Superintendent of Schools – Last week my 14 year old son, JT spent the day at work with me as part of a national Grade 9 campaign entitled, Take Your Kid to Work. Given my work is connected to schools, my kids have a decent idea about what I do, but it was a behind scenes day for JT.
He was excited because he got to wear a shirt and tie just like it was a hockey game. Throughout the day he remained very professional and took the day very seriously. Throughout the Education Centre we had 3 other students attending work with their parent for the day.
I warned him that the day was not planned for him and it will probably be a day full of meetings. The day started with us working on some behind the scenes work on the Ward Boundary Review project that JT pretty much just watched and asked questions about. We then had an hour and a half long briefing style meeting about one of the branches of our Learning Department. We moved right into another meeting about one department’s budget. JT was interested in that meeting because he got to watch a bit about how resources are allocated and some of the challenges when you want to do a number of things but the funds just are not available. He saw us prioritize spending based on the overall student needs.
At one point during the day I had to ask JT to step outside as it was a confidential material, but for the rest of the day he was with me fully. We attended a committee for about an hour that was working on the development of RVS’ new internet site. That was probably his favourite part of the day. The group asked his thoughts on the design because it directly related to students. His day finished with a bit of office work, and then when I headed out for an evening meeting he got to go to his hockey practice.
Since that day he has asked me a couple of follow-up questions about things that were discussed during the day. Overall it was a good opportunity for him to better understand what I do and I really enjoyed having him around for the day.
Psychologist – “This tells me that there’s a lot of brains in here right now that are wired for survival, and just might be a little on edge.” That was the sentiment expressed by Biology teacher, Erik Gordon, when responding to the information that in his class more than 13 students indicated that they have experienced significant trauma in their past.
The concepts of trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive approaches or practice seem to be popping up everywhere in the education system. Our ability to support students who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) also is finding its way into many staff room conversations. So what exactly does it mean to be trauma-informed or trauma sensitive? Well, a quick Google search will bring up a number of articles, programs, and ideas around how schools can begin to work with students who have been traumatized. Some of these programs can be quite expensive, but behind any commercialized answer resides two key concepts that are at the heart of being a trauma-informed educator:
- Understanding that trauma impacts a child’s developing brain and can cause structural changes, which can impact a child’s behaviour, memory and learning.
- Belief that positive educator-student relationships, where the child feels safe, valued, and cared for can begin to tip a child’s resiliency scale towards the positive, even though it might be stacked with negative weight.
This shift in thinking can sometimes be difficult because sometimes ‘the kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways.’ When Erik Gordon learned about the impact that ACEs had on a child’s brain architecture, he began to work with them differently. He started to try to find more ways to connect with them, such as jamming together over lunch hour. He also began to see their behaviour as something that they may not have full control over. In fact, at Erik’s school, all of the teachers learned about the impact of trauma on the brain. They started to have regular meetings where they would discuss what was going on for their students and identify strategies to have more positive and meaningful interactions with them. As a result, suspension rates went down and achievement went up. Erik’s school’s story has been captured in a film called ‘Paper Tigers’ that Rocky View Schools Learning Support has purchased a license for.
Interested in watching Paper Tigers? Register an account using your rockyview.ab.ca email at https://rvsls.tugg.com/ and watch the documentary in its entirety. Perhaps you could hold a screening at your school and have an open dialogue about the film and its connections to your school.
Superintendent of Schools – On October 21, I was honoured to be part of the Board’s celebration of long service and retirement held at the Education Centre. The evening was an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of approximately 89 team members who either had 20, 25, 30 or 35 years of service and those who have retired this past year. The combined service for this group of around 90 people was over 2,100 years or about 400,000 school days!!!
As I said in my speech – the evening was a small token of appreciation and a chance to celebrate all of the group’s substantial contributions. These contributions cannot be quantified, measured or categorized but they are significant.
