Learning and Sharing with our Neighbours

Learning and Sharing with our Neighbours

Superintendent of Schools – This past week I attended the last of our regional College of School Superintendents (CASS) meetings for the year. CASS’ stated mission is to be “… the voice of system educational leaders, providing leadership, expertise, and advocacy to improve, promote, and champion student success”. It is made up of our senior educators who serve divisional leadership roles. It includes more than just Superintendents, but also Deputy/Associate/Assistant Superintendents and many Directors on the education side of our shop. Our zone includes: mega divisions like Calgary Public, and Calgary Catholic; divisions with similar geography like Foothills; adjourning neighbours like Golden Hills and Canadian Rockies to name a few. As a region, we meet four times a year to discuss topics of common interest.

The ability to sit and talk with others who fulfill a similar role is very important. It does not matter if those conversations involve fellow teachers, fellow administrative professionals, fellow coaches, fellow nurses, fellow parents or any other role specific groups. The ability to share issues and challenges allows for learning to occur for all parties. Hearing someone else’s perspective on an issue helps expand my knowledge – challenges me to revisit my thinking and often spurs new ideas. Often you walk away from such conversations with more options to consider and a few times you are just glad that you are not dealing with their specific challenge.

Working collaboratively makes all of us better. I do not feel we are in competition with our fellow school divisions. We all are here to serve our communities in providing the very best for our youth. We have lots of learn from each other. We do not need to reinvent the wheel time-and-time again. We know our local context and know when we can lift a great idea and implement it exactly as another division, when it could work but with some changes, and when it just will not work in our local environment. When we work together we amplify our individual strengths.

Thanks to my fellow CASS colleagues for sharing and helping me grow.

Greg

Bringing Learning to Life

Bringing Learning to Life

Superintendent of Schools – Recently I’ve been at a number of events where students have shared their learning with members of their community. The excitement is palatable when students are given the opportunity to share their learning. The first few times they present to people walking up to their station the conversation is typically quite scripted, but they start to relax and information starts to flow.

It is very encouraging to chat with students as they talk about what motivated them to tackle their specific topic. Students are provided ‘voice and choice’ to take their learning to places determined by their interests, experiences and passions. At Banded Peak School, grade 7 & 8’s shared very personal reasons about why they took on various projects as part of their Change Makers initiatives. In selecting the topics, you could see how they wanted to be part of a positive change in their world. Some of the changes were specific to their family, others were related to their community and some had changes that were global.

Grade 5 students at Prairie Waters Elementary School spent nine weeks on topics of their own choice where they were asked to bring countless competencies into action. At the exhibition, I even got to take part in a role-playing exercise where we learned about the youth justice system. I was able to channel my inner Law & Order prosecutor as part of the case of the stolen candy. Another young lady shared with me ideas I could do to make a positive contribution in my community. Another student shared information about what she learned about the national fentanyl crisis. There was great turnout from the community and I did notice a few parents beaming when their youngster was explaining information to other adults.

When students are provided an opportunity to dig deep into topics of their own interest, they get to bring key competencies to life. Engagement was clearly high and students received genuine, authentic feedback from the people asking questions at their displays. These nights are just a few examples of how we are making learning real, visible and for everyone in RVS.

Thanks to our many great RVS staff who create these opportunities for students to shine!

Greg

Learning is a Journey

Learning is a Journey

Director of 21C Learning -The theme of ‘Education Week’ this year is ‘Learning is a journey.’  As educators, our own journeys began many years ago, as we entered the formal school system as students.  Little did we know then, how our teachers would motivate, challenge, inspire, surprise, and ultimately educate us to take up the mantle of teaching ourselves.

In my own learning journey, my grade one teacher, Mrs. Thain, towered over us, as she inducted our rambunctious class into the expectations of curriculum, socialization, organization and civility as we donned the learners’ role.  In grade six, it was Miss Bilyk, the brand new, hip homeroom teacher whose passion for her learners and learning compelled us to work hard, enjoy reading, get creative and have fun.  Somehow she channeled our boundless energy into meaningful learning experiences that enthralled us. Mrs. Nelson, in grade nine, treated us like the young adults we were so excited to become, engaging us in the civic and provincial election process through current events, making connections between our school and our world.  In grade twelve, whether it was Mr. Rakoz exploring reproductive systems in biology, Mr. Prodaniuk waxing philosophically about ‘Death of a Salesman’ in English or Mr. Seward outlining the merits of various economic and political systems in Social Studies, our teachers were doing their best to shepherd us out of the ‘system’ as well-prepared, soon-to-be, new graduates. That seems an eternity ago, and yet, the enthusiasm, expertise and passion of those teachers ‘back in the day’ holds sway with myself and fellow educators today.

And it wasn’t only those teachers…As a student, I did not fully appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ work that our school administration also did to support our learning.  It is not surprising how, over time, perspective evolves during one’s own educational journey.  Over the past two weeks in particular, I have been incredibly humbled and inspired by my administrative colleagues – the school based principals and assistant principals who are the lead learners in Rocky View schools.  Their dedication and commitment to learning, learners, the community and the greater good, is remarkable.  As role models, their fidelity to their own learning remains paramount at this time of year, when they simultaneously inhabit the present while preparing and planning for the future, 2017-2018 school year.  Despite their unbelievably busy schedules, they prioritize time for after school Book Clubs, graduate courses, webinars and online learning among other activities.  They continue to support staff and students in their respective learning journeys, celebrating their achievements and bolstering their supports as the learning gets deeper and more demanding.  As lead learners, they are also exceptionally generous with their own ‘best practices’. I have witnessed extraordinary generosity of ideas in multiple contexts, from elementary to high school teams across the jurisdiction. Our RVS administrators orchestrate rich learning for not only their students, but also their staff as they observe and demonstrate, “We are all learners.”

