21st Century Learning – It’s All About Making Connections

21st Century Learning – It’s All About Making Connections

Director of 21st C Learning – As I sit and observe our first SAIT Dual Credit Management 200 class, with learners from RVS, CBE, and via WebX from Prairie Rose and High Prairie school jurisdictions, I reflect and concur with the SAIT Academic Chair that ‘this isn’t education as we once knew it. It is amazing and humbling to facilitate the experience for high school students to take a post-secondary business course, in a face-to-face as well as distance setting. These participating students are navigating this new course, and key to successful 21C learning in this circumstance is ‘making connections’. In this case, it is students from four RVS high schools engaging with students from a multitude of other schools taking advantage of this post-secondary opportunity delivered in a blended learning format. It is simple to point to this as an example of 21C learning and I think it’s important to consider that it’s also what we do EVERYDAY that is 21C learning.

While we focus education in 2017 on connecting curriculum and competencies such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, cultural and global citizenship, managing information, creativity and innovation and personal growth and well-being, we have not lost sight of the educational foundations of literacy and numeracy. RVS is aligned with Alberta Education’s focus on literacy and numeracy and we are elevating the conversation around these fundamental skills, and how they connect with the identified 21C competencies in our work. As the Director of 21C Learning for the past six months, it has been fascinating for me to observe the intersections of the work that professionals are undertaking in their day-to-day work, preparing students to be successful in their next steps – whether in the realm of school, work, or service to others. Collaboration and connections between professionals in schools and within the Learning Department have expanded understanding and supports for staff and students in all schools; in our own learning, we are extending our understanding of design thinking, planning, and trans-disciplinary work.

One thing has been crystal clear in the learning and teaching in this role – we are ALL learners and regardless of one’s job, whether it is as a student, teacher, support staff, principal, bus driver, secretary, tech assistant, director or caretaker, it is imperative that we take responsibility for shaping our individual growth plans to suit our own learning needs. Being part of a design cohort, participating in a book club, engaging in an online course, attending a conference, collaboratively planning with peers, are all meaningful and worthy learning endeavours. Our learning becomes even more relevant to us when we are authentically engaging in our study – in my own case, learning more about design thinking by taking an online course and then using that to plan sessions with and for others. This has extended my comfort zone and helped to keep me current pedagogically. I relish the opportunity to be a learner and to be able to connect with and assist others in their respective learning journeys.  As professionals in education in 2017, it is certainly exciting times and we can truly say, ‘there is never a dull moment’, as we tackle the dynamic landscape that is ‘school’ where connections between people, pedagogy, and curriculum in our work are made.

Making It Real

Making It Real

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.

Greg

Celebrating Teachers Conventions

Celebrating Teachers Conventions

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!

CTS Remix and Chewing the Fat

CTS Remix and Chewing the Fat

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 (saramartin@rockyview.ab.ca) and we can set up a time to chat!

**Definitely worth a Google if you haven’t heard of that term before 🙂

Health and Safety Matters!

Health and Safety Matters!

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!

Greg

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!