Child Development Advisor – Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society (CTDS) was created in 2014 from the heart and vision of an amazing individual, Steven King. He believes that animals, particularly dogs, can add tremendous value to our lives. From this vision, several programs have been developed. The one I would love to introduce you to is Listening Tails!
The Listening Tails program is designed to help children improve their reading skills and confidence by reading out loud to a therapy dog. Each student will read for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. Prairie Waters Elementary School is so blessed to have two dogs (Shadow and Atlas) and two handlers (Tanya and Sheldon) once a week for an hour and a half. This allows for 10 students each week to participate in the program.
Listening Tails has been running strong at Prairie Waters Elementary School since the Spring of 2015. We have been lucky enough to provide this opportunity to approximately 75 students. The program’s success stems from the fact that dogs love the attention they receive when children read to them. Another key to the success of this program is that dogs are non-judgemental listeners. There isn’t an adult looking over their shoulders correcting them, and no added pressure of an audience of people.
Steven King quotes that “being a volunteer-driven organization, nothing could have happened without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers in Chestermere and surrounding areas who, from day one, have embraced the idea of help through therapy dogs. As an organization, CTDS understands that the dogs are the centre of attention, but nothing happens without the loving care of their dog handlers who give selflessly of themselves each time they attach the CTDS bandana around their dog’s neck.”
Our students absolutely love being chosen to participate in Listening Tails; choosing which child gets to have a coveted spot on the list is one of the hardest decisions to make. Every student who has participated in this program has nothing but positive things to say. Many students ask to partake regardless if they are an emerging reader. The connection our students feel towards the dog is magical.
Our school is a happier place when Shadow and Atlas are here. The dogs bring a positivity to the hallways that is difficult to describe. Prairie Waters is thrilled to have the Listening Tails program at our school and is so appreciative of the dedication and commitment that Tanya and Sheldon have for bringing the dogs once a week from September to June.
The Listening Tails program is truly a win-win situation. The students love the time they spend with the dog, the dog loves the one-on-one attention they receive from the student, and the handlers leave our school feeling they have made a difference in the lives of a child. If you have any questions about this program, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society website.
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.
Superintendent of Schools – Like many families, my family is a very busy family with everyone hustling to different events. In the fall and winter my family is consumed with hockey. Hockey practices, games, skating on the pond, skating treadmill appointment, hockey fundraising activities, getting skates sharpened, weekend tournaments, checking out the latest gear, spring hockey tryouts, etc. The same can be said for most families, but you can substitute soccer, basketball, dance, swimming, piano, language learning, skiing, dirt biking, 4-H, sledding, etc. for hockey.
It is challenging because it seems like all activities are asking youngsters and families to commit to only one activity. Specialization is commonplace and the days of kids playing multiple sports, while skiing recreationally and learning the piano are gone. Now that said, we are guilty as we allow ourselves and kids to get sucked up into the vortex of hockey in the fall & winter and baseball in the spring & summer.
Despite the busy schedule, we try and make the time to eat together most evenings. It remains the best opportunity for us to have conversations, check in with each other, and see what else is going on in our lives. I’ve recently engaged in another opportunity for discussions with the boys, the captive audience hockey road trip.
As we have two boys typically heading off in different directions for hockey, we have to divide and conquer. Both of the last two weekends I’ve been out of town with one of the boys at different hockey tournaments / away games. The drive to and from the event provided me the opportunity to talk with my boys. My car is the low-tech vehicle in the family, so there is no TV, videos, satellite radio, Xbox and Wi-Fi to distract us. This past weekend we listened to a story on CBC about the US election and it spurred a great conversation about democracy, political organizing, voter turnout, media, and more. We would not have had that conversation if not traveling in a car for an extended period. The previous weekend, as we drove down Hwy 2, it was talking about ranching, which neither my youngest nor I know much about. We were engaged in a conversation based on what we saw while driving. It was a place-conscious inquiry project where we just talked and on a few occasions had my son open up my phone to find out some information that furthered the conversation. Visiting towns that are new to us provides more opportunity to talk about what industries are in that town and why, the age of the hockey rink, and why it is where it is, how we develop an appreciation for things that are different and so much more.
We are fortunate that friends of ours always volunteer to drive their kid and their kid’s friends to and from events. The kids are older and often it means going out on a Saturday night at 11 pm (or later) to pick up a group of kids. I asked them why they do it and they told me, just like my hockey road trips, it creates an opportunity to talk and learn about what is going on in their kids’ lives and the lives of their friends. No need to stalk their Instagram account or SnapChats, the kids talk in the car. The adult can ask questions and while their own child typically rolls their eyes, other kids in the car will chime in and respond. They describe it as a direct pipeline into the lives of their kids.
