Principal, Ralph McCall School – Some of them “played school” in their basements as a kid. Others discovered a passion for working with children and teens through volunteer or paid involvements. Many of them have family members who are educators. Each one recently completed a succession of valuable practicum experiences. And now all of them are embarking on their teaching careers in Rocky View Schools and throughout the province.
Welcome to the profession, Beginning Teachers!
In RVS, we are recent beneficiaries to innovation, energy and the enthusiasm of working alongside dozens of colleagues new to the profession. How valuable each is to their site and to their students. How fortunate the families of these learners is to have an inspired new teacher leading their sons and daughters.
But as thrilled as we are to have them on the RVS team, how do the veterans among us ensure these new teachers aren’t merely surviving, but thriving? According to an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) study from 2013, there remains a high attrition rate of teachers who leave the profession within their first five years. The potential reasons for this are vast and not the focus of this commentary. Rather, it is to highlight how experienced colleagues might mitigate it happening, providing ample support to beginning teachers from the outset. In RVS, and across the province, there are many options and formats being employed. If you’re a new teacher yourself, I hope you are accessing some / most / ALL of these. If you are in the position to guide or mentor, please do so! We all need to be aware of the following opportunities for our colleagues, just starting out:
- RVS Community of Practice for Beginning Teachers
- ATA Beginning Teachers’ Conferences in Calgary and Edmonton
- #ntchat (New Teacher Chat on Twitter)
- School Based Mentorship Partnerships and Programs
- Induction Ceremonies
- Administrative Support through formal and informal evaluations
- And more – just Google “Supporting Beginning Teachers” and there is no end to the titles, resources and other ideas!
All teachers were once Beginning Teachers. We all remember what an exciting time it was, what it felt like to be starting out and what a big difference even the smallest of supports made. We are lucky to have so many new colleagues in our Rocky View Schools. Let’s ensure we nurture their talents and their well-being!
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.
Literacy Specialist – The research is very clear about the rewards of motivating kids to read, to think deeply, to talk about what they have read and to find something new. After all, practice makes perfect so that means read, read and read.
The only way we will see our students’ reading improve is to provide them with literacy-rich environments where they have access to copious numbers of books; they are surrounded by adults and peers who model strong reading behaviours; they are provided opportunities to question, wonder, make connections and have authentic conversations about what they have read with the people in their lives; and they are taught to read for joy, pleasure and purpose. Literacy researchers such as Allington, Calkins and others tell us that if we provide these environments, students will do better in school, achieve higher results and most importantly become successful, lifelong learners.
But motivating students to do what is good for them can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms:
- Have students help to curate classroom libraries. Let them categorize, group and organize your library and in turn provide them with ownership over the collection. Use student librarians to help keep classroom libraries in order, organized and returned.
- Create Personal Reading histories about books that matter and that have had a significant influence in their lives.
- Organize book talks about summer readings or organize monthly discussions.
- Show that you are a reader: create teacher book clubs, write your own book reviews, facilitate student/teacher breakfast book clubs and encourage parent/student book clubs.
- Create a “buzz” around book selections by reading snippets of books that are funny, serious, sad, dramatic, strange or mysterious. Kids and adults love to be read to. There is a book for everyone; helping students find it is the key.
- Host a book tasting or speed dating with text.
- Create a Battle of the Books team to compete in the RVS Battle of the Books competition on Feb 15.
- Use QR codes and Image Mapping AR apps like Aurasma to make reading and vocabulary activities come to life.
- Have authentic conversations about reading with students and encourage them to have them with one another. This is a way to explore the deeper aspects of reading comprehension with readers.
- Meet with students in different contexts (one-on-one, guided groups, small targeted strategy groups, partnerships) to target and support their growth in reading, introduce strategies, and to set goals.
- Become a book champion! Share what makes books great and why students need to read them!
- Invite the support of community members and organizations through Rocky View Reads partnerships.
- Incorporate podcasts that can hook reluctant readers while boosting critical thinking and comprehension.
- Vocabulary Parade: Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think of a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical).
So, as the school year begins, let’s all roll up our sleeves and work together to create literacy-rich environments that will open our students’ worlds to new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, new perspectives and new understandings. Let’s continue to build a culture of reading in Rocky View so that our students can reap the rewards of a literate life. For more ideas and information check us out at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/makingliteracyvisible.
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”.
Settler Students Learning with Elders and Knowledge Keepers on Treaty 7 Territory
RVS Teacher, Heloise Lorimer School – Over the 2016-2017 school year, I collaboratively planned and facilitated learning opportunities centered on Indigenous-land based pedagogy. As a Settler, a non-Indigenous person, I have received guidance, knowledge and kindness from three Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. Together we facilitated sharing of Indigenous ways and offered land-based educational experiences to my students.
Heloise Lorimer School opened as a brand-new school for Rocky View Schools in the fall of 2016. The school is situated on traditional Niitsitapi, Nakoda, Tsuu T’ina and Métis territory, also known as Treaty 7 lands from 1877 and Métis Region 3. For thousands of years, the territory has shared knowledge, care and the ancestors of these nations; past, present and future. It is essential to relationships that the recognition of traditional lands and treaties takes place on an ongoing basis. As a new school, we have had our first year to connect with Nations and establish our relationship together.
Each Indigenous Knowledge Keeper had land sites that were important to their Nation and places for the students to develop relationships with. Each site provided a place for understanding and contextualizing knowledge that would be shared with them. These places were generously offered by Knowledge Keepers and became the centre of our planning for visits and sequencing of learning events.
Place-based learning incorporated ceremony, stories and sharing of knowledge. The places where this model of learning took place were:
- Our classroom
- Heloise Lorimer School Field
- Glacial Erratic, Airdrie
- Kings Heights Pond, Airdrie
- Nose Hill, Calgary
- Grotto Canyon, Exshaw
- Blackfoot Crossing, Siksika
Over 100 students were able to learn with Niitsitapi, Nakoda and Métis Knowledge Keepers. Multi-grade groupings for experiences took place, as well as interdisciplinary learning. The greatest outcome was the relationships that students created. Students found connections to one another amongst their experiences. Guided reflection empowered students to share and have pride in their ideas and knowledge. Furthermore, students gained success in understanding and meeting curriculum objectives related to Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, Physical Education, Art and Social Studies. My grade 3 class was significantly influenced by our collaborative learning opportunities with Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers.
Please visit the following website to review our learning together in detail: http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/indigenous-land-based-education/.