Everyone feels welcomed: First days with principal Paul An
Named because of its proximity to the University of British Columbia (UBC), University Hill Elementary or U-Hill is in the most western part of the District. Many students attending have family members who attend UBC, so each September there are plenty of new faces. Also new to U-Hill Elementary this year is Paul An, one of the District’s first-year principals. We visited the sunny and bustling elementary school to check in with Mr. An about what he’s looking forward to in his new role as the principal at the school.
How long have you been a teacher and an administrator?
I started teaching with the VSB as an educator-on-call in 1999, and I got my first continuing position in 2000. Then in 2019 I got my first vice-principalship. I started as vice-principal at Shaughnessy Elementary and then Lord Roberts for the last one and a half years.
What are you excited for now that you're a principal? What does change look like for you?
I'm excited because now I’m the person. As a vice-principal, I always had my principal with me, and we worked as a team. Now I'm on my own and the person who is responsible for the school.
It's my first principalship, so it's exciting. I'm looking forward to the year and taking on that new role. I think there's definitely some similarities between the role as a vice-principal, but there are also new things I have to learn and do as a principal. I'm looking forward to learning those things and looking forward to those challenges.
Can you tell me a little bit about this school? About University Hill Elementary?
I'm new to the school, but I've heard wonderful things about it and the community. It’s a diverse community. It's a supportive community. It's a caring community. So, I feel very excited and fortunate that I get to be a part of such an amazing school.
Who was your role model throughout your career, and what about that person really inspired you?
One of my former principals I had while teaching really inspired me. He was an awesome principal because he challenged people. He challenged us to take on the huge responsibility of our job. He stressed that it's an important job that we do. When we're here, we work hard, and we do the best that we can to support each other and our students and families. But it's also really, really important to have fun while doing so.
He was extremely caring and supportive of the students, staff, and families, and I remember watching him and learning how he shaped the school and the culture he created. The positive and the caring school community he created, I just thought that was just so inspiring. It was awesome, he was the person who encouraged me to go into administration.
Then along the way, I've been very fortunate to be a vice-principal in a school with other principals. In the four years that I was a vice-principal, I had five different principals, so I got to learn from all these five amazing, dedicated principals who taught me a lot.
What would you say is the best lesson that your students have taught you over the years?
They have taught me the importance of relationships. That's something I've always strived to do. When I was a classroom teacher, building those connections and those relationships with the students was important because without those connections and relationships, the students won't feel safe. They won't feel like they belong. They won't feel like they will be able to learn. So, you have to have that relationship.
That's what I continue and strive to do as an administrator, build relationships with the staff, students and their families as well as the broader school community. Education to me is about relationships.
What did the first week look like for you?
Well, the first week for me is about making sure everyone feels comfortable. Making sure everyone's feeling excited about the school year and doing whatever it takes to support the staff and students, and families to ensure that the start of the school year is smooth and everyone feels welcomed.
It's setting the tone, trying to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and excited about school, especially for the new families. It’s really important we welcome the new families and make them feel connected to the school.
So in the first week, we try to make everyone feel excited, welcomed and safe for a positive start to the new school year.
Mr. An, along with all the students and staff, returned to University Hill on September 5, 2023, for the first day of school. Since then, he has spent his time visiting classrooms, supporting teachers or other staff and making the school a welcoming place for all.
Follow along Mr. An’s typical day with the video below: