Superintendent of Schools – Recently a group of teachers, principals, assistant principals and Education Centre leaders met for one of our regular Administrative Procedure Advisory Committee (APAC) meetings. No matter what K-12 school division you look at, they will be guided by policy and procedures and RVS is no different. By documenting various processes about how we operate, it allows for consistency across our division and transparency.
About two years ago, the Board undertook a massive project to review their policy handbook. In the end, the Board kept about 25 of the former policies, while nearly 200 former policies were changed to be administrative procedures (AP). What is the difference between a policy and procedure? Policies are the work of Board and needs Board approval to add, modify or remove any policy. The Board actually has policy about how it reviews and develops its own policies (Policy 10). Administrative procedures are in the “sandbox” of the Superintendent. Authority is delegated by the board to the Superintendent to create, modify and delete procedures. The Board gets to decide what topics or items it is delegating and which they want to maintain. The Board can allows choose to move a matter from procedure back to policy.
This APAC meeting was similar to others where we sit together and review, word-by-word, a selection of new or modified procedures. Various departments in the Education Centre bring to me various changes or, in some cases, new administrative procedures for consideration. If the change is minor, then I just approve the change and we post the changed AP to our website and make note in the next Replay or Essentials eNewsletter. For larger changes or new APs, I will often bring them to the committee for review. Each of the committee members brings a different lens to the review and that can be very helpful. Ultimately, the responsibility for administrative procedures remain with the Superintendent.
A quick thank you to the various committee members for your contributions in helping shape RVS’ administrative procedures. Follow the links to see all of RVS’ policies and administrative procedures.
RVS Teacher – How do you determine if your students are intellectually engaged? Are they completing their assignments, appearing interested in the task, and showing up to school regularly? Beyond observations, how do you really know? Further, how do you know a new initiative is driving good practice? This post hopes to shed some light on how understanding intellectual engagement can help inform teacher practice based on findings from a small study on cohort learning.
Many high schools across Alberta are now involved in the Moving Forward with High School Redesign initiative to help increase student engagement, foster high levels of achievement and quality teaching. Some schools are prototyping innovative program designs to engage, make learning relevant and integrate career experiences. W.H. Croxford High School in Airdrie, is an example of a school supporting new practices on how learners are supported in both choice and topic of study through an offering of Grade 10 cohort academy learning experiences. Cohort learning is when students are grouped into learning arrangements who begin and complete learning experiences with the same students throughout most of their time in an academic program, such as a learning Career Academy (Alberta Education, 2009). Think of a cohort like a small learning community providing curriculum with a career related theme.
At W.H. Croxford, Grade 10 students can choose to enroll in a cohort topic of their choice ranging from Mechatronics, Visual Art and Media, Cavalier Music Academy, and Building Futures to name a few. With such new initiatives, how do we then know these offerings are supporting learning? One tool is for educators to use data to understand how intellectually engaged learners are in their learning.
What does it mean to be intellectually engaged? Intellectual engagement is a psychological investment in learning that encompassing students’ sense of enjoyment, interest, motivation and relevance of curriculum (Friesen, 2009). Essentially, you are so immersed in learning, that you often don’t want to stop (in state of flow), you are challenged (not too much, not too little) and the learning is relevant and interesting to you. Studies continue to show that when students are intellectually disengaged, they have increased risks of dropping out of school. Intrigued by the cohort model, I wanted to investigate how this grouping could help promote intellectual engagement.
Why This Study Matters
In a study of over 60,000 students across Canada, only 41 percent indicated they were experiencing intellectual engagement (Dunleavy, Milton & Willms, 2012). Further, many students who are behaving in ways traditionally associated with appearing engaged at school (e.g., attending classes, participating on teams, high grades etc.) reported actually experiencing low levels of intellectual engagement in learning. In fact, student intellectual engagement in school stagnates and declines dramatically in Grade 6 (Willms, Friesen & Milton, 2009; Willms, 2003) and continues to remain low into high school (Wang, Chow, Hofkens, & Salmela-Aro, 2015; Dunleavy, Milton & Willms, 2012). More worrisome, is students who are intellectually disengaged, have increased chances of dropping out of school. When students don’t finish high school, this can negatively impact not only the student, but also society as a whole.
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore how cohort learning promotes intellectual engagement for students and gather learner evidence to inform teacher practice. Results from this small study of 26 Grade 10 participants found cohort students seemed to indicate higher than nationally reported averages for intellectual engagement. To investigate how such a cohort model helps promote intellectual engagement for Grade 10 learners, an online survey asking questions related to intellectual engagement was implemented and analyzed. Questions were asked regarding flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), effort, motivation, interest, relevance and enjoyment, specifically about Grade 10 Career and Technology Studies (CTS) and Grade 10 English courses. Responses were collected from three cohorts including Visual Art & Media, Building Futures and the Academy of Mechatronics.
