Director of Learning Services – Next week, a large delegation of high school student leaders and teachers from Rocky View Schools will be descending upon Waterloo, Ontario for the 33rd CSLC (Canadian Student Leadership Conference). This learning and leading event will be life altering for many.
When I think of the learning opportunities I have had as an educator, none is more memorable or remarkable than the career-imprinting event of the first-ever Canadian Student Leadership Conference hosted in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in September 1985. As a ‘wet behind the ears’ brand new teacher with all of three weeks of experience under my belt, I was asked by our assistant principal if I would like to accompany two incredibly accomplished grade 12 leadership students to this event. Without hesitation I said, “Sure!” not realizing that the conference, which 33 years later is now fondly referred to as CSLC (pronounced see-slick), would help define and shape my career in education as a teacher, coach, colleague, learner, administrator, director and community member across multiple jurisdictions.
Our flight out of Edmonton to Regina was exciting ‘back in the day.’ The quick flight was followed by a much lengthier van ride from Regina to Yorkton. In the van we were ‘starstruck’ as conference speakers, Jack Donohue, former Canadian National Men’s Basketball Team coach, and Pamela Wallin, host of CTV’s national morning news show ‘Canada AM’ (and now more infamously recognized as a Canadian Senator), rode with us and told amusing tales the entire ride. We were completely engaged and the conference had not even started.
The excitement and entertainment of the van ride to Yorkton was quickly overshadowed upon arrival at Yorkton Composite High School where Barry Sharpe, the teacher chair for the conference, greeted everyone. Our threesome was quickly engulfed by the energy exuded by the 800 student and 200 teacher delegates to the inaugural student leadership event. The dream of Barry Sharpe taking what had previously been a provincial conference and elevating it to a national event had been realized, starting a wave of service and leadership development across Canada that continues today.
Over the next five days, student leaders and adult advisors were engrossed in ‘living leadership.’ Through networking sessions, workshops, keynote speakers and team building, we garnered amazing ideas to take back to our schools. We met like-minded, action-oriented people who were committed to ensuring student voice was honored and empowered. The personal and professional connections we made at that first ever conference, have remained strong through 33 years in this work. To this day, CSLC connections such as Dorothy Karlson (SK) and Dave Conlon (ON) remain some of the most profound professional influences and resources in my work as a jurisdictional leader.
It’s kind of like Robert Fulghum said in his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Almost all I really need to know about leading, I learned through student leadership. Certainly, foundations of my philosophy as a school administrator are rooted in my passion for student leadership. The lessons from some of the keynote speakers at that first conference, including Mark Scharenbroich and Alvin Law, are timeless and have guided me as a teacher and administrator throughout my career. “Leave a place better than you found it,” is a mantra to which I subscribe thanks to Mark. Alvin’s ability to confront unimaginable challenges as a thalidomide baby and turn them into opportunities to make the world a better place remains inspiring and humbling.
The hospitality of the community of Yorkton was unparalleled, demonstrating personal, school and community leadership in ways we had never seen. After five days of awe-inspiring, motivational, generous and truly selfless sharing of ideas by compatriots from across this amazing country, our little threesome gratefully and graciously returned home, exhilarated and bursting with ideas to make 1985-86 the ‘best year ever’ at our school. The ‘legacy’ for the students was improved culture and spirit in the school, through the student leadership events they undertook. As a staff member, I explicitly engaged my peers in making our school a ‘great place to learn and work’ with CLSC inspired activities.
Our participating RVS schools can expect some wonderful and energetic ideas to be launched in their own schools this upcoming year, once their student leaders and advisors return from CSLC 2017. We look forward to learning how our newest group of RVS leaders will #makeadifference.
Director of 21C Learning -The theme of ‘Education Week’ this year is ‘Learning is a journey.’ As educators, our own journeys began many years ago, as we entered the formal school system as students. Little did we know then, how our teachers would motivate, challenge, inspire, surprise, and ultimately educate us to take up the mantle of teaching ourselves.
In my own learning journey, my grade one teacher, Mrs. Thain, towered over us, as she inducted our rambunctious class into the expectations of curriculum, socialization, organization and civility as we donned the learners’ role. In grade six, it was Miss Bilyk, the brand new, hip homeroom teacher whose passion for her learners and learning compelled us to work hard, enjoy reading, get creative and have fun. Somehow she channeled our boundless energy into meaningful learning experiences that enthralled us. Mrs. Nelson, in grade nine, treated us like the young adults we were so excited to become, engaging us in the civic and provincial election process through current events, making connections between our school and our world. In grade twelve, whether it was Mr. Rakoz exploring reproductive systems in biology, Mr. Prodaniuk waxing philosophically about ‘Death of a Salesman’ in English or Mr. Seward outlining the merits of various economic and political systems in Social Studies, our teachers were doing their best to shepherd us out of the ‘system’ as well-prepared, soon-to-be, new graduates. That seems an eternity ago, and yet, the enthusiasm, expertise and passion of those teachers ‘back in the day’ holds sway with myself and fellow educators today.
