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 – I am so grateful for the many opportunities my role affords to get to see our RVS students excel, contribute, and make a difference in their communities. Teens especially get a bad rap in our society. Most adults forget what it was like as we transitioned from kids to young adults. We all made mistakes, and the occasional poor choice, but society seems stuck on judging all teens by their mistakes. I’d love to wear the body cam to share just some of the amazing things I get to see kids and teens routinely do.
I saw 75 teens from eight different school give up an evening and full day away from their regular classes to participate in RVS’ Honour Band. The concert band performed for a group of adults and students at Chestermere High as a culminating activity. The teens in the audience watched the concert – many of which probably would not list concert band on their top 10 interest lists – and where incredibly well behaved. They listened intently, recognized the efforts of kids from across the region, and when the concert ended, picked up their chairs and put them back – and then many turned around and grabbed the chairs for the adults in the room.
My twitter feed is consistently full of kids collecting something for those in need in their community, kids participating in basketball and curling playoffs/playdowns, grade 10 students working with grade 2s to share their knowledge and experiences, kids learning with members of our communities, kids teaching people in our communities, teens helping volunteer groups, teens raising funds for those in need both locally and globally, and teens taking on leadership roles within their schools. Watch the #rvsed hashtag or a couple of the schools in your community for a week and I assure you that you will feel a lot better about our communities and country when you see the amazing things our kids are doing.
Lastly, I cannot forget to recognize our amazing RVS staff who empower and enable students to make a difference. Our staff volunteer countless hours, create highly engaging environments, which allow kids to shine. Staff make a conscious effort to have high expectations and build skills so that students can be successful.
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.
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!
Superintendent of Schools – On January 27th, I had the pleasure of being part of the kickoff for Langdon School’s Headstrong Summit. All grade 6 to 9 students and staff participated in a day long event to learn about mental health and stomp out the associated stigma. The school was able to garner phenomenal support through partners like Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Headstrong program, Alberta Health Services, Synergy, Connecteen, Stepping Stones to Mental Health, and some community groups.
I was provided the opportunity to say a few words to kick off the day. Here is the text of my message:
I am honoured to be here for a short bit this morning to help kick off your day where you are coming together as a community to talk and learn about mental health and help break the stigma related talking about mental illness.
Recently, I’ve seen a ton of commercials on TV and Twitter about the Let’s Talk series sponsored by Bell. We all need to be encouraged to talk about our mental health – kids and adults too. We need to recognize that it is okay to talk about our mental health just like we talk about our physical health. No one blinks an eye if you talk about a sprained wrist, if you need glasses or if you are seeing your doctor for a checkup but somehow for many of us it is not okay to talk about if we are struggling with depression or anxiety or seeing a counselor. We need to change that.
I encourage you to:
- be that friend who will listen without judging or thinking less of the person who shares their challenges.
- be the same warm, caring and non-judgmental friend as you were before your friend opens up to you.
- encourage friends that are struggling with their emotions, feelings, stress, anxiety, sadness to reach out and ask for help. That help can come from any adult in your life – teacher / parent / grandparent / coach / older brother/sister. They might not have the answers but they can help find the answers.
Thanks to the school for organizing this event. Thanks to the presenters joining us today.
Lastly, Be brave! Reach out! Speak up!
Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the full day where kids had small group opportunities to hear and learn from the stories of brave presenters, who shared their knowledge and their personal stories related to addiction, grief and anger, healthy relationships, acceptance, suicide, physical harm and other challenges. The event provided information to students about where they can turn to for help and the stories provided opportunities for students to learn, grow, accept and stomp out stigma.