It was Henry Adams who once said, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.”  During Education Week, as we reflect on our own ‘Learning Journeys’ we can thank a teacher or an administrator, for provoking and stimulating our learners’ minds. It is with prodigious gratitude, that I thank those teachers who helped me along my educational path to becoming a teacher.  It is with equal respect, admiration and appreciation, that I work alongside our RVS teacher and administrative colleagues as they continue to illuminate the path of the learning journeys of our students and staff. We will delight in today’s students being motivated, inspired and challenged by their teachers and leaders, as they navigate and enjoy the ‘open road’ of learning.

The RJ Hawkey KINDergarten Kindness Ninjas!

The RJ Hawkey KINDergarten Kindness Ninjas!

Allie Apels and Kayla Williamson, RJ Hawkey Teachers – What are KINDergarten Kindness Ninjas? A group of spirited young learners, who have embarked on a journey to spread kindness to each other, their school, their community, and the World.

Our goal in the fall was to create a year-long project that helped our students adapt to classroom expectations and develop appropriate social and emotional skills. We found ourselves inspired by Tim McGraw’s song, Humble and Kind. We loved the simplicity of its lyrics and it’s powerful message. It was through this song that The Kindness Project was born and thus came the Kindness Ninjas. With our red headbands and covert training, we set off on our mission to Change the World with Kindness!

Some of our activities have included: Random Acts of Christmas Kindness(RACKS), making Christmas cards for the homeless in Calgary, participating in Alia’s Rainbow Rock Project, paying it forward on #spreadthelove day, publishing “A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Kindness Ninja”, adopting a Panda through the World Wildlife Foundation, making treat bags for the puppies at the Cochrane Humane Society and handcrafting bars of soap to be delivered to a village in Nepal. Currently, we’re fundraising for the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary; donate here www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/kindergarten-kindness-ninjas-mission-to-raise-mone/

We invited Kindness Experts in our community, and from around the world, to come speak or Skype with us. We were fortunate to have connected with the following: Airdrie Project Linus, Stephen’s Backpack, Soap for Hope, Lamb’s Soapworks, Airdrie Angels, Jaime Lawrence, Leon Logothetis the host of the Kindness Diaries, and Grammy and ACM award winning singer-songwriter Lori Mckenna. We’ve had many unique conversations and experiences; many we wouldn’t typically have in Kindergarten.

We’ve been documenting our journey on Twitter and, in turn, have inspired other teachers and classes to become Kindness Ninjas. Our students created 30+ Kindness Ninja Kits and have not only sent them out to our new friends within RVS, but also to Brazil, Scotland, England, Croatia, USA, Kenya, Nigeria, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, England, Hawaii, Nepal, Haiti, The Congo, and Dubai! Our Kindness Ninja Movement is making its way around the globe!

As teachers, we’ve been surprised by the profound impact this project has had on our personal and professional lives. It’s been so fulfilling and inspiring to watch our students develop a sense of belonging and a true identity as Kindness Ninjas. We’ve met so many remarkable individuals, who have amazed us with their generosity. Most of all, we have discovered that you’re never too young, or too old, to become a Kindness Ninja!

Please find us on Twitter @RJ_Kindergarten!

Allie Apels and Kayla Williamson
R.J. Hawkey School

The Joys of Yardwork

The Joys of Yardwork

Superintendent of Schools – Like many of our RVS team, I spent some time away from work last week during RVS’ spring break. After spending a few days back in Saskatchewan celebrating a family milestone, we loaded up the van and returned home. I spent the good part of the next four days in the backyard landscaping. I have no green thumb, but shoveling, pushing the wheelbarrow, and installing edging is right up my alley. The immediate feedback of moving four cubic yards of garden mix from the front driveway to various beds in the backyard works for me. Like many challenges, at the beginning I thought we’d never get that all moved. Wheelbarrow full after wheelbarrow full and the pile was not changing. Suddenly I noticed the pile looked a bit smaller. A few loads later, it was smaller yet. A couple of loads later we were scraping the driveway to fill the last load. Wow, mission accomplished.

The next day it was three cubic yards of wood chips. The race was on. How fast can we move those light wood chips? 40 minutes – start to finish and that project was complete. We had time to tackle other pieces of the yard. The next day included three cubic yards of rock on the driveway. So much for another 40-minute job. The weight of the rock combined with my 15-year-old being at an umpiring clinic meant we labored away for 4 hours. Nevertheless, at the end of that day, all the major landscaping groundwork was complete. Now we are ready for the fun bits of planting trees, shrubs, and flowers.

By now you must be wondering, what is Greg writing about all this for? I guess my work is normally focused on the long game: next year’s budget; long-term student achievement growth; multi-year plans; and, creating the conditions for our staff to be successful. Looking back, this project was still about creating the conditions for future plantings to grow (which is not far off from my usual job). It was nice to tackle some tasks that had a defined start and end. I knew the tasks were complete when the piles were moved. I knew I was successful when the yard looked like what we drew up on our garden plan.

Sometimes it is just nice to have a sense of accomplishment with tangible results you can see from your deck!

Greg