And it wasn’t only those teachers…As a student, I did not fully appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ work that our school administration also did to support our learning. It is not surprising how, over time, perspective evolves during one’s own educational journey. Over the past two weeks in particular, I have been incredibly humbled and inspired by my administrative colleagues – the school based principals and assistant principals who are the lead learners in Rocky View schools. Their dedication and commitment to learning, learners, the community and the greater good, is remarkable. As role models, their fidelity to their own learning remains paramount at this time of year, when they simultaneously inhabit the present while preparing and planning for the future, 2017-2018 school year. Despite their unbelievably busy schedules, they prioritize time for after school Book Clubs, graduate courses, webinars and online learning among other activities. They continue to support staff and students in their respective learning journeys, celebrating their achievements and bolstering their supports as the learning gets deeper and more demanding. As lead learners, they are also exceptionally generous with their own ‘best practices’. I have witnessed extraordinary generosity of ideas in multiple contexts, from elementary to high school teams across the jurisdiction. Our RVS administrators orchestrate rich learning for not only their students, but also their staff as they observe and demonstrate, “We are all learners.”
It was Henry Adams who once said, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.” During Education Week, as we reflect on our own ‘Learning Journeys’ we can thank a teacher or an administrator, for provoking and stimulating our learners’ minds. It is with prodigious gratitude, that I thank those teachers who helped me along my educational path to becoming a teacher. It is with equal respect, admiration and appreciation, that I work alongside our RVS teacher and administrative colleagues as they continue to illuminate the path of the learning journeys of our students and staff. We will delight in today’s students being motivated, inspired and challenged by their teachers and leaders, as they navigate and enjoy the ‘open road’ of learning.
Director of 21st C Learning – As I sit and observe our first SAIT Dual Credit Management 200 class, with learners from RVS, CBE, and via WebX from Prairie Rose and High Prairie school jurisdictions, I reflect and concur with the SAIT Academic Chair that ‘this isn’t education as we once knew it. It is amazing and humbling to facilitate the experience for high school students to take a post-secondary business course, in a face-to-face as well as distance setting. These participating students are navigating this new course, and key to successful 21C learning in this circumstance is ‘making connections’. In this case, it is students from four RVS high schools engaging with students from a multitude of other schools taking advantage of this post-secondary opportunity delivered in a blended learning format. It is simple to point to this as an example of 21C learning and I think it’s important to consider that it’s also what we do EVERYDAY that is 21C learning.
While we focus education in 2017 on connecting curriculum and competencies such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, cultural and global citizenship, managing information, creativity and innovation and personal growth and well-being, we have not lost sight of the educational foundations of literacy and numeracy. RVS is aligned with Alberta Education’s focus on literacy and numeracy and we are elevating the conversation around these fundamental skills, and how they connect with the identified 21C competencies in our work. As the Director of 21C Learning for the past six months, it has been fascinating for me to observe the intersections of the work that professionals are undertaking in their day-to-day work, preparing students to be successful in their next steps – whether in the realm of school, work, or service to others. Collaboration and connections between professionals in schools and within the Learning Department have expanded understanding and supports for staff and students in all schools; in our own learning, we are extending our understanding of design thinking, planning, and trans-disciplinary work.
One thing has been crystal clear in the learning and teaching in this role – we are ALL learners and regardless of one’s job, whether it is as a student, teacher, support staff, principal, bus driver, secretary, tech assistant, director or caretaker, it is imperative that we take responsibility for shaping our individual growth plans to suit our own learning needs. Being part of a design cohort, participating in a book club, engaging in an online course, attending a conference, collaboratively planning with peers, are all meaningful and worthy learning endeavours. Our learning becomes even more relevant to us when we are authentically engaging in our study – in my own case, learning more about design thinking by taking an online course and then using that to plan sessions with and for others. This has extended my comfort zone and helped to keep me current pedagogically. I relish the opportunity to be a learner and to be able to connect with and assist others in their respective learning journeys. As professionals in education in 2017, it is certainly exciting times and we can truly say, ‘there is never a dull moment’, as we tackle the dynamic landscape that is ‘school’ where connections between people, pedagogy, and curriculum in our work are made.