Superintendent of Schools – Last week I continued my formal tours with visits to our schools in Beiseker, Crossfield and our three colony schools. It was my first time at our colony schools (Fairview Colony School, Tschetter Colony School, and West Haven Colony School). I was unsure of what to truly expect, but knew they were essentially one room school houses. These visits ended up being one of the highlights of my tours so far.
My thoughts about what the colony schools might look like were shaped by my mom’s stories about her time attending a one-room schoolhouse in rural Saskatchewan
and my memories of the movie adaptation of W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind. Each school is on the site of a colony and each is somewhat unique with many similarities. There is one teacher, an assistant, and 10-18 students in one large room spanning Kindergarten to grade 10 at each school. There are breakout spaces for when the students are grouped into age groups to work on age-specific tasks. Once the garden is harvested in the fall, students 6 and over will learn German before their regular school day.
The kids were very friendly and we chatted about Thanksgiving, fall harvest celebrations, brothers and sisters. We laughed and discussed their favourite subjects as well.
The staff were incredibly warm and welcoming. They truly know their students and are called upon to teach all the grades and subjects. A pretty amazing task given the times. Thanks for the great visit and tour. I am looking forward to another visit.
RVS Teacher, Banded Peak School – “Wow… it feels like a business meeting is going on in here!” Our music teacher unknowingly provided the greatest compliment my students could have received last spring on an impromptu visit to our class. Her remark was greeted by cheers and smiles, but also a quick return to writing and discussions of projects and deadlines. This late-May morning in our classroom (and the surrounding hallways) featured one group of students filming a webcast they had scripted, two others interviewing our assistant principal for a magazine article, another group story-boarding their graphic novel, one writing a play to be recorded as a podcast, and others coding and writing the marketing materials for games that they would upload onto our blog, which was being designed built by yet another small team of students. Spring 2016 in 5/6B at Banded Peak School was filled with many mornings like these; working to write, script, portray, upload and publish the products that were to be displayed at the official launch of our classroom-based companies, Student Spark Media and PineCo Publishing.
The long road to Student Spark originated with a “Communication Portfolio” project in my Language Arts classroom. My vision was for the portfolios to be filled with real-life opportunities where writing, spelling/grammar, organizing and editing skills were important and worth practicing. I started by introducing different communication challenges to my class every two to three weeks, having them work through drafts towards final copies that would be put to real use. Term one’s assignments started with letter writing using the “Great Canadian Mail Race,” which was followed-up by learning how to write proper emails and choosing a professional out in the working world to contact – the goal in each assignment being to write effectively enough to receive a reply (indeed, some students did receive replies from a whole variety of other writers: from fellow students in different provinces to professional authors, the head chef at Hotel Arts, even an Olympic Medallist). In hindsight, these projects turned out to be what I now consider realistic practice, valuable for developing skill, but something short of truly real work. I choose the term realistic rather than real because as I reflect now, I see that I remained at the core of each project as creator and evaluator. It was as I began to implement my term two project in the communication portfolio that I stumbled out of realistic work and into an opportunity for something far deeper.
Ironically, the Great Canadian Mail Race was a featured article in the “Summit Speaks Magazine” that was released in June by PineCo Publishing.
The path to that “business meeting” and the end of the year launch featuring 13 unique media products stretches way back to the beginning of March, when my students (without my knowledge) took responsibility for making their learning real. I had just introduced the term two communication portfolio assignment, a letter to the editor. It was a few days after filling my classroom with local newspapers, placed there for my students to find an issue to care about and read some examples of letters written by other caring community members, that I overheard a conversation about scheduling a google hangout for a group chat after school. I was also asked if I would loan out some clipboards and iPads to a small group at recess time. Understandably, I was a little worried, but I quickly discovered that two competing (but friendly) newspaper businesses had sprung up among my students. Kids were signing up fast to work at the “Grizzly Growler” or “Redwood ‘Round the Clock.” Negotiations had even been completed to ensure that the Growler would focus on school news while ‘Round the Clock covered events in the community. This effort was pretty impressive and at first I didn’t know exactly what to do. After a little more effort by me to try to push the letter to the editor assignment forward, I gave in… I mean, jumped in and opened the door for my whole class on this real work.
A summary of the first few classes where we worked together to re-define the Communication Portfolio – this was the groundwork for what would become Student Spark and PineCo
After cancelling the letter to the editor assignment, we spent a few classes as a full group re-defining the Communication Portfolio around the student-run newspaper ideas. I introduced the definition of “media” as well a current events story about layoffs and re-organization at Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher. The entire class was on-board with the big idea of building a company and creating media products, but they were not all keen to become newspaper writers. The “Growler” and “’Round the Clock” were put on hold until every student could put some time into a proposal about how they could best spend their time working in the media. As my students set to work on their proposals, I imposed four working conditions:
- our company would be non-profit;
- every member of the class (myself included) would be equal employees of the company;
- decisions would be made through Direct Democracy (every employee would have an opportunity to have input); and
- decisions would require consensus to move forward (this was particularly interesting when it came time to decide on our name… long story short, we learned how compromise which is also a key part of consensus).
