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.
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.
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:
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.
Associate Superintendent of Learning – Rocky View Schools (RVS) has long been considered a high performing school jurisdiction. We develop and maintain research-based practices, models and ideas resulting in positive educational outcomes. Our Four-Year Plan has clear vision, mission and belief statements with corresponding goals and strategies that focus on teaching and learning.
This year we continue to focus on attaining second order change to foster new ways of teaching and learning. How do we do this? By Making it Visible, Making it Real and Making it for Everyone. We provide our teachers and administrators with numerous professional learning opportunities to ensure this direction continues to move forward.
What learning looks like in RVS
Make it Visible – “We believe that when students learn how to learn – that is to acquire, create, connect, and communicate knowledge in a variety of contexts – we are helping them build the confidence and habits of mind to become life-long learners and successful citizens.” Making learning visible addresses how observation and documentation can shape, extend and make visible the student’s individual and group learning. Our students will become self-directed learners who are intrinsically motivated.
Make it Real – By offering authentic learning experiences for our students, we provide the opportunity for deeper, more meaningful learning to take place. We partner real-time, real-world businesses with our students, which can significantly minimize the barriers that typically separate the classroom from the real world. The Building Futures program is just one example of authentic, project-based learning happening at RVS.
Make it for Everyone – We recognize that learning communities can be very diverse. We are committed to designing instruction to ensure the inclusiveness of our classrooms. Teachers are architects of learning and plan to allow for multiple means of expression and representation of student learning.
Check out RVS Learning Stories on our YouTube channel for a closer look at the teaching and learning in our schools!