Summer Learning!

To the UAS Community, I hope everybody’s summer is going as well as mine!

The purpose of school is to learn and we want our UAS students to achieve their Personal Best in everything they do.  That does not stop in the summer.  Students who are active do better in school, that means summer reading and summer learning.  Camps, travel, and summer courses are all a part of that journey. As Principal, it’s important that I embody a true love of learning.  Every summer I usually partake in a leadership course as an opportunity to reflect on the year and plan for the next.  Over our March Break, Mr. Torris, Mr. Coppes and I attended the Adaptive Schools leadership conference.  We were so impressed that we are sending all our middle leaders for training in August.  Having this experience in April allowed me to focus on different types of learning through the summer.

I’ve been documenting my learning in journals and want to share some of them with the UAS community in the weeks leading up to the school year.

How am I learning?

Through Reading:

This summer I have read two books and am starting on my third.  For recreation, I read Purity by one of my favourite authors, Jonathan Franzen.  If you’ve never read one of his books, you should.  The way he jumps around in time is both mesmerizing and thought provoking.  He takes a lot of time to develop his characters, which can (at times) feel drawn out, but through this process the reader develops a bond with the characters that pushes them to learn more.  He is a cerebral writer who does a lot of research although be warned.  I rarely read fiction, but when I do, reading authors like Franzen give me a strong sense of accomplishment.

In lieu of a workshop I read What Successful People Know About Leadership by Jon Maxwell.  It’s a great, short read that give some very practical advice about leading and change management.  They key take away from the book was a strong sense that we are on the right path at UAS.  The types of things we are doing and types of risks we are taking were very helpful.

The entire middle and senior leadership teams are reading Better Conversations by Jim Knight.  This book was the foundation of our coaching programme led by Ms. Gibson and was recommended to the entire leadership team.  I haven’t gotten too far into it as of yet, but I am very excited to do so.  Leadership means challenging conversations and managing those is a skill.  We are on a journey to becoming and extraordinary school but to get there we have to be prepared to ask ourselves difficult questions and be prepared for unexpected answers.  Knight’s book should help us more effectively navigate the turbulence of self-improvement.

Through Travel:

At the beginning of the summer I had the most extraordinary adventure in Svalbard, Norway.  My mother is Norwegian and I have been there many times visiting family.  This year it was my mother’s 75th birthday and she wanted to do something adventurous!  What a time we had.  Svalbard is one of the world’s northern-most communities.  Found on the 78th parallel, it is 1300 kilometers north of the arctic circle.  For 120 years it has been a coal-mining community shared between Norway and Russia.  Now, 90% of the coal mines are shut and Svalbard is an Artic research centre most famous for housing the renowned doomsday vault – a seed bank that houses seeds from virtually every species of plant in the world.  There are more polar bears (3000) than full-time inhabitants (2000) and outside of the town limits, every person is required to carry a gun for protection.  If you don’t have a gun, you must go with a guide who does.

Being so far north, the sun never goes down.  I’ve seen the midnight sun before, but this is very different.  It literally never gets dark and it can be quite challenging to find a normal sleep routine.  Because of this, the tiny town never sleeps and it’s not uncommon to see people out hiking at 3:00 in the “morning”.

On the first day we acquainted ourselves with the town and found some lovely little restaurants and coffee shops.  Coming directly from Dubai, the temperature adjustment was stark.  I left Dubai at 4:00 AM and it was 38C.  Arriving in Svalbard, it was 6C.  That took some getting used to. We visited some museums Norway is known for being prohibitively expensive, because everything you purchase has a 25% tax.  In Svalbard, there are not taxes, so we were happy to do a little shopping.

On the second day, my learning kicked into overdrive.  We wanted to go on a walrus safari about a three hour sail from the town we were staying, Longyearbyen.  We boarded a 32 foot boat with twin 250 horsepower engines.  My 75 year old mother looked a little nervous.  The first hour was calm until we got out to the open sea.  The boat was bouncing through six foot Arctic Ocean swells.  My mother started to feel ill, so she had to go outside to a small landing with only a light chain attached for safety.  Obviously I wasn’t going to let her go alone.  We got outside and the boat did not slow down.  It was sturdier in the back, but we were still bouncing a good foot and a half across the waves.  I took off my gloves and gave them to my mother while she held on to the chain.  I had one hand on the life raft and another on her life jacket.  Considering the temperature of the water was between 1 and 4 degrees Celcius, the life jackets wouldn’t have helped much.  Had she gone in, she would likely have had a heart attack.  I held on to her for 45 minutes as we bounced off the waves.  While I was initially upset that he didn’t slow down, he later explained to me that with a boat that size, we are more likely to bounce or fall off if we are going slowly.  The captain noted that the sea was getting rougher and it was still going to be another hour to get to the walruses.  Several other passengers had gotten ill and I was worried for my mother’s safety.  Instead, we turned up a fjord to explore some glaciers.  The Svalbard glaciers are the only ones in the world that are still growing.  Most are receding at alarming rates.  They are also incredibly beautiful.  I was happy to take a few photos in the calm waters.  We spent two hours exploring the iceburgs and glaciers before the dreaded hour and forty-five minute journey back.  The captain cleared some space at the front of the boat which was bouncier, but much safer.  Since we could sit and anticipate the waves it seemed more comfortable, but definitely colder!  All the cold disappeared when we spotted a blue whale on the trip back!  It was a magnificent day!

The experience left my mother a little shaken and she vowed never to take anther boat again.  However, the next day we were meant to sail to the Russian ghost town Pyramiden which was a fully functioning town of over 1000 peokple until it was abandoned in 1997.  Currently, there are 9 inhabitants.  As a history teacher, it was such a fascinating place to visit.  The town had schools, a recreation centre, a hotel, lots of housing and other amenities.  The town square has an ominous statute of Vladimir Lenin and spectacular views of the ocean.  It was a truly amazing experience.

I look forward to sharing other learning with the community in the coming weeks.  There is just less than a month before our Grade 11 and 12 students will be coming to work on their core classes.  It’s not too late to enroll them in some great summer learning programmes, or, to get them reading with you.  I will be back at UAS next week.  I look forward to welcoming everybody back as the month rolls on.

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