Superintendent of Schools – I am so grateful for the many opportunities my role affords to get to see our RVS students excel, contribute, and make a difference in their communities. Teens especially get a bad rap in our society. Most adults forget what it was like as we transitioned from kids to young adults. We all made mistakes, and the occasional poor choice, but society seems stuck on judging all teens by their mistakes. I’d love to wear the body cam to share just some of the amazing things I get to see kids and teens routinely do.
I saw 75 teens from eight different school give up an evening and full day away from their regular classes to participate in RVS’ Honour Band. The concert band performed for a group of adults and students at Chestermere High as a culminating activity. The teens in the audience watched the concert – many of which probably would not list concert band on their top 10 interest lists – and where incredibly well behaved. They listened intently, recognized the efforts of kids from across the region, and when the concert ended, picked up their chairs and put them back – and then many turned around and grabbed the chairs for the adults in the room.
My twitter feed is consistently full of kids collecting something for those in need in their community, kids participating in basketball and curling playoffs/playdowns, grade 10 students working with grade 2s to share their knowledge and experiences, kids learning with members of our communities, kids teaching people in our communities, teens helping volunteer groups, teens raising funds for those in need both locally and globally, and teens taking on leadership roles within their schools. Watch the #rvsed hashtag or a couple of the schools in your community for a week and I assure you that you will feel a lot better about our communities and country when you see the amazing things our kids are doing.
Lastly, I cannot forget to recognize our amazing RVS staff who empower and enable students to make a difference. Our staff volunteer countless hours, create highly engaging environments, which allow kids to shine. Staff make a conscious effort to have high expectations and build skills so that students can be successful.
Superintendent of Schools – Our Four-Year Plan (4YP) has three key goals – learners are engaged, supported, and successful. Another means we use to describe the key work of RVS is making learning visible, real, and for everyone. One only needs to watch the #rvsed Twitter hashtag to see daily examples of how schools and staff create amazing learning opportunities for our students. In any given day, you will see teachers creating learning opportunities bringing those three concepts to life.
Last week I was at an event at Banded Peak School where students were given a place conscious challenge – utilization and beautification of a piece of land in the town area. In parallel, the community has created a committee looking at the space and trying to decide what to do with it. The students were challenged to design a functional space that would become a community asset. Students surveyed members of the community to see what people wanted. They asked about overall concept, preferred materials, activities that could take place in the space, and learned about lighting concerns, strategies to make the space low maintenance, and many other ideas. Students also met with local experts to gain further information. Students toured the site. Ultimately, students produced a scaled drawing, key information panels, and a model of the park. I was among a number of adults who walked through the student stations and had students explain the details of their designs. It was a great opportunity for making their learning visible.
Often we get caught up in the final product of the learning activity, but it is the process that is truly important. In gathering the information and ultimately explaining their learning to a stranger, students had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of our 21C competencies. I asked students tough questions about their design and I am pleased to say they could answer the question or at least recognize the issue as a challenge in their design. The kids were invested in the activity because it was engaging and real. They walk or ride by the land in question and want to contribute to a solution to make it better. They were given an authentic problem and access to real world experts and resources. This was not open the textbook, read a chapter, and answer 1,2,4 and 7. Kids toured the site, learned the nuances of the land, looked at a solution from multiple perspectives, and had to handle competing priorities and diverse opinions. It was real and they made their learning visible.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a common occurrence in RVS. I saw on Twitter the previous week about grade 3 Sarah Thompson School students designing and building models/blueprints for ways to address opportunities and challenges in the hamlet of Langdon. They shared their ideas and presented to the local county Policy and Priorities committee. I cannot list all the examples so just watch #rvsed to see some of the amazing ways our staff are making it real.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week was dominated with water main leaks impacting our schools, staff and students. I continue to learn every week in my role and I know a lot more about water mains after this week! It served as another reminder of how often we take for granted so many services that impact our health and safety. Ensuring and maintaining the safety of our staff and students is a constant priority across RVS.
All RVS staff have a part in ensuring the safety of our sites – not just for kids but for the adults too. We all play an important role in identifying potential hazards, reporting those hazards and “near misses” to our supervisor, correcting issues before someone gets hurt, and learning from incidents and near misses through reviewing and sharing the findings. All staff take important and mandatory health and safety online training while others take specialized training in a wide variety of topics specific to their roles within the organization.
In late November and December RVS had an external auditor in to complete an occupational health and safety audit. The audit identified many of the good things going on in RVS but also identified some challenges for us. If you want to learn more about our health and safety program you can read Administrative Procedure AP411 – Occupational Health and Safety and/or the Employee Health and Safety section of our website. Over the upcoming months staff will see a more visible focus on health and safety.
The Board is committed to health and safety and in the fall approved the addition of a dedicated health and safety specialist for the division. The Board also recently approved a lengthy list of maintenance projects across RVS for 2016/17. The top priority items are those that impact health and safety. Again, this is the demonstration of putting our money where our mouth is when we say health and safety matters!
