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.
Learning Specialist – Becoming more advanced in the critical element of digital literacies involves thinking about your own literacy practices. It involves reflecting on how they have come about, what has influenced you, and how your actions affect others. –Belshaw
Rocky View Schools is known for being progressive and making every attempt to support learners in terms of technology. The Technology for Learning Team recently brought Doug Belshaw to Banded Peak School and the Cochrane RancheHouse to do some professional learning around how to connect digital literacies to our other district initiatives including the 21st Century competencies and RVS’ Literacy and Numeracy Framework.
Doug Belshaw is a leading educational consultant in digital literacies, open learning and open badges. His TEDTalk and PhD research focus on the essential elements of digital Literacies. On May 1 and May 2 Rocky View Schools staff from across the district worked with Doug to learn more about supporting and developing digital literacies for our learners.
Currently, RVS offers online courses to learn more about digital citizenship and media literacy through MediaSmarts. Students can take Passport to the Internet: Student tutorial for Internet literacy and MyWorld: A digital literacy tutorial for secondary students. Information Communication and Technology (ICT) is the Alberta Education program of studies integrated into every class at all grade levels in our district.
On a daily basis our learners use technology to learn at school and at home. The ubiquitous nature of connecting of learners anyplace, anytime can be amazing and frustrating. How do we ensure that RVS learners develop authentic digital literacies that are timely and relevant in an ever changing world?
With Doug Belshaw, RVS staff discussed the strategies to provide deliberate practice around technology to develop digital skills while at the same time balancing digital learning contexts and mindsets.
We spent time defining and clarifying the context of Digital Literacies at Rocky View Schools:
Then, we spent time introducing the 8 Elements of Digital Literacies to RVS staff which include:
More information about these digital literacies can be found in Doug Belshaw’s book, the Essential Elements of Digital Literacies and from Doug’s slideshare presentation.
The next step is not creating a new digital literacies framework. Instead, we will be examining all the ideas and strategies suggested over the two days by looking for common themes. We will then focus on aligning and connecting the themes offered through Alberta Education and current teaching practice throughout the district. Rather than creating a new vision, we will be working on enriching and supporting digital literacies by focusing on how we communicate and learn in online environments to ensure learners are successful, are engaged and are supported.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Verena Roberts, Learning for Technology Specialist.
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!