Written by: Richard Lee-Thai and Shivek Kanwar – Grade 11
Humans of Pearson is a series of interviews with students and staff with the goal of showcasing the diverse individuals that make up our school. We all have a story to share about our struggles and successes. We are all humans, so let’s treat each other with dignity and respect.
Ms. Hornby is an Assistant Principal, Sr. Girls Basketball Coach, as well as the teacher advisor for a Leadership program within Pearson. We were lucky enough to interview her and listen to how she became a teacher, learn more about her job, as well as what plans she has for the future. The dedication and enthusiasm that she demonstrates certainly inspires us, and we hope it does for the readers as well.
Why did you become a teacher?
“When I was a little kid, I always used to play ‘teacher’ with my friends and I was always the teacher. When I was in high school, though it’s awful to admit, I thought I should aspire to being something ‘more’ than a teacher. I thought I needed to be a lawyer like my brother and dad said. My mom wanted me to be a dentist but I did not want to stare in people’s mouths! So I earned a Political Science Degree from the University of Calgary with the thought of going into Law. I actually had one of my instructors ask me to consider Masters research with him, but I chose to take a year off. As you guys are going to find out, it’s a long journey.
In the meantime, I was coaching basketball all the time. I took a year off University and I worked for the government. I was criticized by colleagues for working too hard!!! I found that very demotivating. When I’m passionate about something, I want to put 100% into it. I didn’t feel like working for the government was a good environment for me.
I had a friend say to me: “Hornby, why don’t you be a teacher? That way you can coach!” So I did. I ended up going back and getting my Bachelor of Education Degree from the University of Calgary. I started in 1991 and did my student teaching at Lord Beaverbrook. It was neat that I was able to teach there because that’s where I graduated. I really enjoyed it, but I was dissatisfied with growing class sizes and decisions that I felt weren’t fair to teacher working conditions. These factors negatively impact student learning.
I ended up earning a “Masters of Leadership”degree from Royal Roads University. I did it with the thought of possibly not staying in education, but there was a Principal who saved me in this career. He said: “Hornby, you’re passionate about kids. You’re passionate about education. So why don’t you consider administration?” When I started applying for AP roles, the CBE said I had to move schools because I had been at Lord Beaverbrook too long and needed to prove myself at another school. That’s how I ended up at Dr. E.P. Scarlett for 7 months. The first thing I was asked by my new Principal: “Would you help coach our Sr. Girls Basketball team?” Of course I said ‘yes’!
When the AP position came up at LBP, I applied and earned the position in April 2010. I actually worked with Mr. Weir during my second year of teaching. My license plate says “JSTDUIT”. It was funny during the interview when Mr. Weir asked if I still had that license plate. Of course I do. It embraces how I’m a Nike fan, but also how I am in life. Let’s not talk about problems, let’s talk about solutions. Just do it!
It was an interesting journey. I didn’t think I’d end up as a teacher. My brother is disappointed: “Should’ve been a lawyer.” Yeah maybe I would have made more money, but I’m not in this for the money. I’m in it because of the students. It’s really exciting to see learners go on to do such incredible things.
Being an Assistant Principal was a big change for me, because I wasn’t connecting with students that graduated. My first grad here (after two months at Pearson), I was like: “Oh my goodness, it feels like none of my ‘at risk’ students are crossing the stage.” That’s something moving into this role: I wanted to see more students crossing the stage and earning the right to graduate.
Teachers and school leaders have to dig deep and learn to be patient with ALL learners. I needed to! I view my role quite different now because I have to counsel students and teachers to consider possibilities. Continual failure nurtures a negative mindset, and corresponding behaviors, while success inspires and self motivates. When Mr. Brown approached me in June to help him organize the Leadership class he had created at Diefenbaker, I was very appreciative of the opportunity to support him. Instead of putting our energy into problems, we co-create engaging opportunities for Pearson students. Success breeds success. We have a ton of amazing students at Pearson who are working to create a great school for all of their classmates.
I thrive when motivated kids say they’re going to do it and it actually gets done. Sometimes I hear “Yeah, I’m going to come to class,” and then I don’t see the student for two weeks. Typically, these children are suffering from challenging circumstances at home or in life. There’s always a reason. Kids don’t choose to fail. They don’t. So I try to help them discover their passions and how they can be successful.
I also rely a lot on the expertise of Mr. Colvin in Student Services. He does amazing work supporting learners whose last names end in A – G, our part of the alphabet. Essential support is provided by the Admin Team and the Student Services team. We have a number of outstanding teachers at LBP who are fully committed to student success and work very hard to meet the needs of all their learners. Constable Friesen and Constable Bedoya are there to support all students too, even when students mess up. We also have a number of outstanding students who regularly show up for our Tuesday morning SPIRIT leadership meetings. They do the hard work; I strive to support them.
What do you do as an assistant principal on a day-to-day basis?
I have a calendar that identifies what I’m doing but I rarely end up doing what I expect. Kids come first followed closely by staff. My door is always open. I have a jar of candy on purpose on my desk, because I just like people to come in, grab a treat, and just say how things are going. A lot of thepaperwork that I do is actually after my family has gone to sleep at night. My typical day is completely unpredictable, but I like it (at times).
Is it difficult to have a non-structured schedule?