P.S. While on the topic of water main breaks, I do want to recognize the amazing efforts of countless staff in those impacted schools. Your efforts to ensure the safety while still keeping the school open for learning is much appreciated. To our maintenance crews who demonstrated their commitment and dedication – I cannot thank you enough!
RVS Learning Specialist – Another common theme that we hear about on site visits is the emphasis on relationships. Each school we toured had a different, yet effective way to connect their students, staff, and community. Crescent Heights High School in Medicine Hat has recently started on their High School Redesign journey. Their initial focus has been on building relationships with students and staff and encouraging the pursuit of their passions. Forty minutes each day is set aside for a flex/advisory block that they call “CHAT.” During CHAT, academic, social, and emotional supports are provided. Each student has the chance to connect with an adult in the building, who, along with the supportive peer group, stays as their CHAT connection throughout their time at CHH. One Friday a month they have a day they call “Spark Day.” On this day, during CHAT, students can explore a topic or learn a skill of their choice. Sessions offered range widely, including sports, music, cooking, knitting, computer programing, jellyfish, and many more. The offerings are based on the passions of the staff and the students, and they change regularly. Many schools are experimenting with advisories so it was extremely enlightening to talk to a school about what has been working well and where they are going from here.
In Bassano School, relationships are key. With a high population of students from the Siksika Nation, the school has worked hard to foster relationships within the First Nations community to ensure the success of all students. It is one of very few schools in Alberta that can report no significant achievement differences between their FMNI and non-status students. First Nation students are just as likely to graduate from Bassano as any other student in the school. One of the many ways they have engaged their community is by bringing one of their Parent Teacher Interview nights in to the Siksika community. This demonstration of the school’s commitment to community has lead to substantially higher attendance at these meetings and broader parent involvement in the school.
Bassano School is more than just a building where teaching happens; it is a central hub of the community – a place where kids want to be and where community involvement is high. In their multimedia classes, equipped with green screen and professional lighting, students produce high quality newscasts and advertisements for local businesses and sports teams. The school also has a Human Patient Simulator where students work with nurses from the nearby hospital to check vitals, diagnose, and treat patients with all the authenticity of a medical training facility.
These site visits have all been eye opening. There has been something to learn from each person we’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and each place we’ve been able to explore. Although touring other schools is a great experience, powerful insights don’t necessarily require a road trip. Within every school there are opportunities to discover and stories worthy of hearing. A great first site visit can often be a visit with someone just down the hall or on the other side of your building. Often a powerful professional learning experience can come from simply observing a colleague teach, or being observed by a colleague, and then having a conversation about it. The beauty of being an educator is that we are surrounded by people to collaborate with, to learn from, and who share our goal of wanting to do what’s best for students.
Then again, sometimes it’s tremendously valuable to see other contexts in order to better understand your own. Do you have an initiative you’d like to see in action, or a concept that you’d like to explore remotely? Contact our team to discuss a possible site visit to support that goal.
Seeing really is believing!
Superintendent of Schools – For me it was a teaching assignment at Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon. I actually had one more class to take over the summer before graduating but I got a job teaching. It was only going to be a one-year teaching assignment while the regular teacher I would be replacing was covering for someone else who was away on a year-long leave. That morphed into spending 22 of the next 25 years working in the public education space. One year I worked in the private sector (wanted to see what life was like in the “real world”) and two years working in the post-secondary sector.
Last week I was very lucky to be able to help out at the RVS booth at the recent University of Calgary career fair. For three hours, I spoke to prospective teachers who were graduating this spring from the U of C. I had the opportunity to brag about the great things going on in RVS, what drew me to RVS (twice), and how we support our early career teachers. I answered questions about how people can apply and what prospects look like. I must say it was great to be at the RVS booth as we had a steady stream of students interested in what we have to offer. Thanks to Meghan, Shannon, and Roel for letting me join all of you.
The following night I had the pleasure of attending the ATA induction ceremony for over 100 teachers who are part of the RVS family and are either new to the profession or new to Alberta. I wish I could have stayed for the full evening but it was a chance to say a few words and get to learn about many of our new teachers. Each school created a short video to help introduce the new teachers. These videos were quite amazing and kept the crowd laughing. I’ve asked for the DVD so I can watch the other half of videos I missed. Key messages I shared with the group (but also apply to our entire RVS team): we are in this together and on the same team; keep learning and growing; okay to take risks and innovate; collaborate with others; invest in yourself; take care of yourself; and thank those who helped get you here!
In that spirit – thanks to Mr. Richard Turcotte who was my grade 6 teacher and teacher-coaches Dan Boyer, Al Andrie, and Ivan Tam who made such a positive impact on my life. I am a teacher today because of all of you.