The first round of direct democracy was required after the student proposals came in. We needed to narrow the number of projects and then divide and conquer. Giving every student a one minute opportunity to comment on all of the proposed projects, whether or not they personally wanted to work on them, was a unique opportunity in learning about having an equal say. Thankfully, common interests and complementary skill sets emerged and a plan started to become clear. In all honesty though, there was a good amount of time spent experiencing how long decision making can take and how frustrating it can sometimes be when every voice is truly equal. My role evolved into finding the balance between moderating the strongest voices and encouraging the quieter ones. After eventually splitting into groups, students created their own timelines for each media project. These timelines were posted in what had become the head office of our company, and the work started.
After the initial investment in discussion and decision-making, concepts like the process of breaking down the creation of a webcast into scripting, rehearsal and filming were easy to teach. Other than occasional reminders and quality control checks, the students didn’t really need me for staying organized. The greatest challenge was simply finding enough time for the students to get the work done within the confines of our school schedule. Reflections from many students at the end of the year echoed this:
Nonetheless, the Student Spark web-based projects and PineCo printed products all took flight. For the first time in my teaching career, I honestly experienced a near total transfer of autonomy from teacher to students. A great example of this is in the variety of technologies that were used and learned by the different groups in the class. My comic novel workers, for instance, approached me with a request to use Pixton, an online comic creator, with the first chapter of their novel already complete in a trial version. With the students so invested in their work, I was able to spend time with groups and individuals developing standards for the level of quality we hoped to achieve as a team. I tried to provide exemplars of media similar to each project where I was familiar with them. For example, one student showed a lot of interest in developing short “sports tips” webcasts. After showing him a few clips of “Body Break,” he spent an entire weekend developing two segments of his own. He and I were able to collaboratively present to the rest of the class, focusing on the level of professionalism we wanted to see in all projects. The student showed a Body Break example followed by his clips, while I shared a “Pontiac World of Skiing Performance Tip” and my own video “sports tip” that I had been inspired to add to the project.
Other projects delved into areas where I had no expertise or exemplars that came easily to mind. However, the students easily took up the challenge in these cases. The Student Spark creators of “Who’s Got Dance: Teachers versus Students,” independently started their work by researching current dance contest television shows and developing a template to write their own episodes. As well, a group of students passionate in gaming and coding took their lead from a business simulator video game that had been introduced to the class through the Junior Achievement program, creating and marketing games of their own using Hopscotch and Scratch, and publishing in WordPress. In these and all of the projects, the tasks of editing and quality control were truly accepted as responsibilities in and among the groups in the class.
As we neared the end of the year, I invited a few experts in the media business to meet with my students to reinforce what “professional level” truly means. Mr. Mark Kamachi the owner of marketing and media company AdMaki, graciously spent an afternoon helping us to start on designing our logo as well as providing input on presentation and branding to each group as they put the finishing touches on their products. Likewise, Ms. Joan Kollewyn, an RVS learning specialist in technology dedicated time to our webcast and podcast groups around achieving a consistent look and feel. These opportunities provided the last bit of motivation needed to get the work to the finish line, which was our culminating launch party.
I was so immensely proud to invite Mr. Kamachi, Ms. Kollewyn as well as all of the parents and family of the Student Spark and PineCo employees to a celebration of learning in our classroom at the end of June. Each and every student stood up, introduced their projects and shared their reflections on the process of working in the media. They shared both challenges and successes honestly. For instance, the publishers of Summit Speaks Magazine acknowledged that their original goal of producing two issues turned out to be unrealistic, and they mentioned the technological hurdles that they had to overcome, “out of the blue, random pictures would be inserted and work would get deleted.” Their pride in their work however was undeniable: “we have learned many things that could help us with a future edition… and we finished a great magazine!” All of the work was unveiled in print, video, on iPad and over the airwaves. It has all been showcased on my classroom blog, which was turned over to my students as editors: www.student-spark.ca – please visit to see and celebrate the work.
As we are a combined grade school, Student Spark and PineCo will continue in 2016-17; this year’s grade 6 leaders have just welcomed their new colleagues in grade 5. As we start to uncover areas of passion and interest, and move towards new ventures, we will also connect with our mentor grade 7’s, now experienced media creators and distributors. Keep an eye on www.student-spark.ca to see what will be next!
Greetings from the Learning Department’s 21C team! Not sure who that is or what we do? Check out our introductory article, and then join us back here for an update.
Trailblazers investigate iconic Alberta images at The Stockman’s Museum.
If you follow #rvsed or #rvs21c on Twitter, you’re probably well aware that we’ve been doing some fun, out-of-school things with a number of RVS teachers these past couple of weeks. On those days we do tend to get a little excited and spam the Twitter account with updates and retweets of the work everyone is doing. We apologize to anyone whose #rvsed Tweet got buried in a stream of 21C exuberance.
It’s just that it’s difficult for us to control ourselves when we see and hear enthusiastic teachers diving into an interesting inquiry and creating excellent finished products in spite of some heavy time pressures. We believe one of the hallmarks of good instructional design is understanding it first from the inside – as the learner. Accordingly, a consistent feature of all the design cohorts is that teachers first act as learners and actually work through a designed exercise where they must explore an inquiry topic and use newly acquired tools or skills to create a product of significance.
