Superintendent of Schools – Our Four-Year Plan (4YP) has three key goals – learners are engaged, supported, and successful. Another means we use to describe the key work of RVS is making learning visible, real, and for everyone. One only needs to watch the #rvsed Twitter hashtag to see daily examples of how schools and staff create amazing learning opportunities for our students. In any given day, you will see teachers creating learning opportunities bringing those three concepts to life.
Last week I was at an event at Banded Peak School where students were given a place conscious challenge – utilization and beautification of a piece of land in the town area. In parallel, the community has created a committee looking at the space and trying to decide what to do with it. The students were challenged to design a functional space that would become a community asset. Students surveyed members of the community to see what people wanted. They asked about overall concept, preferred materials, activities that could take place in the space, and learned about lighting concerns, strategies to make the space low maintenance, and many other ideas. Students also met with local experts to gain further information. Students toured the site. Ultimately, students produced a scaled drawing, key information panels, and a model of the park. I was among a number of adults who walked through the student stations and had students explain the details of their designs. It was a great opportunity for making their learning visible.
Often we get caught up in the final product of the learning activity, but it is the process that is truly important. In gathering the information and ultimately explaining their learning to a stranger, students had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of our 21C competencies. I asked students tough questions about their design and I am pleased to say they could answer the question or at least recognize the issue as a challenge in their design. The kids were invested in the activity because it was engaging and real. They walk or ride by the land in question and want to contribute to a solution to make it better. They were given an authentic problem and access to real world experts and resources. This was not open the textbook, read a chapter, and answer 1,2,4 and 7. Kids toured the site, learned the nuances of the land, looked at a solution from multiple perspectives, and had to handle competing priorities and diverse opinions. It was real and they made their learning visible.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a common occurrence in RVS. I saw on Twitter the previous week about grade 3 Sarah Thompson School students designing and building models/blueprints for ways to address opportunities and challenges in the hamlet of Langdon. They shared their ideas and presented to the local county Policy and Priorities committee. I cannot list all the examples so just watch #rvsed to see some of the amazing ways our staff are making it real.
RVS Principal, Ralph McCall School – As Program Chair for this month’s Palliser District Teachers’ Convention, I was sharing at a recent School Council meeting about some of the exciting Professional Learning opportunities teachers would be participating in. Our trustee was especially interested and commented that the Board of Trustees often hear about jurisdictional and in-school professional learning events, as well as participate in their own educational conferences, but know little about teachers’ conventions. While teachers’ conventions are “closed to the public” events, they needn’t be shrouded in mystery. In fact, they have evolved to become outstanding professional learning events, the details of which ought to be celebrated.
Teachers’ conventions began in the 1890s as a Department of Education event so that school inspectors and superintendents could meet annually in the fall with teachers at one school in each community. Over the next several decades they moved from individual school sites, to hotels to large conference centres. They further evolved from initially being a venue for inspectors to “correct” individuals’ teaching, to being mostly an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) platform for sharing business, finally moving to the rich, two-day conference style event, complete with a plethora of sessions across all curricular areas that they are today.
The Palliser District Teachers’ Convention Association (PDTCA) sees delegates from nine ATA locals participate together. Geographically, the district covers most of rural and “rur-ban” southern Alberta (with the exception of Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat). With over 4000 PDTCA delegates in attendance, Rocky View teachers make up about 30% of this cohort. This year, we are proud to welcome three world-class keynote speakers to open our event: Mr. Mark Tewskbury, Dr. Temple Grandin and Mr. George Couros. Further to these speakers, our program is offering over two hundred other sessions, mostly at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Regency. Sessional topics – many of them presented by local speakers – range from best practices in Literacy and Numeracy across all grade levels, to Coding, Robotics and Maker Spaces. Teachers can create hands-on visual art or musical pieces, enrich outdoor and environmental education programs, become better informed about the rising mental health needs of youth, improve second language and immersion instruction, participate in woodworking and culinary arts demos, hone content in religious studies, develop mastery in using Google Apps or scientific tools and more. So much more.
It is all accomplished, in Palliser, by a Board of volunteers who give up multiple evenings and weekends to plan an amazing event for colleagues. Further, these colleagues are receiving this professional learning gift through the contribution of $103 of their annual ATA dues. Where else could one participate in a two-day, world-class caliber event, put on by volunteers and at a cost of only one hundred dollars?! As I opened with, the details are to be celebrated!
So this year, on February 23 and 24 when the students are enjoying the end of their February break, please think of their teachers and the work we are participating in to make classrooms dynamic and engaging, yet still inclusive and achievement-oriented places. Yes, we ARE reuniting with former colleagues and networking with future new ones over coffee and lunch, but teachers’ conventions are NOT “paid days off”. We have our sleeves rolled up, our heads are down, and our minds are being challenged, inspired and re-energized. The teachers in Rocky View and the rest of the Palliser District are coming together to make schools the best they can be. We thank you for supporting these two days of professional learning…. and all the work we do!
Learning Specialist – CTS Teachers from across Rocky View came together to collaborate, create and ideate on designing CTS projects to include core subjects and that also would meet the needs of the students and school. We started the day being inspired by the staff and students of Building Futures in Airdrie. The teacher participants were blown away by the professionalism of the Building Futures students. The students introduced themselves, shook hands with teachers and talked about about the benefits of their program, why they enrolled, and how it was changing their outlook on school.