All of our contributions make a difference. Whether the contribution is done quietly behind the scenes; up on the roof of the school fixing an HVAC unit; working 1:1 with students with significant challenges; standing in front of a group a kids teaching; working in an office; driving a bus; volunteering to lead a drama performance; keeping our schools clean and beautiful or governing the system … it all makes a difference. We all contribute to the overall collective and make a positive difference in our schools and communities.
Thank you for all that you do! Together we make Rocky View Schools and together we make a positive difference.
Project Leader, Attendance Innovation Campaign – We often talk about the importance of regular school attendance and how it impacts the development of academic, language, social, and work related skills in children. The research clearly shows that students who miss two days each month are placed at significant risk for current and future challenges at school. Despite knowing the impact that school absences can have, we often do not address a root cause for why many students are not in school – vacations.
Vacations offer unique learning and relationship building opportunities for children, and very few educators or school administrators would ever downplay their value. Issues arise, however, when vacations are extended into, or implemented during, the school year. Unlike many vacations, schools offer a structured setting for academic development, language-rich environment, opportunities to develop social competencies, and experiences that nurture work-related skills such as persistence, resiliency, problem-solving, and the ability to work with others to accomplish goals.
There are approximately 180 instructional days in one school year and teachers have a large amount of curriculum content to cover within that timeframe. Given teachers share their knowledge and passion for learning on a daily basis, students who miss school because of vacations are placed at a relative deficit for lost instructional time and valuable learning opportunities. Many parents have the perception that their child can easily catch up on missed work and it can be the case for some. Unfortunately, the research demonstrates that many students who miss this instructional time will not catch up.
If parents intend to take their children away on vacation during the school year, we ask that they consider the impact it can have on their child’s learning and take steps to minimize it. By limiting the amount of time that is taken away from instruction, parents set their children up for success in the future. For more information on how parents can help improve the attendance of their children, please visit:
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was finally able to check off from my to-do list – “visit every school in the division”. I’ve completed about 2/3rds of my formal school tours and have been invited to attend an event or celebration in almost every school. I’ve also made the effort to get to schools for informal, impromptu visits. When I make that type of visit I just pop into the office and then sometimes go for a walk about by myself and other times with an administrator. Being visible and in schools is important to me.
Why do I do this? As a professional meeting attender, I find that being out in schools keeps me grounded. These impromptu visits are about me seeing students and our staff in action in the context of their school and community. There is no “show and tell” when I make these impromptu visits – it is real life – just another school day. I try not to interrupt classes, but I’ll walk into classrooms when the door is open and just say “hi” or talk to the staff and/or students. It reminds me why I sit in all those darn meetings – to serve students, staff, and our communities.
I warned principals and assistant principals that they will need to get used to me just showing up. I’m not sure people actually believed me, but hopefully they see that I’m walking the talk. The visits are not about checking up on things, rather it about keeping it real and grounded. I know how hard our staff works for students. I know it is not always perfect. I know that some days it can be a struggle, but those are the days I need to see to help keep it real. When younger students ask me what I do, I usually respond “I am here to work as a team with their principals, teachers, and support staff to make sure they [the students] get what they need to be successful at school and life.”
Today I was at one site for a formal visit, but then visited three others sites as I scheduled some time for impromptu visits. I had a great conversation with four teachers about how they are able to support learners through various online tools and their facility needs in order to support teaching and learning. There was no meeting booked, no agenda, just a great face-to-face conversation. In another school I was able to hear about a challenge they are facing that I can probably support them by connecting them with other RVS resources. My last impromptu visit allowed me to talk to students who just completed a walk-a-thon as a fundraiser for school activities. Students demonstrated some of the key competencies we want them to achieve by shaking my hand, introducing themselves, looking me directly in the eye and talking about what was the purpose of the walk-a-thon.
I also know that people need to see me in their schools. I like to be visible to get to know people and let them get to know me. I need to be more than just a name or picture on a website. I know that it is still early in my tenure as Supt (42nd day) and that it takes time to know everyone (we have 2000+ staff), but it is important to me. Sadly, every time I visit a school I cannot visit every staff member, however, over time I hope to have some type of personal interaction with all staff.