Superintendent of Schools – During difficult times, often we get to see the very best in people. In the past few weeks I’ve seen a number of RVS family members hit with incredibly difficult circumstances. In each case, I saw other RVS family members step up to lead efforts to try and help those impacted families. These are the moments that make me especially proud to be part of the RVS team.
RVS staff, by the nature of our sector, enjoy serving others. We serve our communities, local families and our students. So many staff volunteer their time in countless ways to make a positive difference. It is part of the culture of our schools and of RVS.
Given our work, it is easy to be proud of the work we do. We are not perfect, but our work is noble and makes a difference in the lives of many. Every RVS team member contributes and it is through those varied contributions that we make a difference. With no disrespect to other professionals, we are not about a corporate bottom line, not about stock market value, not about productivity ratios, not about quarterly sales. You only have to spend one day in a school or watch the #rvsed hashtag for one day on Twitter to get a flavour of the difference we make each and every day.
When fellow RVS team members are in need, we step up to the plate. When a student needs some winter boots, our staff reach out to help make it happen. When a tragedy happens in a community, we join in to be part of the healing and help others. People pitch in, dig deep and give of themselves. It is incredibly moving to see and be part of.
Now we are not alone in these efforts. We have so many amazing partners, organizations and individuals that we collaborate with to help others. We have many corporate and non-profit partners who help us feed kids daily. Other partners help create learning opportunities that we could never offer on our own. Countless unsung heroes volunteer in our schools on a daily basis to help. We amplify each other’s efforts to make a larger impact in our communities. For all of this, we are thankful for your assistance.
So, while turkey and pumpkin pie are distant memories, I am thankful and grateful for our RVS staff who give so much of themselves to make a difference. I am very proud to say I am part of the RVS family.
Students Hold Local Candidates to Task in All Candidates Forum
Amrit Rai Nannan and Anna Jensdottir, Meadowbrook School and Heloise Lorimer School Teachers – What better opportunity to get students interested in our democratic process than to let them grill local candidates? On October 11th, that’s precisely what grade six students from Heloise Lorimer and Meadowbrook Schools in Airdrie were invited to do. As teachers, we saw an incredible teaching opportunity, so we organized our very own political forum so that students would have the opportunity to interact directly with Airdrie’s political candidates and more importantly get their questions answered face to face.
We started off hoping to get one or two mayoral candidates and a few councillor candidates out. If we were lucky, the school trustees would be willing to join as well. CIVIX (a non partisan organization whose goal is to create civically engaged future voters) pitched in to provide our schools with the Student Votes Program. Scouring the internet we were able to scrape together contact information. The overwhelming response we received from the candidates was beyond what we imagined – three mayoral candidates, 13 councillor candidates and four school trustees. Excited talk about who was coming started to dominate the classroom discussion and students even started reaching out to candidates on their own. At this point we knew the students had taken ownership of their learning and we had succeeded in our goal of engaging the students in the electoral process.
Frequently, adults and students see candidates as foreign beings that are not approachable. We wanted to break down these walls and show students that the political process is accessible and relevant to them too. We have found that students feel that their voice is not heard because it cannot be translated into a vote on election day. This leaves them feeling alienated and frequently apathetic. After being involved in this spectacular day, students have gained a new appreciation for the power of civic engagement. Our students have been out and about in the community, discussing the issues with their parents and their aspiring representatives. Not only have they actively shown their own influence in our city, but they’ve also gained experiences that will follow them as they grow into our next generation of responsible voters.
The old adage says that “it takes a village,” and for us, it was a proud moment to see the whole village show up for our students.
View the Student Votes results for Airdrie here.
Learning Design Specialist – A couple of weeks ago, the Learning Design Team and the École Edwards Administration Team visited Ted Talk guru, Gever Tulley, at Brightworks School in order to understand his philosophy and to help inspire the Maker Space Movement at Edwards.
A self-taught software engineer, Tulley created a summer program called Tinkering School in 2005. The Tinkering School’s program provides children with a week-long overnight experience at a ranch outside of San Francisco. Participants are engaged in large projects, like designing a working roller coaster, constructing a rope bridge made out of plastic bags, or furnishing a three-story tree house. In 2011, Tulley opened Brightworks School, bringing the Tinkering School approach to a formal education setting, thus allowing students to learn through hands-on inquiry, facilitated by teachers, each and every day. Tulley explained that his school can best be described as, “lifelong play based kindergarten combined with the inspiration and questioning of graduate school.”
Brightworks develops their phenomenological approach to learning through “Arcs of Learning.” Every arc is divided into three phases of study: exploration (discover and explore deeply), expression (create meaningful representations of learning) and exposition (showcase and exhibit creations to authentic audiences).
The students at Brightworks are grouped into 10 bands based on maturity level (not age), each focusing on the same thematic arcs. This year’s arcs are: coins, fabrics and cities. Classes have an interdisciplinary focus and make use of community partners, experts and field trips whenever possible. With all students exploring the same arcs, collaboration between bands and ages is natural, and students serve as inspiration to one another.