Then we made our way to the shop at W.H. Croxford. Teachers had time to talk to each other about projects they have done and what they were interested in doing in the future. One key thing that has struck me over and over again this year, is how much we crave time to talk to other professionals about our practice and projects. Rarely are we given time for a tête-à-tête about what is going on in our classes. Professional Learning days and staff meetings often have tight agendas with a lot of bullets to get through, leaving no time just to chat. Shooting the breeze shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time! Build it into your agenda by using speed dating or critical friends protocols that are structured to allow for talk. It can be so helpful to have someone to share your ideas with, brainstorm ways around barriers, and #humblebrag** about the amazing things your school does. The feedback left by teachers and administration following PL sessions led by the 21C team this year, reflects this. The opportunity to hear what other schools are doing is valued and powerful.
Teachers at the CTS Remix day were then faced with a challenge: “How would you redesign a shipping container to meet the needs of your school and/or community?” Teachers partnered up and created incredible designs! A biodiesel plant, a makerspace powered by green energy and a Transformer-inspired container that would expand to allow for multiple uses and then contract back to an innocuous-looking shipping container are just a few of the thoughtful designs that came out of that exercise. From there, teachers had time to consider how they could redesign what they were doing in CTS classes. With creative juices flowing, teachers arrived at inspired and inventive projects that included repurposing an existing school space into a makerspace, redesigning a tent trailer into a mobile showcase for student art work, and rethinking the entire grade 10 curriculum to create a more personalized learning experience.
It was a fantastic day and our thanks go out to all who participated. If you have an idea that needs some help getting off the ground, send me an email (email@example.com) and we can set up a time to chat!
**Definitely worth a Google if you haven’t heard of that term before 🙂
Superintendent of Schools – This past week was dominated with water main leaks impacting our schools, staff and students. I continue to learn every week in my role and I know a lot more about water mains after this week! It served as another reminder of how often we take for granted so many services that impact our health and safety. Ensuring and maintaining the safety of our staff and students is a constant priority across RVS.
All RVS staff have a part in ensuring the safety of our sites – not just for kids but for the adults too. We all play an important role in identifying potential hazards, reporting those hazards and “near misses” to our supervisor, correcting issues before someone gets hurt, and learning from incidents and near misses through reviewing and sharing the findings. All staff take important and mandatory health and safety online training while others take specialized training in a wide variety of topics specific to their roles within the organization.
In late November and December RVS had an external auditor in to complete an occupational health and safety audit. The audit identified many of the good things going on in RVS but also identified some challenges for us. If you want to learn more about our health and safety program you can read Administrative Procedure AP411 – Occupational Health and Safety and/or the Employee Health and Safety section of our website. Over the upcoming months staff will see a more visible focus on health and safety.
The Board is committed to health and safety and in the fall approved the addition of a dedicated health and safety specialist for the division. The Board also recently approved a lengthy list of maintenance projects across RVS for 2016/17. The top priority items are those that impact health and safety. Again, this is the demonstration of putting our money where our mouth is when we say health and safety matters!
P.S. While on the topic of water main breaks, I do want to recognize the amazing efforts of countless staff in those impacted schools. Your efforts to ensure the safety while still keeping the school open for learning is much appreciated. To our maintenance crews who demonstrated their commitment and dedication – I cannot thank you enough!
RVS Learning Specialist – Another common theme that we hear about on site visits is the emphasis on relationships. Each school we toured had a different, yet effective way to connect their students, staff, and community. Crescent Heights High School in Medicine Hat has recently started on their High School Redesign journey. Their initial focus has been on building relationships with students and staff and encouraging the pursuit of their passions. Forty minutes each day is set aside for a flex/advisory block that they call “CHAT.” During CHAT, academic, social, and emotional supports are provided. Each student has the chance to connect with an adult in the building, who, along with the supportive peer group, stays as their CHAT connection throughout their time at CHH. One Friday a month they have a day they call “Spark Day.” On this day, during CHAT, students can explore a topic or learn a skill of their choice. Sessions offered range widely, including sports, music, cooking, knitting, computer programing, jellyfish, and many more. The offerings are based on the passions of the staff and the students, and they change regularly. Many schools are experimenting with advisories so it was extremely enlightening to talk to a school about what has been working well and where they are going from here.
In Bassano School, relationships are key. With a high population of students from the Siksika Nation, the school has worked hard to foster relationships within the First Nations community to ensure the success of all students. It is one of very few schools in Alberta that can report no significant achievement differences between their FMNI and non-status students. First Nation students are just as likely to graduate from Bassano as any other student in the school. One of the many ways they have engaged their community is by bringing one of their Parent Teacher Interview nights in to the Siksika community. This demonstration of the school’s commitment to community has lead to substantially higher attendance at these meetings and broader parent involvement in the school.
Bassano School is more than just a building where teaching happens; it is a central hub of the community – a place where kids want to be and where community involvement is high. In their multimedia classes, equipped with green screen and professional lighting, students produce high quality newscasts and advertisements for local businesses and sports teams. The school also has a Human Patient Simulator where students work with nurses from the nearby hospital to check vitals, diagnose, and treat patients with all the authenticity of a medical training facility.
These site visits have all been eye opening. There has been something to learn from each person we’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and each place we’ve been able to explore. Although touring other schools is a great experience, powerful insights don’t necessarily require a road trip. Within every school there are opportunities to discover and stories worthy of hearing. A great first site visit can often be a visit with someone just down the hall or on the other side of your building. Often a powerful professional learning experience can come from simply observing a colleague teach, or being observed by a colleague, and then having a conversation about it. The beauty of being an educator is that we are surrounded by people to collaborate with, to learn from, and who share our goal of wanting to do what’s best for students.
Then again, sometimes it’s tremendously valuable to see other contexts in order to better understand your own. Do you have an initiative you’d like to see in action, or a concept that you’d like to explore remotely? Contact our team to discuss a possible site visit to support that goal.
Seeing really is believing!