Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was able to join one of our schools and take part of a pilot project being led by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The project is called the Agile Schools Network led by Australian, Dr. Simon Breakspear. Dr. Breakspear and his team have looked at educational research, effective teaching practices and what works in the business world to come up with their approach. Their model, called Learning Sprints, is not revolutionary, but brings laser focus to small, incremental changes in an effort to make large change. In our context, it is about working collaboratively, focusing on student outcomes and how to help students achieve success by addressing one small issue at a time.
Dr. Breakspear challenged us to work as a team to take “boulder” challenges, break them into “pebbles” (smaller components), and then find a narrow, specific outcome called a “sand” focus. Once the issue is defined, we work to understand the issue. Why are students struggling with this outcome and how might we be contributing?
Next we look at what we can do to design learning opportunities to specifically help students achieve the outcome. We don’t look to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead we look at what we can do in an effort to help students achieve that small, specific outcome. We identify a target group of students for the sprint. We look at what research tells us, as well as build on the collective wisdom and experience of the people in our sprint team.
Now it’s time to put the plan into action. We spend 1-4 weeks attempting the designed activities and we assess. We hold weekly stand-up scrums to discuss successes and challenges and share what is working. We ask ourselves, “How do we know if we helped address the outcome? What worked and what did not? Given the experience, what do we focus on for the next sprint?”
Dr. Breakspear and his team developed a number of tools, which he shared over the course of the day. The approach seemed very manageable and calls on us to collaborate and work collectively. We learn and grow as a small team focused on a specific student outcome. It builds on concepts of action research, spirals of inquiry, professional learning communities, but on a micro-scale. I liked the concept of multiple, micro-projects rather than spending the whole year on one outcome. Through addressing multiple “sand” problems we will be able to address the larger “pebble” challenges, which when put together helps tackle the “boulders”.
Favourite quotes from Dr. Breakspear over the day:
“Literacy and numeracy are the gateway drugs to learning.”
“The best way to do big things is to do a bunch of little things.”
“You’re not teaching if students are not learning.”
“Teaching causes learning.”
We will spend two more days with Dr. Breakspear and I’m looking forward to learning more. If you want to learn a more, check out http://www.agileschools.com.
Superintendent of Schools – September marks the return of school and the return of hockey to many of our families. We have two boys who play hockey and September also brings the highly stressful time called tryouts. Over the past two weeks, we have been at the rink almost daily with at least one kid working hard trying to demonstrate their skills to make a high-level team for the upcoming hockey season.
This stress is felt as much by the players as it is by the parents. With “cuts” occurring this past weekend it was intense pressure and lots of anxiety at the rink. Every action, shift and/or attempt is scrutinized and causes heart palpitations. We talked with many hockey parents and it is not just us. Whether it is 7-8 year olds or 15-17 year olds, tension was in the stands, in the locker rooms, and in the lobby. Even at a major fundraising event in the community on Saturday evening, much of the parent talk was about the tryouts currently underway.
We tried to prepare our kids with a few conditioning camps prior to the tryouts and some sage advice – do your best, work hard, remember to have fun, no matter what the decision is – it will all work out, and don’t forget to laugh. We also prepared them for the final moment when they would be called into the coaching room and be told if they made the team or not. We felt that preparing them for either decision was important. Reminding them to look the coach in the eye and thank them for giving their time to help them be a better player is critical. Reaching out and shaking the coach’s hand, no matter what the decision, is also an important skill to learn. What we did not discuss is how to walk out of that room and share the news with the other kids waiting to find out and how to react when you enter the lobby with all the other parents present.
By Sunday night, one made the team he was trying for and one received the “sorry, but…” news. I felt immense pride in how both handled the news. Our player who made the team walked quietly into the lobby where other families were waiting, gave us a quick nod and carried on walking until he was out of the rink. When I asked him if he made then team, he said he did not want to say much with others in the lobby because not everyone made the team. He showed compassion for those who did not make the team. Our other child handled the tough news with grace. He held his head up high and told me that these tryouts would help him be better prepared for the next level’s tryouts. They both managed to navigate the experience with class, compassion for others, all while learning important life lessons.
It is funny what you can learn from your kids at the rink.
Literacy Specialist – The research is very clear about the rewards of motivating kids to read, to think deeply, to talk about what they have read and to find something new. After all, practice makes perfect so that means read, read and read.
The only way we will see our students’ reading improve is to provide them with literacy-rich environments where they have access to copious numbers of books; they are surrounded by adults and peers who model strong reading behaviours; they are provided opportunities to question, wonder, make connections and have authentic conversations about what they have read with the people in their lives; and they are taught to read for joy, pleasure and purpose. Literacy researchers such as Allington, Calkins and others tell us that if we provide these environments, students will do better in school, achieve higher results and most importantly become successful, lifelong learners.
But motivating students to do what is good for them can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms:
Have students help to curate classroom libraries. Let them categorize, group and organize your library and in turn provide them with ownership over the collection. Use student librarians to help keep classroom libraries in order, organized and returned.
