Welcome Back to a New School Year

August 31, 2016 - 7 minutes read

Likely no different than each of you, I was significantly influenced by two historical events that occurred this summer. Both created an ongoing emotional journey for our nation and for me, personally. As we head into a new school year and as I embark on my first year as the principal at École Pauline Johnson, I reflected upon the emotional journeys that occur for us all as educators, students, and parents. The school year will fly by, as it always does. However, the events that unfold will build our character and bring us closer together. This year will be about perseverance and celebration – and I invite you to join me with all you’ve got!


On May 24th, Gord Downie, lead singer of the iconically Canadian band, The Tragically Hip, announced his diagnosis of terminal cancer. The nation was rocked. However, the incredible thing about this news was that the announcement of his and the band’s inevitable end was just a beginning.

I am sure many of you joined me and the thousands across Canada to attend the Hip’s final tour. While I had been to many of their concerts in years past, I had never been in a stadium that felt quite like that before; I wonder if I ever will be again. The energy was unique. It radiated reminiscence, joy and grief all at once. We grew up with Gord and his crew. They were at high school dances, at weekend parties, in our dorms at university, on road trips, in hockey arenas, on all of our mixed tapes. The Hip was our youth; somehow the energy in Roger’s Arena in July managed to embody all of those things better than a yearbook ever could. It was real and it was raw. Not only for Gord and his band, but for all Canadians.

At the final concert in Kingston in August, the band led Canada by coming full circle. Where we begin we often end. Not only did Gord’s passion for music and performance allow him to persevere, it allowed him to celebrate. To the crowd that evening he announced, “We have always written our music and sang it with the idea that everyone is invited. Everyone is involved.” The CBC cameras panned to the crowd that wept, laughed, and cheered. It paused on a fan’s poster held high that read, “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”


On August 5th the world tuned into the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As the twelve days unfolded I was glued to any screen anywhere I went. I am sure you were, too. Canada outperformed itself historically; twenty-two medals in twelve days was the final count. But that wasn’t the only good news story. We watched and cheered as our American neighbours also made new world records and as names we had heard little of in the past became common heroic parts of our household conversations. For me, the moment that was particularly poignant was Penny Oleksiak’s gold win in the pool. She touched the wall, came up for a breath, and her face said it all. How Canadian was her response? So humble, so incredibly shocked. Her family celebrated for her in the stands and we all stood to our feet to cheer in our living rooms.

I don’t like to see people fail and when people are disappointed I tend to empathetically wear some of it for them. As I watched all of those Olympic dreams come true on live TV, I also saw athletes fall. We saw their dreams shattered and we felt their hopes shatter. Aside from the strange outcome and reaction of the Mongolian wrestling coach​ when his athlete lost, everyone seemed to handle their failures with grace.

After years of training and making it to the Olympics as someone who can do something better than 99% of the world’s population, I can’t even imagine what defeat must feel like. But we watched and we learned that there is always a place for celebration, even when we don’t get the outcome we came for. We persevere because there will always be another shot at the gold.

As educators, students and parents we know that there will be times this school year in which we are called to persevere. Simultaneously, there will be many opportunities for celebration! We will work tirelessly as a staff to inform, engage and support our students and families as we make the Transformative Curriculum and Core Competencies come alive in our classrooms, learning commons and in our new garden and park. We will involve our parents in conversations around new ways of assessment and of communicating student learning. We will continue to develop our knowledge and skills in self-regulation so that our school culture is one that is caring and calm. We will continue to host the multitude of activities and programmes that enhance student engagement and celebrate the richness of French Canadian history and culture.

I am truly inspired as I move into my first year as Principal at our school. May we contribute with everything we have in us. May we persevere when the going gets tough. May we celebrate all of the good that is already happening and all that is yet to unfold. The gold is sitting there, waiting for us to take the challenge and go the mile. Shifts are happening all around us.

“Late breaking story on the CBC…

They add, “You can’t be fond of living in the past

‘Cause if you are then there’s no way that you’re going to last.”

(Wheat Kings, The Hip)