It can be, because a lot of the times, the issues I deal with are intense. These are life-changing decisions. For example, difficult decisions are made in regards to withdrawing students. That can cause negative anxiety for students as well as parents. Strangely it is sometimes good to withdraw students. Come back second semester when you’re ready to be here and committed to your success.
Along that same line, what advice would you give to students to make the most of their high school experience?
Get involved beyond the classroom. It doesn’t have to be something at Pearson. Maybe it’s having a part-time job where you’re learning essential skills. A number of really smart kids don’t get scholarships because they are not engaging in vital community enhancement activities. Where are you volunteering? Are you supporting your church? Are you playing sports? Life is boring if all you do is schoolwork. So you learn an array of valuable skills beyond the classroom.
Have fun. Be involved. Make friends. If you come to school all day and you don’t talk to another human being (and I know that there are kids that do that), that’s heartbreaking to me. Stop being a pylon. Don’t be a pylon in life and that goes beyond high school.
You have a Masters in Leadership and started the Leadership class, but what does “leadership” mean to you?
I think everyone can be a leader. Teachers have something called “Teacher Professional Growth Plans” and as an administrator, I also have to have a Growth Plan. I wanted to improve school culture. That was to benefit students and staff. I’m very proud to be from Pearson and I feel like school spirit could be enhanced. I used to teach three different leadership programs at Beaverbrook, so I saw the need here.
Pearson Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT) is doing fantastic work, but we recognize there are so many opportunities at a high school of this size. We have fulfilled a different vacuum. The pep rally is evidence of that. You see the Door Decorating? It exceeded our expectations. Students and teachers were given an opportunity to show leadership and they participated. Our entire school focused on generating positive energy thereby fostering positive relationships. Students inevitably become more engaged when learners believe and feel their teacher truly cares about them. The Door Decorating helped to foster this relationship. Talented leadership students efficiently organized the event in about 30 minutes and the response was inspiring.
What would you like to see more of within the school?
Less students in the halls which means more students are on time. That’s really annoying to teachers because they’re trying to start lessons. How do we get kids more engaged? Students are in contact with four teachers a day and I want our teachers to feel supported. They’re human too and I think students sometimes forget that. Student engagement is so important.
When the both of us got to Pearson as Grade 10’s, we were surprised that there wasn’t more leadership in the higher grades. We were discouraged because it should be the seniors that are leading by example, right?
The big change we made to Grad Committee this year is that in order to be valedictorian, you have to be part of this committee. What we found was what you’re identifying. These amazing kids show up in April, but their focus may have been in just earning high grades rather than also enhancing school culture. So we’re trying to figure out how to increase student buy-in.
I would say that some others felt the same way you did. It sometimes felt like we just talked about the bad things going on in Pearson. Let’s talk about all the good things. There are A LOT.
It’s like “shaking off the negativity.”
Yeah! Most of the shots that we did for the “Shake it Off” video were done in one take. That speaks to me the energy the staff have and how they want to create a better school. Mr. Tuff has gotten so many emails from principals around the school asking if he wants to be a dancerJ. So yeah, the video want viral around the CBE – a number of schools saw it and wanted to duplicate it. We’re doing one for Grad too. I don’t want the Grad video to be about the 40 people who make it along with their friends. I want it to be representative of the entire Graduating Class of 2015.
What do you think about the communication between Administration to students in our school?
It could always be improved! As an example, I don’t know how many students read the summer newsletter we mailed out. We’ve also gone to paperless report cards with student-generated comments. Sometimes I meet with students who do not regularly check Home Logic. That confuses me. Teachers are working hard to communicate with learners and their families; students need to take responsibility for improving communication too.
Ms. Thiedemann, Mr. Prowse and I spent quite a bit of time redesigning the Pearson Blog (http://pearsonpatriots.com). We did it intentionally because of the Google Translator. I know from the number of families I call, mom and dad don’t understand me. So I think some students at Pearson get a bit of a free ride in terms of parents not knowing what’s going on. How do we work around that?
Changing culture takes time. I hope in 3 years, 100% of our families are signed up to the Pearson Blog and Home Logic. There are new TVs around the school too. How can we keep improving? We’re always open to new ideas. Stop by for some candy and share your ideas!
What goals do you have for the future?
I think we need to improve our assessment practices and that we’re not killing teachers in the process. How do we create student buy-in to their learning? We would like Student Learning Plans to be living documents – and most students roll their eyes when I say that. It’s difficult to think about your learning. It’s about the learning rather than the percentage number. When it is so competitive to get into University, earning the number grade takes priority over learning.
We need to make sure that kids are excited and feel safe coming to school and that staff feels supported with the resources they need to efficiently teach.
Do you have any goals for specific programs?
We’re actually offering new options at Pearson next year! The University of Calgary and other universities are removing courses like Social 30-2, but you can use other courses instead. See the University of Calgary Registration Guide or speak with one of your Guidance Counselors. We will be offering Micro/Macro Economics 30, Aboriginal Studies 30 and World Religion/Philosophy of Man 30. So there’s going to be new options for the Grade 12s next year.
Nothing’s been finalized yet, but check out Career Cruising.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I think Pearson is a fantastic school and I’m proud to be here – proud to be a Patriot. It only takes one student to start positive change. Everyone can be a leader.