Findings seem to indicate that a cohort model helps promote intellectual engagement, as overall, there was a 72 percent student psychological investment during the two-week period studied for the English Language classes and CTS classes. These results were higher than previously reported national intellectual engagement trends of 54 percent for high schools participating in the High School Flexibility Enhancement Pilot Project and the Canadian norm for Intellectual Engagement Composite for high schools for the 2010/2011 school year was 44 percent (Fijal, 2013). The students in this survey indicated an 18 percent higher psychological investment in their learning.
In addition, open ended questions found student expressed themes related to feeling connected (with teachers, peers and experts), a strong sense of enjoyment and motivation to go to school, a positive classroom culture (feelings of trust, acceptance and belonging) and relevant and meaningful learning experiences. Lastly, students shared why they chose a cohort over a regular school stream, and many expressed a desire for new learning experiences beyond “regular school.” It seems students these students are telling us these cohorts are fostering a sense of community with relevant learning experiences. These results also support previous High School Redesign research findings in successful schools fostered trust and student voice (Friesen, Jacobsen, Brown, & Alonso-Yanez, 2016).
Now What? Recommended Next Steps
- Teachers/Educators: Do you want to know if your students are intellectually engaged using evidence? Grade 5-12 educators should consider integrating the Alberta Education TTFM (Tell Them From Me) survey as a formative assessment tool to collect engagement data. This survey can help teachers improve learning experiences for students and target specific areas in their classrooms most in need of intervention (Reschly, Appleton, & Pohl, 2014), all while promoting student voice in their own learning. Also, this survey provides data on more complex issues, such as student wellness and classroom climate.
- Administrators: Consider using this survey as a data-based decision making tool. Share student perspectives with staff to target specific school issues and improve learning (Lovelace, Reschly, & Appleton, 2017). Bring students together in staff meetings to discuss results in partnership to develop creative solutions. Also, consider how a cohort model could support community building in your school.
- Rocky View Schools: Continue to research innovative practices and share findings locally and globally to better understand what does and does not work in school redesign. Also, consider offering more cohort topics to more learners. Maybe we ask students what they want to know more about and design cohorts around those topics?
In summary, this study found a cohort model may help promote intellectual engagement. Improving our practice as educators requires listening to student’s critical voices. We cannot do this without asking the students themselves and we must be willing to be vulnerable and find out what is and isn’t working in our practice. In a light of fostering student voice, making learning relevant, meaningful and developing a sense of belonging, the cohort model may be one possibility to help foster intellectual engagement and a sense of community.
Alberta Education. (March 2009). High school flexibility enhancement: A literature review.
Appleton, J. J., Christenson, S. L., Kim, D., & Reschly, A. L. (2006). Measuring cognitive and psychological engagement: Validation of the Student Engagement Instrument. Journal of School Psychology, 44, 427–445. doi:10.1016/j.jsp. 2006.04.002.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper Perennial: New York, NY.
Dunleavy, J., Milton, P., & Willms, D. (2012). Trends in intellectual engagement. What did you do in school today? (Research Series Report Number Three). Toronto: Canadian Education Association.
Reschly and Christenson (2004)
Fijal, J. (2013). High school flexibility enhancement pilot project summary report.
Friesen, S. (2009). What did you do in school today? Teaching effectiveness: A framework and rubric. Toronto: Canadian Education Association.
Friesen, S., Jacobsen, M., Brown, B., & Alonso-Yanez, G. (2016, April). Highly adaptive learning systems: Research in Alberta’s redesigned high schools. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Washington, DC.
Lovelance, M. D., Reschly, A., Appleton, J. J. (2017). Beyond school records: The value of cognitive and affective engagement in predicting dropout and on-time graduation. Professional School Counselling, 21(1), 70–84.
Reschly, A. L., Pohl, A., Christenson, S. L., & Appleton, J. J. (2017). Engaging adolescents in secondary schools. In B. Schultz, J. Harrison, & S. Evans (Eds.), School mental health services for adolescents. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Wang, M.-T., Chow, A., Hofkens, T., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2015). The trajectories of student emotional engagement and school burnout with academic and psychological development: Findings from Finnish adolescents. Learning and Instruction, 36, 57–65. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2014.11.004.