The use of phenomenological arcs is based on the neuroscientific notion that everything in the brain is connected, and that learning is ultimately about creating connections and relationships between a variety of ideas and concepts. The arcs allow teachers to first explore the topic with their band through what Tulley calls, “facipulation” (facilitated manipulation) that guides students toward understanding the outcomes that teachers identify prior to learning, as well as co-learning along with the students. After exploration, students move into expression, where they participate in workshops to identify, design, and prototype ways to express their learning. Developing empathy and social understanding is also an important part of this phase. Finally, Brightworks hosts a one-week exhibition, during which families and community members are invited to view the work completed during the arc, and where students reflect on their experiences.
One of our insights from this visit was the notion that teachers should be co-learners alongside their students. Tulley mentioned that he started Tinkering School and Brightworks because he felt that kids were being educated primarily to be consumers, and not creators or manipulators of the environments they live in. By allowing students to express their understanding in ways that are meaningful to each individual, by trying, failing, fixing, and retrying, not only do students learn and understand more deeply, they can also apply the process later in life to remain lifelong learners.
Moving forward, the École Edwards administration will be using what they gleaned from the experience to inform the development and use of their maker space and the mindset that needs to be fostered built with it. The inspiration and direction gained from Brightworks will drive their design forward, and hopefully encourage lifelong learning, collaboration, and deeper understanding in their students.
Superintendent of Schools – Late last week I was honoured to be a part of RVS’ Long Service Awards. We celebrated the contributions of 70 staff members who contributed 20, 25, 30 and 35 years of service, as well as those who recently retired. These 70 staff members served our students and communities for an unfathomable 1,700 years in many different roles.
The evening was a small token of appreciation and a chance to celebrate their substantial contributions. These contributions cannot be quantified, measured or categorized, but they are significant. All of the staff recognized made a difference in our schools and communities.
Those who celebrated their 35th year started in RVS in about August 1982. At the top of the charts in August 1982 was a famous song from a Rocky movie – Eye of the Tiger. Anyone celebrating 30 years in RVS might recall driving to work on their first day in September 1987 listening to La Bamba by Los Lobos, which also was a movie tune. They might have bought a brand-new IBM PS/2 with the 386 chips with their first few months’ worth of pay. Those celebrating 25 years with RVS likely saw in their first year either Wayne’s World at the theatre or Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. They went to the movie to take a break from flipping diskettes while Windows 3.1 was loading. Our friends celebrating 20 years did not have an iMac because they were not even released quite yet. They may have been early adopters using AOL Instant Messenger on their dial-up modem while singing Elton John’s Candle in the Wind.
In between the movies, songs and technologies, these 70 staff members built connections, found countless ways to contribute, laughed, maybe cried, and hopefully had plenty of fun.
For those we are recognized last week for their long service and/or retirement – thank you. We thank you for all that you do and all that you did. Thank you for your contributions to public education. Thank you from the kids. Thank you from the parents. Thank you from Rocky View Schools.
Congratulations to our 70 long service recipients/retirees and to those celebrating their 10 and 15 year service milestones (who we will be recognizing later in the year).
Supervisor of Jurisdictional Programs – In September, Calgary hosted the International Play Association’s tri-annual conference titled Unleashing the Power of Play. Delegates from over 50 countries came together to celebrate, advocate, educate and learn about the latest research in relation to play and child development. This event couldn’t have come at a better time. Early childhood educators within Rocky View Schools are beginning a dialogue regarding play: the role of play in early learning, the delivery of the curriculum through play, and the balance between play-based programming and school-based academic requirements.
Kindergarten teachers report that the pressure to teach academic skills earlier and earlier has been gradually gaining momentum. The popular notion that the earlier a child can read and write, the more successful they will be throughout their academic career seems well established in society. These increasing academic expectations have led some educators to up the academic rigor in the classroom, which unfortunately, often comes at the expense of opportunities for play.
While increasing academic expectations in kindergarten might appear to afford children an academic advantage, we now know that it does not. Children who have the opportunity to acquire foundational literacy, numeracy, and social skills through rich and authentic play experiences actually have the advantage. They will be better equipped to process and regulate their emotions, reason with information and solve problems; empathize and take the perspective of others. They will develop stronger communication skills, a more diverse vocabulary and will be better prepared for future formal academic instruction.
There is no question that educators ought to have high expectations for their kindergarten children. Play-based programming does not mean that children play all day without teacher support and direction or that there is an absence of goals or expectations. Programming through play is a way of engaging with the curriculum that honors children’s interests and developmental level. If we place more importance on the acquisition of academic skills at the expense of these opportunities, we are doing a disservice to our children. They will miss the opportunity to develop fundamental skills essential for their academic, social and emotional growth.