Superintendent of Schools – It is graduation season across RVS. An exciting time for grads and their families. I have had the honour of attending three graduation ceremonies and have shared a brief message to the grads. All the other grads have had either an Associate Superintendent or an Area Director bring greetings. I thought I’d share my message to the grads with everyone via this week’s blog posting.
Welcome distinguished guests, parents, staff, friends and grads.
Let me start with my congratulations to the class of 2017. Maybe not for you but for your parents and guardians it is probably hard to believe you started school 13 years ago. You are the last grad class where the majority of you were actually born in the last millennium. Times flies! How about a quick trip down memory lane?
In Kindergarten, you might have gotten the Dancing Dora or RoboSapien for Christmas.
Just after grade 3 you wanted to go see The Dark Knight at the theatre but got stuck having to see Kung Fu Panda or WallE because The Dark Knight was too scary – clearly life was not fair!
Most of you were into music by grade 7. In late June 2012, the Billboard top song was Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. Sorry to the parents in the crowd but you weren’t cool then nor now if you could sing every word while chauffeuring the kids around.
When you came to high school you rolled in probably with a hand-me-down iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 or if you were lucky you had a funky coloured iPhone 5c. You were probably an early adopter of Pinterest and Twitter while all of us old timers were still using Facebook
And here we are. June 2017 and you have just reached one destination and hopefully are ready to embark on another journey.
Not to down play today or your graduation but this is just the start. The next bit of your life will be focused on where do you want to go? What do you want to try and experience? Well, that is up to you now. You get to pull out your phone and enter the next destination in Google Maps.
What is important is:
Make sure your charged up and have supplies and tools onboard so you are able to take on a wide variety of challenges along your route;
It is time to gain some independence but don’t worry your AMA membership (a.k.a. your family) will be there if you get stuck;
Understand that it is okay for your phone to tell you it is “recalculating” when you make a quick left turn and change courses;
Have the courage to close the app and use your common sense to get to a destination;
And even though you entered location X as your destination; if something really interesting is seen along the way it is okay to stop and check it out.
Now don’t get freaked out if you lose connectivity or if you don’t have the whole trip mapped out. It is important to understand that there are many ways to get from A to B. Just make sure you are moving forward toward your ultimate destination. Be smart because when the app tells you to keep driving straight and you see the cliff ahead … don’t think the device is smarter than you are. Keep your hands on the wheel, don’t forget that your Civic cannot actually fly.
Aspire to be the person: who has lots of travel stamps in your passport; who helps others take on adventures; who designs the latest mapping app; who helps those who get stuck; who builds the self-driving car; or who blogs about the journeys taken.
I do want to thank and recognize all of the staff here today that helped you get to this point. Your contributions getting the class of 2017 out onto the road is much appreciated.
Lastly, it’s all about you today but I encourage you to take the time this week to thank those who helped get you to this point on your journey. Say thanks to your parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, friends, teachers, bus drivers, secretaries and everyone who has helped along the way.
Now get out there and get going!
Superintendent of Schools – Late last week I swung out to Beiseker Community School for a visit and to view the new addition recently completed and opened. The addition is relatively small, but provides a common, large area connected to two existing classrooms. Sliding walls were added in between the existing classrooms and the new area. The addition is very bright and fresh and really changed the tone of that area. Students were milling about, working independently, while sitting in flexible pods in the larger common space. Other students were working on a high counter style work area with phones plugged into USB style wall outlets. A teacher was working in one corner and the students had access to him if needed. A wide variety of furniture was available in different heights and styles depending on student preference and comfort. Soft seating was intermixed with hard surfaces. Cubby chairs also were available in the larger space so that you could sink in and create a bit more isolated space if that works for you too. It was an example of how we are working hard to provide flexible learning environments to support learning.
The week before this visit, our Board spent time talking about two other school renovations, aimed at providing a more welcoming environment for the students, parents and community. It is amazing what changing an entrance or lunchroom can do to make a school more inviting, while providing a flexible, modern space. The physical change provides opportunities to revisit what goes on in that space, adjusts the flow, provides a space that facilitates collaboration, and builds pride in the school as it now includes features similar to what our brand-new schools contain.
The Board has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past year to support schools in updating furniture in primary classrooms. Libraries are being retrofitted to support the philosophy of Learning Commons. Schools are requesting and designing outdoor classroom spaces. Slides walling have been retrofitted into some older facilities. These are all examples of how we are looking at our spaces, furniture and equipment in an effort to best support learning.
In the end, it is not the walls or even modern furniture that makes the difference, but it is our RVS staff that leverage that space to make it great. RVS does an outstanding job maintaining all our facilities given the limited funds we have available. Our maintenance crew, building operators, and custodians are absolutely great. We are so lucky to have such great people supporting our physical plants. Even in our older spaces, small tweaks are constantly being made to provide the very best service we can.