Willms, J. D. (2003). Student engagement at school: a sense of belonging and participation (Paris, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
Willms, D., Friesen, S., & Milton, P. (2009). What did you do in school today? Transforming classrooms through social, academic and intellectual engagement, final national report. Toronto: Canadian Education Association.
Superintendent of Schools – We are so lucky in RVS to have people step up and volunteer their time, energy and expertise in coaching sports teams, sponsoring clubs, leading student performances or directing bands to name a few. Like many of our students, I too have been positively impacted through the contributions of various coaches. A couple of weeks ago an important coach in my life passed away and I want to share a bit about Lyle Sanderson.
Some of you know that I used to be a sprinter back in “the day”. I started track and field when I hurt my shoulder, limiting my ability to play baseball in the spring of my Grade 10 year. A community volunteer coach from my high school, Brian, convinced me to come out after school to train while I was rehabbing my shoulder. It only took me a few days to realize that it was actually fun. I liked to compete and was naturally pretty quick, so track worked for me. My shoulder was feeling better, but I stuck with the training for track. By Grade 11, I had transitioned over to track from baseball as my primary sport. Over my Grade 11 summer I got to travel across the prairies sprinting and I was hooked. I met for the first time Mr. Lyle Sanderson, long time head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Track and Field team. Lyle was down to earth and an incredibly humble and kind man. Lyle already had built a very strong program at the U of S and trained a number of Olympians. He was a national team coach at numerous Olympics and World Championships, yet he came over to introduce himself to me, a decent Grade 11 sprinter and that made a lasting impression on me.
In Grade 12 I ended up winning the high school 100m provincial championship. One of the first people over to visit and congratulate me was Lyle. He was not putting on a sales pitch to get me to come to the U of S, but rather he was excited for me, a kid from Moose Jaw who only recently started track and was improving. Lyle was just as supportive for the kid from Piapot, SK (where Lyle actually grew up) who finished last. Lyle was just … supportive.
In the fall of 1985, I moved to Saskatoon to run track. Oh yeah, and get a teaching degree. Interestingly enough, Lyle was never my actual event coach. I was lucky to get connected with Ivan, a former sprinter who was a new sprint coach with the Huskies. Lyle was the head coach and coached a different group of athletes. Even with Ivan as my event coach, Lyle was always there. Always positive, supportive and caring. He asked the right questions at the right time. He had the ability to know or see what you needed at that specific time and offer some advice or positive comment. He just had that ability to connect with people. I was not special; Lyle connected with everyone.
For the next five years I spent much of my waking time related to track to field. I was training, racing, socializing with fellow athletes, helping football players with their off-season conditioning, coaching at schools/camps, being a leader on the sports council and anything else related to the sport. I managed to even go to class and get a degree and Lyle had a part of that too!
When we went on road trips for competitions or training camps often Lyle would be there. Lyle loved the time on buses as a time to bond, connect, play cards, tell stories or nap. We would be on a bus, heading to somewhere and when we got close to the track or hotel, then Lyle would get on the bus PA system and always start with two blows into the microphone to ensure the PA was working, “Fff, fff… okay listen up gang.” He ALWAYS started with that. To this day, I will often call a group of people a “gang”.
When I graduated university, I was blessed to still be connected to Lyle through coaching and friendship. Even after I left Saskatoon, I would come back for a week to coach at a camp. I always would run into Lyle at the track and we would have a great chat. We would laugh and remember something that happened on a training trip to LA or when I fell trying to pass the baton to Rogal. Lyle finally retired from the U of S in about 2005 after being the U of S track and field head coach for 39 years. Lyle’s accomplishments include being a member of the University of Saskatchewan Athletic Wall of Fame, the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Track and Field Hall of Fame. He has also represented Canada at the Olympic Games, FISU Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan-American Games and the world track and field championships. He wore the red and white of Canada 54 times. He led the Huskies to 33 Canada West titles and 10 national championships, including the Huskies’ first-ever national title in 1968.
Thanks Lyle for all that you did for me. My thoughts are with your family. Many of Lyle’s athletes will return to Saskatoon this week to be a part of the celebration of his life and contributions.
Literacy Specialist – This year’s RVS Battle of the Books tournament on February 15 could not have had a more dramatic and exciting conclusion with Mitford’s “Readasaurus Rexes” tied with the “Indus Irony” at the end of regulation time in the championship final round. Parents, teachers, coaches and students were on the edge of their seats as Sigmund Brouwer, our guest presenter and celebrated author, took over question master duties in overtime to eventually determine our winner… but that wasn’t the best part.
