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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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!
Superintendent of Schools – For me it was a teaching assignment at Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon. I actually had one more class to take over the summer before graduating but I got a job teaching. It was only going to be a one-year teaching assignment while the regular teacher I would be replacing was covering for someone else who was away on a year-long leave. That morphed into spending 22 of the next 25 years working in the public education space. One year I worked in the private sector (wanted to see what life was like in the “real world”) and two years working in the post-secondary sector.
Last week I was very lucky to be able to help out at the RVS booth at the recent University of Calgary career fair. For three hours, I spoke to prospective teachers who were graduating this spring from the U of C. I had the opportunity to brag about the great things going on in RVS, what drew me to RVS (twice), and how we support our early career teachers. I answered questions about how people can apply and what prospects look like. I must say it was great to be at the RVS booth as we had a steady stream of students interested in what we have to offer. Thanks to Meghan, Shannon, and Roel for letting me join all of you.
The following night I had the pleasure of attending the ATA induction ceremony for over 100 teachers who are part of the RVS family and are either new to the profession or new to Alberta. I wish I could have stayed for the full evening but it was a chance to say a few words and get to learn about many of our new teachers. Each school created a short video to help introduce the new teachers. These videos were quite amazing and kept the crowd laughing. I’ve asked for the DVD so I can watch the other half of videos I missed. Key messages I shared with the group (but also apply to our entire RVS team): we are in this together and on the same team; keep learning and growing; okay to take risks and innovate; collaborate with others; invest in yourself; take care of yourself; and thank those who helped get you here!
In that spirit – thanks to Mr. Richard Turcotte who was my grade 6 teacher and teacher-coaches Dan Boyer, Al Andrie, and Ivan Tam who made such a positive impact on my life. I am a teacher today because of all of you.
RVS Learning Specialist – As educators, we continuously strive to learn and grow. We want to try the newest technologies, frequently adapt our pedagogy to keep up with the ever-changing world, and stay on top of the trends and ideas in Education. The amount of educational research available at our fingertips can be overwhelming. I find myself constantly asking, what do these practices look like in a classroom? What are the biggest successes? What do the setbacks look like? In my opinion, one of the best ways to delve into innovation in education, is by seeing it in action and talking to people who are living the practice.
As 21st Century Learning Specialists, we see organizing and participating in site visits as an important part of our role. During a site visit you get the opportunity to walk through someone else’s building, listen to their philosophies and strategies, and learn from the obstacles that they have had to overcome. These experiences have been invaluable to the growth and development of our team, and the teachers and administrators that have come along with us.
In December, we had the privilege of being invited into some unique schools in Southern Alberta. Along with our fantastic tour guide Adelee Penner from Alberta Education, and Associate Superintendent Dave Morris, our team visited Bassano School, Isabel F. Cox in Redcliff, and Crescent Heights High and Dr. Roy Wilson in Medicine Hat. Each of the schools brought new perspectives and practices that we were eager to explore.
Learning environments have always been a hot topic in education. How are schools creating spaces for students to learn, innovate, and feel welcome? I. F. Cox in Redcliff, is a K-3 school that has been intentionally designed to promote choice and creativity. While walking through their classrooms you couldn’t help but feel invited and inspired. Each space contains elements that appeal to the senses, influence play, and create a calm atmosphere. Some of the more unique additions include, essential oils specifically chosen for each class, reading nooks with pillows and small lights, and covers over the fluorescent tubes that allow the light from small lamps to contribute to the room’s ambiance. Their Learning Commons comes complete with a green screen room, science exploration station with microscopes, and a building area. My favorite features were the doors on the outer walls of the classrooms. These additions encourage the staff and students to get outside and promote learning through nature. When we talked to their principal, she shared their collaborative process and explained that one of the most important parts of the redesign was developing a shared vision.
Dr. Roy Wilson Learning Centre, is a K-9 school in Medicine Hat. This P3 building has a similar design to many of the new schools in Rocky View, and through its architecture, promotes collaboration. Walking around during class time, we saw students in common areas utilizing soft seating and standing at laptop bars working comfortably. Breakout rooms surrounded the common spaces, where groups were gathered around whiteboards and tables, tackling problems. In the “Project Commons,” robotics, shop and culinary arts exist side by side and encourage multidisciplinary exploration and projects. Many of the classrooms were built so that the walls between them could slide back. In most rooms the walls were open and the two classes were seamlessly functioning as one. We have seen this set up in other schools and were curious about the process that led them to having the walls open as the norm. The conversation around their journey was insightful. Although there were challenges, the staff worked together to find a way to take advantage of the space. Through this, the collaboration between staff and students has led to increased support for all learners and effective teaching teams.
Check back Thursday for part two of this blog, where Bassano School and Crescent Heights High will be highlighted for their work on relationship building. Thanks for reading!