I cannot control the privilege I have but only by how I choose to use it.

…. Lisa 

Equity, Inclusion, Privilege, Courage and I Can

I recently read Sue Bruyns’ first blog post of 2018.  Each January, Sue selects #oneword which is to become her mantra for the coming year.  This year her one word was Courage. The word courage immediately struck a chord with me as I was thinking about what my one word choice would be.  I kept returning to her idea of courage.

In my previous role as a principal, within a school, I was comfortable sharing my passion for take risks in teaching and learning in order to be an effective instructional leader. I was comfortable blogging about topics that I had spent much of my life learning about and living on a day-to-day basis.  In my current role as a system principal I have an incredible opportunity to take learning risks in several new areas that are within the scope of my role.  Equity, inclusion and privilege are areas of learning that have ignited within me a passion and a renewed sense of hope. Even so, I have not written regularly for a very long time – not because I do not have things to say, but mostly because I have been lacking courage.

Because I feel I still have so much to learn about equity, inclusion and privilege, because of the emotional nature of the conversation, and because I am fearful of writing something that would seem presumptuous about those facing far more challenges than I ever have had,  I have paused in my writing.
My fears are:

  • Will my blog resonate with others?
  • Will I ‘get it right’?

Really, who am I to talk about equity when in reality I have far more privilege than many people that I have been so fortunate to meet and learn from in the last two years?  So what can I do?

Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan Click on the image to open the document

The recent release of Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan (2017)  highlights many commitments of our education system to support those who are marginalized through bias, systemic barriers and discrimination. This document has me reflecting deeply about what I can do to support the realization of a truly equitable society. I have decided that my entry point starts with courage.

Courage to:

  • ask questions;
  • make and admit my mistakes;
  • listen deeply;
  • learn with and from those who have experienced discrimination, bias and systemic barriers;
  • leverage my privilege to be an ally to those who do not have it.

As I continue to blog about ideas related to equity I will be transparent in my learning journey. I must acknowledge that I come from a position of considerable privilege (white, middle class, heterosexual, university educated, able-bodied). I commit to coming from a place of humility, curiosity and learning. I cannot talk about challenges that I have not experienced, but I CAN be an ally. I CAN move from bystander to up-stander and leverage my privilege to support others. I am committed to having COURAGE and sharing my learning journey.

Read more about the portfolio I am working with this year as a system principal. (Learning Supervisor)
(Click on the image to go to our website)

Also follow this Twitter feed to learn more about what we are doing throughout our Board with regard to Equity, Inclusion, Mental Health and Well-Being.  (click the image below to see and follow that Twitter feed)

Lisa Munro

“How Can I Help?” is Always Better!

Unofficially, I have been a teacher since the third grade. By that I mean I spent endless hours of my childhood in my room, playing ‘school’ by lining up my stuffed animals and keeping my sister captive while I took attendance. We would stand together and sing “O’ Canada”. Afterwards I would ‘teach’ a
lesson and then insist my sister or parents complete the work I had proudly created. With much anticipation, I marked her work (in red pen of course) and dismissed her for recess, essentially mirroring my recollections of the procedural experiences of my early school life.

Fortunately for me, during my subsequent years of schooling I had many wonderful, rich learning experiences that went well beyond morning attendance with caring, knowledgeable and passionate teachers and a family who had the personal resources to help shape my value for education and vision to become an educator.

Fast forward 40 years later…I am an educator with a continued love of learning
and teaching. I feel lucky to be able to do what I do each day!

Even early in my career I had a passion for trying to engage every student in my class. That vision has
never wavered. Still, my career has been a journey full of lessons learned. I spent countless evenings
planning lessons down to the smallest details often enlisting family members to help me create
materials for my classroom. Curriculum and planning were my primary focus.

But what about the students who challenged me the most in the classroom? Even with a caring attitude,
and a strong desire for my students to be successful I often did not think deeply about the reasons behind
the behaviors of these students and my responses to those actions. My actions were well intended at
the time; I did the best with what I knew.

Fast forward a bit. Now when I think about students, I intentionally think about the whole child and think not only about their academic needs but also their social emotional needs, the role of the physical environment and how each of these factors contribute to their well-being.