Create Personal Reading histories about books that matter and that have had a significant influence in their lives.
Organize book talks about summer readings or organize monthly discussions.
Show that you are a reader: create teacher book clubs, write your own book reviews, facilitate student/teacher breakfast book clubs and encourage parent/student book clubs.
Create a “buzz” around book selections by reading snippets of books that are funny, serious, sad, dramatic, strange or mysterious. Kids and adults love to be read to. There is a book for everyone; helping students find it is the key.
Host a book tasting or speed dating with text.
Create a Battle of the Books team to compete in the RVS Battle of the Books competition on Feb 15.
Use QR codes and Image Mapping AR apps like Aurasma to make reading and vocabulary activities come to life.
Have authentic conversations about reading with students and encourage them to have them with one another. This is a way to explore the deeper aspects of reading comprehension with readers.
Meet with students in different contexts (one-on-one, guided groups, small targeted strategy groups, partnerships) to target and support their growth in reading, introduce strategies, and to set goals.
Become a book champion! Share what makes books great and why students need to read them!
Invite the support of community members and organizations through Rocky View Reads partnerships.
Incorporate podcasts that can hook reluctant readers while boosting critical thinking and comprehension.
Vocabulary Parade: Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think of a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical).
So, as the school year begins, let’s all roll up our sleeves and work together to create literacy-rich environments that will open our students’ worlds to new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, new perspectives and new understandings. Let’s continue to build a culture of reading in Rocky View so that our students can reap the rewards of a literate life. For more ideas and information check us out at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/makingliteracyvisible.
Learning Design Specialist – This year, the Rocky View Learning Design Team is excited to offer four uniquely themed cohorts to Rocky View teachers. These Learning Design Cohorts are immersive, hands-on, professional learning journeys that bring a group of teachers together to collaboratively design equally immersive and hands-on experiences for their students. Each cohort features a community partner that provides a tangible community connection, as well as built-in scaffolding for teachers to help make student learning visible through a public exhibition.
Teachers taking part in these workshops will have an opportunity to engage with the project over three spaced-out days, each with a key outcome:
On the first day, teachers get to Do the Project, taking on the role of student and experiencing the process first hand.
On the second day, the Design Day, teachers are then able to design their own projects collaboratively with other participants.
On the third and final Champion Day, teachers are afforded a flexible release day to co-plan with facilitators or bring the student exhibition to life.
In the User Experience (UX) Cohort, students will bring their curricula to life by designing engaging user experiences. Gamification and challenge-based learning will be the areas of focus. Our community partner for this cohort is Mobile Escape.
In the RVS Productions Cohort, the goal is to research, compose, and publish high quality stories and visuals for audiences near and far. Teachers will design a learning opportunity for their students where learning is represented through the production of high quality published artifacts to share at a division-wide exhibition in December. Our community partners for this cohort are Winsport Canada and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
In RVS Living Local, we’ll be exploring, celebrating, and contributing to our communities. Teachers will design learning that will connect their curricula to their local communities, culminating in a Market Faire to celebrate and exhibit the products of their journey. Our hope is to partner with the Airdrie Farmers Market and Calgary Crossroads Market.
Registration is now open to all teachers on the RVS Professional Learning registry. A limited number of teacher spots will be available for each school, each requiring an administrator’s support. We look forward to working with you this year!
Superintendent of Schools – I try to be out at schools as much as possible. It can be a challenge with all the meetings I need to be part of, but it is important for me to connect with our students, staff and communities. Over the past week and a half, I’ve been at over 10 schools and these are just a few observations from those visits:
Kids are happy to be in school – serious;
Each of our schools are clean and well maintained due to the great work of our maintenance and custodial crews;
Our staff put tremendous efforts in building warm and welcoming learning environments;
Middle school students can really eat hotdogs;
Professional learning is critical;
The amount of paper that goes through a school office at this time of the year is daunting – we need to continue to find ways to automate processes and reduce the volume of paper going back and forth between school and home;
Building early connections between home and teacher/school is a great way to support the success of students;
Some school welcome back breakfasts can rival Stampede events;
We have over 35 new teachers who just graduated in 2017 that are keen to make a positive difference in our schools;
Principals and Assistant Principals are magicians in how they juggle so many competing demands on resources and their time;
Schools care about kids and do great things to support them to help achieve success;
Students consistently demonstrate that they value inclusion;
Opening a brand-new school is even more work than I thought it was and our staff who have been through it are owed a great amount of appreciation;
Teacher creativity is limitless;
Attendance in week one really matters – establish good routines to start the year off well;
School Councils provide meaningful ways to help shape your school – get involved;
RVS team members that work in support roles create the conditions that allow students to succeed; and
Sitting in day-long meetings is physically demanding.
I am so proud of our schools and our RVS team. I will continue to be out and about in our schools and communities so remember to stop me and say “hi”.