In our Trailblazers Cohort, teachers inquired about the natural and man-made iconic symbols of Alberta at Cochrane Ranche, and exhibited their learning in a narrated SoundScape. They then put their new photography and graphic editing skills to use, creating icons of Alberta to be submitted to The Noun Project – an international effort to create a visual language.
Canada 150 teachers inquire about the identity of historical artifacts.
Our Canada 150 Cohort explored what we can infer about Canadian identity by examining the artifacts we curate, like the ones they explored at the Glenbow Museum. They went on to compose photographic pieces of art to accompany artist statements they made about their findings.
Lastly, our Architecture Challenge teachers took on the role of Professional Planners at the U of C, as they uncovered the ways in which public space serves our communities. After an inspiring tour of the Faculty of Environmental Design, including conversations with a Professional Planner, they began to plan scaled architectural models that will accompany infographics highlighting their findings.
Teachers pool the knowledge about public spaces for their Architecture Challenge.
You may notice that in each of these projects, teachers are asked to acquire and share knowledge (Inquiry), to create something that meaningfully displays their learning (Project), and to showcase this in a way that is authentic to the discipline they are exploring (Exhibition). These three phases are the key elements of our own instructional design process and what we believe can make for powerful design for student learning as well.
The part that we sometimes fret about is making teachers speed through all of those phases in a single day. In truth, the most important part of the design cohorts is when teachers design for their own students. While we believe the teacher projects have authenticity, the real value is in seeing the process from the inside and getting to use different tools and protocols that lend themselves to collaboration and creativity. In a future blog post, we’ll look at how these first days later translate into exciting student projects.
Our Visual Instructional Design Framework.
Thanks for reading! Janelle (@Janelle3904), Dan (@DMcWilliam), Jason (@JasonTeaching), & Sara (@mrssaramartin)
Mapping the direction for instruction and assessment in Rocky View Schools
Literacy Team – We are proud that after two years in development and consultation with RVS educators and provincial collaborators, the RVS K-12 Literacy Numeracy Framework version 1.0 is here! This is a powerful tool that is easily accessible and is full of resources that can be used within the classroom immediately. This framework provides a comprehensive, focused, and intentional system-wide approach to literacy and numeracy development, as well as a common set of essential conditions for implementation. The RVS K-12 Literacy and Numeracy Framework will support and guide schools as they work to achieve high standards of literacy and numeracy teaching and learning.
With this being the first version of the framework, subsequent versions will further define and enhance literacy and numeracy at all school levels. We are working with a Middle/High School Literacy Task Group and a K-4 Literacy and Numeracy committees to continue development of the framework. The focus for implementation for 2016/17 is on K-4 division wide literacy practices, resources and assessment. We’ve only just begun!
Through RVS’ ongoing commitment to the professional learning of our educators, we will develop the professional capacity to support the framework and the literacy and numeracy development of all students in our classrooms. The RVS Literacy Team is excited and eager to provide support to schools as we work together to ensure that all learners are successful, engaged, and supported.
We know this living document will evolve through collaborations, consultations and celebrations with RVS educators and we welcome your feedback in order to improve this vital building block moving forward in our literacy and numeracy journey.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at our Administrative Leadership Program (ALP) kick-off event for the year. This is our ALP-3 group, which consists of 18 new RVS Assistant Principals. Shortly I’ll be meeting and chatting with our ALP-1 and ALP-2 cohorts. Our ALP is broken into three groups – group one and two consist of RVS teachers who aspire to be in formal leadership positions. Group three is for beginning administrators. It is great to be in a division, which is actively developing their leadership team with a program such as ALP.
My part for the morning was to bring greetings and share a bit about my thoughts on leadership. These are new AP’s who generally are finishing their first month in the formal role of Assistant Principal. The timing is good because the reality of what being a school based administrator was settling in. A month ago the conversation may have been a bit more theoretical, but now they are living the role and dealing with the practical realities of being a new administrator. The first month has challenged them to be educational leaders, while helping to manage a school and the endless administrative requirements of public education.
I was able to share with them a few thoughts, tips, and experiences I’ve had along my own journey that have impacted my leadership style. Some of the themes I shared with the group:
• It’s critical important to show people you care.
• What you do, not what you say, tells your story.
• It is okay to show vulnerability and ask for help.
• Always take a team approach.
• Build trust among your colleagues.
• Seek first to understand then to be understood.
• Reflection is important.
• Begin with the end in mind.
• It can be lonely.
• It’s important to ask yourself, if no one is following, are you really leading?
• Stay plugged in.
• Find your voice.
Manny Ferreirinha, Sharon Rhodes, Ira Stroh, Murray Besenski, Pam Davidson, Jim Forrest and Penny Beaudry also shared their thoughts on leadership, building school cultures, and instilling instructional leadership. It was an enjoyable morning together and I look forward to meeting with the ALP 1 & 2 cohorts in the upcoming weeks.
P.S. Full disclosure – I’ve never been a school-based administrator but know their work quite well though supporting them for 15+ years in various divisional roles.