To emphasize my earlier point I was fortunate that my experiences both at home and at school were positive. My parents and other role models were instrumental in helping me to set and achieve my goals. I had many resources within my reach. I think more about those students who challenged me the most and the stress many of them carry with them. As a result of having the great fortune of working with colleagues in the Culture for Learning portfolio, I am now able to re-frame my responses when supporting the students that I am most challenged by.

Now I no longer think about the student who is having an emotional outburst, or the student who is
chronically late, the student who never completes homework, the student who sleeps through my
lesson as a student who is “giving ME a hard time” but rather as a student who is “having a hard time.” Rather than
focusing on what they need to do for me, I am committed to starting with, “How can I help?”

And even now, in my role as a Learning Supervisor, as I come in contact with colleagues or parents who might be having a bad day; as evidenced by a phone call, an email or a face to face interaction, I need to remember that they are not intentionally giving ME a hard time. but when it’s obvious someone IS having a hard time and hurting – that better response, I’m learning, always is “How can I help?” It really does make a difference.

The Why of Urgent vs Important (via Seth Godin)

|| click image to read the blog ||

I recently read a blog entitled, The Why of Urgent vs Important by Seth Godin http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2017/02/the-why-of-urgent-vs-important.html This particular blog challenged me to think deeply about why I sometimes find myself living in the world of urgent over important and how I can better maintain a balance between the two. Seth shared that dealing with urgent issues makes us feel competent.  For me, this competence occurs through the immediate reward to both myself and others. Firstly, I feel competent because the benefits of the work are instantly visible – a task is done prior to a deadline; the house is clean in case somebody stops by (yes, for me this is urgent).  Secondly, in a world where relationships are foundational, responding to the urgent needs of others can serve as an immediate deposit in the relationship bank account – a colleague imminently needs a report; my son needs $20 to fill up the car.   Although I work in the urgent to support relationships and my own competence, could investing time in the important work help to forge deeper relationships and make deep strides in learning and progress? Certainly!

Living in the ‘urgent’ often involves being reactive.  It can be a response to a crisis and may involve putting out fires.  There is absolutely a time and a place for urgent work.  But, if urgent work is always the priority then how are learning, relationships and progress sustained and nurtured?  This is done by investing time in the important work. I have come to realize that the important work really IS the urgent work. Important are the things that lead to deep learning, deeper relationships and growth of an organization . The important work is the work where seeds are planted; recognizing that at the time of planting, the obvious benefits may not be initially visible, but eventually the benefits become plentiful. If we don’t look past putting out fires to investing in the work of growing gardens then there will be nothing to sustain us past urgency.

I am working hard to balance urgent with important by intentionally setting aside time each day for the important work, both in my personal and professional life.  For me this means more time learning and reading – for pleasure and growth, more time connecting deeply with the people that are most important in my life and more time focused on wellness and gratitude. What is your important work?

Everyone Has a Story!

Not picture of family members

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to spend an evening with just me and my dad. After dinner we came across an old family photo of my grandfather and my great uncles when they were in their early twenties and thirties. This photo seemed like several other old family photos I had seen before; a posed photo with family members standing side by side in two rows facing the camera. My dad began sharing stories about each family member in the photo. During the conversation I learned so much about relatives I had never had the opportunity to meet. He shared moments of humour, tragedy, loss, and resilience. I developed a great respect for the history in the picture. Listening to my dad’s stories about my great uncles helped me to remember that everyone has a story that is far more reaching than anyone could possibly understand by looking at a single photo. I realized that, prior to listening to my dad, I saw each individual in a single dimension. It is natural to look at someone and create a story. Upon reflection we must be aware that we are at risk of creating a single story that does not reflect the true essence of that person.

I have been thinking deeply about some of the stories we might create at school; for the student that never completes homework, or who regularly disrupts the learning of others; the parent who never signs the planner, does not attend parent-teacher interviews or does not return notes on time; the co-worker who is frequently absent from work or who never seems to engage with other staff. Do we create negative stories for these individuals and is the story we create accurate or complete?

Realistically, it may not be possible to deeply understand everyone’s story. What is possible, in even in the briefest of human encounters, is to recognize that everyone has a story that is more complex than could likely be understand in the context of the workday. We can recognize that the story we do not know may be getting in the way of someone presenting their best self. Creating negative stories for others only builds barriers. Being open to recognizing that we do not know everyone’s story puts us in a position to better understand their story and to re-frame our responses to their actions in ways that may positively impact their story.

Do you have  a story that totally changed when you heard additional facts?