Superintendent of Schools – Each year, school divisions in Alberta must generate an Annual Education Results Report (AERR). This report serves as an assurance/accountability tool for school divisions by providing its communities with access to information regarding its students’ achievements, as well as its operational successes and challenges. The report comes out in early December, but we started putting the pieces together this past week. A small team met with various stakeholders to discuss and highlight accomplishments around our goals and outcomes from our Four Year Plan. For each specific outcome, we try to describe (in 250 words or less) what happened over the past year.
Sounds easy? Nope! I find we are so focused on continuous improvement it is hard for us to stop and remember past accomplishments. Conversations stray into what we are currently doing or challenges we are attempting to address now. We really have to rein ourselves in to focus on what happened last year. We take for granted the great work done previously as we know we have much more to do and rarely take time to celebrate our accomplishments. Another challenge is quantifying and documenting the work. Much of our accomplishments are best described in the rich stories from teachers and/or learners. Capturing those rich experiences in a format that fits in a written report like the AERR is tough. In my experience working in some other sectors, they dedicate people to tracking and recording the accomplishments. But K-12 is so focused on providing services, we do not have anyone focused on tracking the actions. As we encourage departments to document their journey using rich media resources like videos, tangible learning artifacts and social media posts, it does help us recall the impact we are having.
We have provincial academic performance measures like Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and Diploma Exams (Dips) that we use to measure progress as well. We also have provincial satisfaction survey data, along with a local RVS survey specifically tailored to our Four Year Plan. Those quantitative data sources are easier to include in AERRs, but even they require interpretation and a back-story to truly understand the data. People who are not from the education sector often feel frustrated when looking at our results because of the variables that cannot be isolated nor ignored. You cannot compare public education to a factory model where productivity gains are demonstrated by the number of widgets outputted by adjusting the speed of lathe or implementing a new conveyor belt technology.
I am describing this reporting challenge from a divisional perspective, but the same occurs for our schools. They are now developing their School Annual Results Report (SARR) and face the same challenge about looking at data, and documenting successes and challenges in relation to their own School Education Plan. I know they face similar challenges because we are so busy “doing” that we do not capture all of the successes and stories.
Stay tuned until early December when we release our Annual Education Results Report. This year we will not be producing a digital copy, as its due date falls in line with moving to a new public website platform. However, If you want to see what an AERR looks like, click here to see past reports.
Superintendent of Schools – Noun – ad·vo·ca·cy \ ˈad-və-kə-sē \ – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.
Let me start by saying I am not an elected official. I work for the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools and have an employment contract directly with them. At the same time, I have a long list of statutory requirements in the School Act that I must comply with. In my role, I work closely with our trustees to support them in their advocacy efforts. I might provide them background information, discuss strategies, share what I am hearing about the topic through my circles, draft letters, and countless other tasks.
Over this past year, I am consistently impressed by the work our trustees do to advocate for students, staff and communities. The advocacy takes all different forms – meeting with the Minister of Education; meeting with MLAs; meeting with local government officials; meeting with other trustees from around the region; working as a collective through the Alberta School Boards Association or the local zone; writing letters to the Minister on topics such as capital needs or transportation funding for French Immersion students; providing feedback on potential legislative changes; attending consultation sessions to provide input on a wide variety of topics; and meeting with parents and other stakeholders in a wide variety of settings, including school councils.
RVS’ advocacy efforts are often focused on influencing potential changes or decisions being made by government. Board of Trustees are heavily influenced by laws of the land and associated regulations. Boards do not have complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do.
Recently, I was able to spend two days as part of an RVS contingent at an Alberta Education consultation for our region. Trustees, senior staff members and parents were in the room discussing a wide variety of topics related to potential legislative changes. The sessions included group work, but also allowed individuals to provide direct comments to Alberta Education through online tools. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these topics and provide input rather than reacting to them once they are enacted. Having table discussions with people from different school divisions and from different roles helped me understand the issues from different perspectives.
While advocacy efforts take time, and may not have immediate results, I believe those efforts are worth the time and energy.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was able to join one of our schools and take part of a pilot project being led by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The project is called the Agile Schools Network led by Australian, Dr. Simon Breakspear. Dr. Breakspear and his team have looked at educational research, effective teaching practices and what works in the business world to come up with their approach. Their model, called Learning Sprints, is not revolutionary, but brings laser focus to small, incremental changes in an effort to make large change. In our context, it is about working collaboratively, focusing on student outcomes and how to help students achieve success by addressing one small issue at a time.
Dr. Breakspear challenged us to work as a team to take “boulder” challenges, break them into “pebbles” (smaller components), and then find a narrow, specific outcome called a “sand” focus. Once the issue is defined, we work to understand the issue. Why are students struggling with this outcome and how might we be contributing?
