Robin Chamney started as principal of Wasaho Cree Nation School in Fort Severn First Nation in September 2017. Before going North with Teach For Canada, Robin worked for 13 years as a principal and vice-principal in Kuwait and Indonesia. She has also taught high school in Fort McMurray, AB. Robin completed her Bachelor of Education at the University of Lethbridge. She is originally from Kincardine, ON.
Wasaho Cree Nation School is the most northern school in Ontario, located on the mouth of the Severn River, where it empties into Hudson Bay. As the principal, my days are full, with no two days ever being the same. As much as I try to develop a routine, each day is different and special in its own way.
Morning School Rituals
My path to school each morning is lit by the rose hue of the rising sun; the heavy quiet only broken by the rhythm of the crunching snow. Once I’m at school I head straight to the kitchen to start the daily breakfast program. The school serves a cold breakfast Monday to Thursday and we serve a hot breakfast on Friday.
The children arrive shortly after 8:30 am ready for breakfast and their daily classes. Teachers and support staff greet students as they arrive and help the little ones balance their trays and juice glasses. Standing back to watch the interactions between the students and staff always makes me smile. Many of the staff are related to students and get to live, play, and work together. The interactions are gentle, guiding, and supportive.
Active Learning in Every Class
As 9:00 am creeps closer, adults prompt the kids to hurry because learning time is here. I head to my office to start my day by reviewing the to-do list, which was prepared the day before, before all the phone calls and emails start coming in. As often as I can, I try to sneak away from my office for my morning hall walk.
Today our former science lab turned art room is being used by the grades 3-6 students to make masks for our Masked Dance. It is a hive of activity with glue dripping, balloons everywhere, and paper strips flying right and left. There is a low hum as students are involved in their favorite activity: hands-on work.
Across the hall, the grade 7/8 class is busily creating a mural of their silhouettes, filling in the shapes using a woodland art painting technique.
In the wellness room, the counselor attends to students who arrived late.
All is good at this end of the hallway.
Down at the other end of the school, the grade 1/2 class is doing their guided reading. I’m asked to sit in a small group while the students read to me. Each student smiles after they have finished reading their page, pleased with their success and looking for approval. Across the hall is the Kindergarten classroom. It has taken me the better part of a year to learn how to sneak into the room without completely disrupting their learning. As I peek through the window I see that the students are in a circle, focused on the giant (stuffed) spider in the centre. When I enter a cacophony of enthusiasm greets me, as the students tell me all about the spider: its hairs, eyes, and many legs. I love the joy they show and most of all their looks of determination as they go about the task of learning.
The Role of a Principal
Seeing the students busy in their classes is the balm of my day. This is why I came to the North. Yes, my job is filled with many other issues that concern the community, as well as student health and wellness. It’s also my job to take care of my staff. Loneliness and isolation are sneaky little devils that can pull the rug right out from under you. And the long dark winter days can zap everyone’s energy. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated.
However, I am the captain of the ship, and I have to make sure everyone on board is in a good place mentally and spiritually. Engaging with staff, students, and community; good communication; interesting projects; and lots of fun activities are all key to a healthy school. As I see it, my role here is to be a part of a positive transition in First Nation education. So much is new and we are moving together in the right direction.