Recently, I toured a former colleague I worked with from a BC school division around three of our sites. He was amazed by our facilities. He repeatedly commented on how well our facilities are designed to support learning. I must say I was pretty proud to be part of RVS after that tour!
Superintendent of Schools – After repeated check-ins over the long weekend, at 8:15 on Monday night my youngest son pulls out his backpack and finds some math homework that needs to be completed. Sound familiar? After a moment or two of panic, followed by some sage parental advice, it was time to get it done. In an effort to try and help get him to bed at a reasonable time, I pulled up beside him and watched him tackle his homework.
The homework was a series of questions about division – three and four digit numbers divided by a single digit number. He was quite good; I was impressed that he could solve most of the questions and explain the strategy being utilized. He had the majority of the homework completed in class, but identified about three or four questions that he had questions about because they just did not seem right. We tackled one of those together and then he was able to complete all the remaining questions.
I thought we were finished, but then he flipped the page and I saw there were MORE questions on the back. He was not sure if he needed to do them as they were listed as advanced. I read them and grimaced as they were quite a bit more challenging than the earlier problems. These problems were provided to challenge some students to extend and apply their learning. I’m not sure if it was to delay going to bed when he said he would like to try a few. He persevered to solve the first couple of questions, then the next question stumped him. I told him that is okay and that we’d think about it some more and then see if we can develop a plan to tackle that question on another night. I liked that he wanted to solve the question and we’ll see when I get home tonight if he has any ideas on how to tackle the question.
Anyway, in the end my takeaways are: while trying to teach independence to your child is important, for your own sanity, be physically present when your kids check for homework prior to 8:15 pm on the Monday night of a long weekend; doing homework with your kid can be fun; and having the resilience to tackle a problem that does not come easy is a good life skill.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I attended the last of our regional College of School Superintendents (CASS) meetings for the year. CASS’ stated mission is to be “… the voice of system educational leaders, providing leadership, expertise, and advocacy to improve, promote, and champion student success”. It is made up of our senior educators who serve divisional leadership roles. It includes more than just Superintendents, but also Deputy/Associate/Assistant Superintendents and many Directors on the education side of our shop. Our zone includes: mega divisions like Calgary Public, and Calgary Catholic; divisions with similar geography like Foothills; adjourning neighbours like Golden Hills and Canadian Rockies to name a few. As a region, we meet four times a year to discuss topics of common interest.
The ability to sit and talk with others who fulfill a similar role is very important. It does not matter if those conversations involve fellow teachers, fellow administrative professionals, fellow coaches, fellow nurses, fellow parents or any other role specific groups. The ability to share issues and challenges allows for learning to occur for all parties. Hearing someone else’s perspective on an issue helps expand my knowledge – challenges me to revisit my thinking and often spurs new ideas. Often you walk away from such conversations with more options to consider and a few times you are just glad that you are not dealing with their specific challenge.
Working collaboratively makes all of us better. I do not feel we are in competition with our fellow school divisions. We all are here to serve our communities in providing the very best for our youth. We have lots of learn from each other. We do not need to reinvent the wheel time-and-time again. We know our local context and know when we can lift a great idea and implement it exactly as another division, when it could work but with some changes, and when it just will not work in our local environment. When we work together we amplify our individual strengths.
Thanks to my fellow CASS colleagues for sharing and helping me grow.
Superintendent of Schools – Recently I’ve been at a number of events where students have shared their learning with members of their community. The excitement is palatable when students are given the opportunity to share their learning. The first few times they present to people walking up to their station the conversation is typically quite scripted, but they start to relax and information starts to flow.
It is very encouraging to chat with students as they talk about what motivated them to tackle their specific topic. Students are provided ‘voice and choice’ to take their learning to places determined by their interests, experiences and passions. At Banded Peak School, grade 7 & 8’s shared very personal reasons about why they took on various projects as part of their Change Makers initiatives. In selecting the topics, you could see how they wanted to be part of a positive change in their world. Some of the changes were specific to their family, others were related to their community and some had changes that were global.
Grade 5 students at Prairie Waters Elementary School spent nine weeks on topics of their own choice where they were asked to bring countless competencies into action. At the exhibition, I even got to take part in a role-playing exercise where we learned about the youth justice system. I was able to channel my inner Law & Order prosecutor as part of the case of the stolen candy. Another young lady shared with me ideas I could do to make a positive contribution in my community. Another student shared information about what she learned about the national fentanyl crisis. There was great turnout from the community and I did notice a few parents beaming when their youngster was explaining information to other adults.
When students are provided an opportunity to dig deep into topics of their own interest, they get to bring key competencies to life. Engagement was clearly high and students received genuine, authentic feedback from the people asking questions at their displays. These nights are just a few examples of how we are making learning real, visible and for everyone in RVS.
Thanks to our many great RVS staff who create these opportunities for students to shine!