Next we look at what we can do to design learning opportunities to specifically help students achieve the outcome. We don’t look to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead we look at what we can do in an effort to help students achieve that small, specific outcome. We identify a target group of students for the sprint. We look at what research tells us, as well as build on the collective wisdom and experience of the people in our sprint team.
Now it’s time to put the plan into action. We spend 1-4 weeks attempting the designed activities and we assess. We hold weekly stand-up scrums to discuss successes and challenges and share what is working. We ask ourselves, “How do we know if we helped address the outcome? What worked and what did not? Given the experience, what do we focus on for the next sprint?”
Dr. Breakspear and his team developed a number of tools, which he shared over the course of the day. The approach seemed very manageable and calls on us to collaborate and work collectively. We learn and grow as a small team focused on a specific student outcome. It builds on concepts of action research, spirals of inquiry, professional learning communities, but on a micro-scale. I liked the concept of multiple, micro-projects rather than spending the whole year on one outcome. Through addressing multiple “sand” problems we will be able to address the larger “pebble” challenges, which when put together helps tackle the “boulders”.
Favourite quotes from Dr. Breakspear over the day:
- “Literacy and numeracy are the gateway drugs to learning.”
- “The best way to do big things is to do a bunch of little things.”
- “You’re not teaching if students are not learning.”
- “Teaching causes learning.”
We will spend two more days with Dr. Breakspear and I’m looking forward to learning more. If you want to learn a more, check out http://www.agileschools.com.
Superintendent of Schools – September marks the return of school and the return of hockey to many of our families. We have two boys who play hockey and September also brings the highly stressful time called tryouts. Over the past two weeks, we have been at the rink almost daily with at least one kid working hard trying to demonstrate their skills to make a high-level team for the upcoming hockey season.
This stress is felt as much by the players as it is by the parents. With “cuts” occurring this past weekend it was intense pressure and lots of anxiety at the rink. Every action, shift and/or attempt is scrutinized and causes heart palpitations. We talked with many hockey parents and it is not just us. Whether it is 7-8 year olds or 15-17 year olds, tension was in the stands, in the locker rooms, and in the lobby. Even at a major fundraising event in the community on Saturday evening, much of the parent talk was about the tryouts currently underway.
We tried to prepare our kids with a few conditioning camps prior to the tryouts and some sage advice – do your best, work hard, remember to have fun, no matter what the decision is – it will all work out, and don’t forget to laugh. We also prepared them for the final moment when they would be called into the coaching room and be told if they made the team or not. We felt that preparing them for either decision was important. Reminding them to look the coach in the eye and thank them for giving their time to help them be a better player is critical. Reaching out and shaking the coach’s hand, no matter what the decision, is also an important skill to learn. What we did not discuss is how to walk out of that room and share the news with the other kids waiting to find out and how to react when you enter the lobby with all the other parents present.
By Sunday night, one made the team he was trying for and one received the “sorry, but…” news. I felt immense pride in how both handled the news. Our player who made the team walked quietly into the lobby where other families were waiting, gave us a quick nod and carried on walking until he was out of the rink. When I asked him if he made then team, he said he did not want to say much with others in the lobby because not everyone made the team. He showed compassion for those who did not make the team. Our other child handled the tough news with grace. He held his head up high and told me that these tryouts would help him be better prepared for the next level’s tryouts. They both managed to navigate the experience with class, compassion for others, all while learning important life lessons.
It is funny what you can learn from your kids at the rink.
Superintendent of Schools – I try to be out at schools as much as possible. It can be a challenge with all the meetings I need to be part of, but it is important for me to connect with our students, staff and communities. Over the past week and a half, I’ve been at over 10 schools and these are just a few observations from those visits:
- Kids are happy to be in school – serious;
- Each of our schools are clean and well maintained due to the great work of our maintenance and custodial crews;
- Our staff put tremendous efforts in building warm and welcoming learning environments;
- Middle school students can really eat hotdogs;
- Professional learning is critical;
- The amount of paper that goes through a school office at this time of the year is daunting – we need to continue to find ways to automate processes and reduce the volume of paper going back and forth between school and home;
- Building early connections between home and teacher/school is a great way to support the success of students;
- Some school welcome back breakfasts can rival Stampede events;
- We have over 35 new teachers who just graduated in 2017 that are keen to make a positive difference in our schools;
- Principals and Assistant Principals are magicians in how they juggle so many competing demands on resources and their time;
- Schools care about kids and do great things to support them to help achieve success;
- Students consistently demonstrate that they value inclusion;
- Opening a brand-new school is even more work than I thought it was and our staff who have been through it are owed a great amount of appreciation;
- Teacher creativity is limitless;
- Attendance in week one really matters – establish good routines to start the year off well;
- School Councils provide meaningful ways to help shape your school – get involved;
- RVS team members that work in support roles create the conditions that allow students to succeed; and
- Sitting in day-long meetings is physically demanding.
I am so proud of our schools and our RVS team. I will continue to be out and about in our schools and communities so remember to stop me and say “hi”.