The Story of H.E.A.R.T.
Post submitted by Mike Greenway and Lynn Archer
Byrne Creek Secondary is a school with H.E.A.R.T. that has always been caring and focused on the well-being of its students and their families.
Before the school opened its doors seven years ago, the administrative team knew that it was important to have a simple and easily remembered set of guiding principles for the students and staff. As a new secondary school with grades 8–12, students came to Byrne Creek from three other secondary schools and had to forge new relationships that ultimately, in conjunction with the staff, parents, and community partners, were going to be pivotal in the development of the school's culture and sense of community.
The three members of the administrative team (Principal Mike Greenway and Vice Principals Chris Sarellas and Lynn Archer) brainstormed a variety of ideas for guiding the students' and staff's well-being at the school. Rather than compiling an extensive list of rules and consequences, students, parents, and department heads, prior to the opening of the school, developed a restorative approach for the code of conduct. A series of visioning sessions yielded a list of descriptors that encompassed the characteristics of empathy, respect, honesty, teamwork, and achievement. Looking for something simple and short led to discussions of using an acronym. Sarellas suggested the idea of a word such as HEART, which captured our desire for the school to be a place of learning wrapped in a culture of caring. Next we had to decide on what the components of the acronym would be, which led us to develop the following:
Once we had settled on the acronym, we shared it with the team of department heads and the parents' advisory council. Each group liked H.E.A.R.T. and the notion of how it would influence the evolution of the culture and community.
H.E.A.R.T. became an integral component in the social responsibility lessons that the staff agreed to use with all of the students at the start of the school year and throughout the year. At the start of each semester when teachers developed behavior expectations with students, they used the common code of conduct—H.E.A.R.T.—as a foundation. Working with a simple and caring word such as H.E.A.R.T. had a significant influence on students' behavior and the staff's culture of collaboration and caring. H.E.A.R.T. was particularly effective in classrooms and throughout the school because of the school's ethnically diverse community. Because so many students did not speak English as a first language, it was important that our common language was clear and effective without being too simplistic.
In conjunction with classroom learning, the administrative and counseling teams used H.E.A.R.T. when we met with individual students or groups of students. In the vice principals' offices, the school's agenda planner was open to the page with the H.E.A.R.T acronym on it. We consistently worked with students from a place of developing understanding of what H.E.A.R.T. meant in word and deed. In counselors' offices and on the walls of classrooms, H.E.A.R.T. posters were displayed and each classroom's set of beliefs was listed within a large visual of a heart. Students were encouraged to seek understanding of what it looked and sounded like to act with honesty, demonstrate empathy and respect, focus on achieving their personal best, and always remember that they were part of the Byrne Creek team. Each student and staff member knew that at Byrne Creek you were never alone; there was always someone who would act from their H.E.A.R.T. to help with whatever was needed.
During the school's initial years, H.E.A.R.T. became woven into the fabric of the school's culture and community. Students with limited English were able to explain what H.E.A.R.T. stood for and what it looked like. The school's mascot, a bulldog, acted from the H.E.A.R.T. with courage and determination. There was a conscious decision that the mascot should work in conjunction with our H.E.A.R.T. code of conduct and not depict fighting or fierceness. The fine arts and athletics programs worked with enthusiasm, skill, and H.E.A.R.T. to extend the students' sense of well-being and caring for their school's accomplishments beyond the four walls of their daily classroom experiences.
Byrne Creek's H.E.A.R.T. enabled the school to become the heart of the community. We developed partnerships with businesses to support our students and their families. One example of this was the Youth in Transition (YIT) program that was cosponsored by the school, the school district, and the Canucks Family Education Centre. This program operates in the fall and spring after school and offers childcare, youth programs, adult programs, and food. The YIT program came completely from the hearts and minds of the people involved and made a significant difference for the community's families. It increased the sense of belonging and connection with the school that was especially important for the large number of immigrant refugee families whose children attended Byrne Creek and neighborhood elementary schools.
As we reflect seven years later on the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical well-being of the students, staff, and community, it is evident that Byrne Creek put vision into action through its H.E.A.R.T.
Following his retirement in 2006 as principal of Byrne Creek Secondary School, Mike Greenway taught courses at the University of British Columbia for prospective teachers. He continues to visit schools as a faculty advisor for student teachers on their practicum. Greenway enjoys working with young adults preparing to be the teachers of the future. Lynn Archer's heart was at Byrne Creek from its opening in 2005, where she was a vice principal and then principal for three years. She currently works as director of instruction for the Burnaby School District, where she works with Byrne Creek Secondary again as part of the Kingsway South Zone of elementary and secondary schools. Archer is passionate about personalized learning and caring for the whole child.