So, the next time you are heading out to drive the kids somewhere, take the long route, turn off the radio (or put it on CBC), pretend you forgot the phone charger, and see where the conversation takes you.
Building Futures Teacher – “It’s not about the house!” It is what I say to visitors all the time about the Building Futures program, where 34 grade 10 students spend the whole school year in a double garage working side-by-side with McKee Homes amazing sub-contractors to build beautiful homes, all while learning their core classes. If it is not about introducing students to the construction industry, then what is it about?
My partner teacher, Erica Rozema, and I are in the pursuit of creating learning experiences that matter, ones that try to help build a student’s future. Connecting students to their community has been a major component of this pursuit over the years. Students have been involved in putting on their own fundraising events, they built and set-up little free libraries in Airdrie, donated a book barn to the Airdrie Recycling Center and helped set up the Airdrie Festival of Lights – all in the name of giving back to their community.
This continuous pursuit to connect our students to their community is a driving factor in what we think makes learning experiences matter. Connecting with other humans from all different backgrounds, connecting to the place you live, connecting to ideas that impact our world, connecting to experiences that bring students a sense that they belong. I do admit one of the better “connections” we offer students is the experience of learning to belong in building a most basic need, a home. The construction journey is just one of the learning experiences we have created. We have other learning experiences that have connected students to starting a business, a challenge to create the staging and sales write-up of the homes, re-designing urban spaces, creating a marketing plan for an innovative program and building a solar-powered tiny house. These experiences are because of local experts whom we connected with in the Airdrie community who shared their expertise and feedback with our students.
Building our student’s futures means that we keep pushing ourselves as teachers to connect learning beyond our “classroom”. It means that we push ourselves to connect learning to people who want to share their knowledge with our students. It means we want to push ourselves to connect learning to a student’s sense of place and allowing them to see themselves as contributors to their community. It means that we push ourselves to connect learning to having students fall in love with the world around them. It means we push ourselves to connect learning so that our students, at the end of the school year, can say “it is not about the house, it is about connecting!”
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was finally able to check off from my to-do list – “visit every school in the division”. I’ve completed about 2/3rds of my formal school tours and have been invited to attend an event or celebration in almost every school. I’ve also made the effort to get to schools for informal, impromptu visits. When I make that type of visit I just pop into the office and then sometimes go for a walk about by myself and other times with an administrator. Being visible and in schools is important to me.
Why do I do this? As a professional meeting attender, I find that being out in schools keeps me grounded. These impromptu visits are about me seeing students and our staff in action in the context of their school and community. There is no “show and tell” when I make these impromptu visits – it is real life – just another school day. I try not to interrupt classes, but I’ll walk into classrooms when the door is open and just say “hi” or talk to the staff and/or students. It reminds me why I sit in all those darn meetings – to serve students, staff, and our communities.
I warned principals and assistant principals that they will need to get used to me just showing up. I’m not sure people actually believed me, but hopefully they see that I’m walking the talk. The visits are not about checking up on things, rather it about keeping it real and grounded. I know how hard our staff works for students. I know it is not always perfect. I know that some days it can be a struggle, but those are the days I need to see to help keep it real. When younger students ask me what I do, I usually respond “I am here to work as a team with their principals, teachers, and support staff to make sure they [the students] get what they need to be successful at school and life.”
Today I was at one site for a formal visit, but then visited three others sites as I scheduled some time for impromptu visits. I had a great conversation with four teachers about how they are able to support learners through various online tools and their facility needs in order to support teaching and learning. There was no meeting booked, no agenda, just a great face-to-face conversation. In another school I was able to hear about a challenge they are facing that I can probably support them by connecting them with other RVS resources. My last impromptu visit allowed me to talk to students who just completed a walk-a-thon as a fundraiser for school activities. Students demonstrated some of the key competencies we want them to achieve by shaking my hand, introducing themselves, looking me directly in the eye and talking about what was the purpose of the walk-a-thon.
I also know that people need to see me in their schools. I like to be visible to get to know people and let them get to know me. I need to be more than just a name or picture on a website. I know that it is still early in my tenure as Supt (42nd day) and that it takes time to know everyone (we have 2000+ staff), but it is important to me. Sadly, every time I visit a school I cannot visit every staff member, however, over time I hope to have some type of personal interaction with all staff.