The best part… it was a day all about books, students and the celebration that reading deeply about a text and sharing that learning with peers can bring. It was a day full of joy, laughter and excitement for all those involved.
Students talked about books. Students laughed about books. Students made new friends through their book conversations and shared experiences with their books. Students dissected and reviewed books. Students were intimate with the characters and connected to the stories and perspectives told through these books. Students were collaborative and competitive in demonstrating their knowledge of these books. It is these books that brought the students new insights, new accomplishments, and new connections with others. It was a powerful day celebrating learning and all because of books!
For those of you who do not know, the Battle of the Books is much like a sports competition, where teams of six face off against each other in tournament-style rounds to determine which team has the strongest understanding of the 15 preselected titles. Students spent countless hours not only reading, but rereading the texts. They were prepared to answer questions that went far beyond the trivial facts held within the pages, but reached to understand the intricacies buried in the diverse plots and themes of each book. Impressed by the level of competition, Leslie Waite, Assistant Principal of East Lake School said, “In order to answer diverse comprehension questions about all the books, students have developed deep knowledge of each text. They discuss each text, create questions and quizzed each other. It is amazing how well they know these books!” And KNOW these texts they DID; not only with accuracy, but with speed and confidence.
“You get to read a bunch of books that you normally would not choose yourself. You get to make new friends at the event. You – It’s just – It’s just fun! It encourages you to read a whole series or new authors that you like and you want to keep reading,” Bella from Meadowbrook shares. “Like I said before, you get to make new friends. Having my teammates in different grades was cool because I can walk down the halls now and say ‘Hi’ to them and feel like we are equal.” The Battle of the Books facilitated opportunities for RVS students to harness the power of literature – the ability to share a common experience, create new understandings and foster relationships that may not otherwise have occurred.
This shared literary experience had students across the Division talking. In fact, in the Battle’s first year, 72 students were involved from nine middle schools. These numbers do not take into account the additional hundreds of students that were involved in each school’s home battles, where members were seeking to become part of a team, and they do not reflect the spin off events that have been inspired by the day. One group of inspired middle school students plan to organize and facilitate a Battle of the Books for their Grade 3s because it was so much fun! This pay it forward attitude is infectious, and encourages students to come together in establishing a strong foundation for a culture of rich literature and authentic literacy conversations in our schools.
The good news is that the Battle of the Books is here to stay. If you are interested in knowing more about or participating in this literacy initiative, please do not hesitate to contact Erica Legh or Jody Moore.
Oh, and by the way, our champions for 2018 are… Mitford’s Readasaurus Rexes! Congratulations competitors!
Superintendent of Schools – Early in the term for the Board of Trustees, they take a massive road trip to visit each school / site in RVS. I join the group for the tours and get the opportunity to visit our schools too. It takes about nine full days to visit all the sites, but I believe it is a very important opportunity. Trustees are elected for a specific ward, but they are required to make decisions in the best interest of the entire division. Visiting every site helps put discussions about facilities, budget, and communities into perspective.
While lengthy in total time, visiting over 50 sites over nine days does mean each visit is a bit of a whirlwind. We are in a school for about 45 minutes and in that time, we walk throughout the facility and hear about the school. Principals are asked to organize a facilitated brief tour of each building, featuring initiatives that exemplify the school community. Often, we have students lead us on the tour, while other schools have the principal take us. No matter who the guide is, the tours are always enlightening even for someone who has been in the facility a few times. To me, one of my roles is the taskmaster to keep us on time. It is challenging as there are so many good things going on in our schools; we could stay for hours but it just is not possible.
After each site tour, we jump in a bus and head out to the next site. Often in that drive between sites, we discuss something we saw or heard about. Other times the tour will generate a bunch of questions for us to discuss. The ride time is an important part of the tours too.
I must say, as someone who has taken their fair share of bus trips for sports teams when I was younger, things have changed when on the bus. I remember an important coach in my life, Lyle Sanderson from the University of Saskatchewan, lamented when the Walkman and later the Discman became popular. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself again.) Lyle would say that team trips changed from card playing, chit chatting, highly interactive events to quieter, more individualistic trips when people put on their headphones and listened to the tunes. Having recently been on a few bus trips with 12 and 13-year-old hockey players, that is partially true, but there was still plenty of noise generated by those peewee hockey players. On these early tour days, I can tell you that between some schools it would be quiet as each of us pulled out our phone and got caught up on emails.
Thanks to the schools we have visited so far. The tours have been absolutely great!!! To those we have not visited yet, we will see you in the upcoming weeks.