Project Lead for Attendance Innovation Campaign – Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing more than 10 percent of school days in a year, represents one of the largest barriers to school success – one that a variety of school divisions and provinces across Canada are beginning to address in a targeted manner. It represents a significant issue and affects students as young as kindergarten and first grade, whose poor attendance hurts academic performance and sets a pattern for years to come. While we understand that parents can be powerful allies in preventing absenteeism, the power of family-school relationships are often overlooked.
In Alberta, it is estimated that over 151,000 students are impacted by school absenteeism and placed at significant risk of negative future outcomes, such as economic disadvantage, incarceration, and mental health challenges. According to an analysis of 2014-2015 attendance trends in Rocky View Schools, 22 percent of students could be described as chronically absent. To begin addressing this problem, Rocky View Schools launched a pilot initiative with matched financial support offered by an anonymous donor. The appropriately named, Attendance Innovation Campaign, had three main aims and intended to 1) educate communities as to the importance of attendance, 2) empower schools to utilize data to guide their practice, and 3) eliminate barriers to regular attendance in whatever manner they may appear. Beyond these three aims, the Campaign recognized the importance of family-school relationships and embraced growing research that showed how simple, low-cost strategies can reduce student absences and pave the way for academic success. In our four pilot schools, we asked teachers to do three things throughout the year
- Make a positive in-person or phone connection, at the beginning of September, with the parents of students in their homeroom, or as otherwise indicated by their school administrators.
- Reach out and perform a positive phone call, letter home, or email with parents of students in their assigned group on a monthly basis from October to June. This connection should describe how the student is doing or something positive they have observed.
- Make a positive phone connection, at the end of each month, with the parents of students in their assigned groups who were identified by school staff as missing a significant portion of school within a given month (e.g., 3-4 days). Please connect with the student as well if it is appropriate.
Through adopting the strategies listed above, the Attendance Innovation Campaign reduced chronic absenteeism within the identified schools from 10 percent to 1 percent in under one year of direct service. Rocky View Schools has committed to allowing elements of the Campaign to extend divisionally for the 2017-2018 school year.
For more information about the Attendance Innovation Campaign, please visit:
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!
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.