An Inquiry into What Community and Belonging Look Like at Glenbow School
Principal, Glenbow Elementary School – It was June 29 last school year, and the building was almost empty. Students had already embarked on their summer holidays, when our wise, mindful and talented CDA, Colleen Heschl-Ball, shared with me that she had an idea.
The idea involved some planning and keeping in touch over the summer break, with the possibility of grant writing in mind. The idea involved finding an artist who could help represent every member of the Glenbow Learning Community in their work. The idea involved bringing in experts to engage our students in themes of community, a sense of place and belonging. It was our first year of Glenbow as a dual track school and we felt that it was important to commemorate this new beginning.
Momentum came with additional talented and driven staff members joining the grant writing process. It continued with the acceptance of a Canada 150 Grant and the confirmation of an artist, Caitlin Bodewitz, who worked in the medium of photography. Experts were contacted and lined up to share with students, including (not so) old friends to RVS like:
- Barry Allen (former 21st Century Learning Specialist) to share photography tips.
- Steve Repic (former RVS Grounds Lead) to share themes around community, belonging, and a sense of space.
- Julie Stover & Karen Edwards (retired Glenbow teachers) to speak about the history of Glenbow School.
- Peter Bouvier (current Glenbow teacher) to share photography tips.
The project was embraced by all classes, who had the opportunity to share some of the key themes that came out in their discussion. We have had armies of parent volunteers in to help each student save photos and screen them on to a square of wood. Classrooms were given up to support the two week residency and schedules were rescheduled to ensure that all students had this opportunity to enhance their learning.
This weekend, Caitlin has worked tirelessly to begin to transfer student work into her beautiful masterpiece, our masterpiece.
Thank you to all who have been involved in helping with this undertaking. Thank you Colleen,for sharing your idea… I wonder what other ideas are out there, waiting to be hatched?
Superintendent of Schools – Last Sunday I had the opportunity to swing by W.H. Croxford to check out their third annual Show ‘n’ Shine car show. It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning and it was packed with cars and people of all ages from across multiple communities within our area. I am not really a car buff, but it was a very impressive collection. While many were dazzled over the souped up ’60s and ’70s vehicles, I gravitated to the brand new $200K Tesla.
You might be wondering why a school would be hosting a car show. Schools are so much more than reading, writing and arithmetic these days. Schools have built and maintained an important position in the community. Schools are community hubs. It does not matter if the event is a paint night, a drama production, a sporting event, a band performance, a teepee rising, a celebration of learning or a car show. All of these types of events draw people in from the community to gather and share common experiences.
But why do schools organize event such as these? All of these types of events give opportunities for our students to show ‘n’ shine. They get to put into practice technical skills they learn in various curricular areas, along with the opportunity to demonstrate the critical competencies. When I am at such events, I see students taking on so many different roles and excelling at them. For some, these types of roles push us out of our comfort zone. For others, they get positive reinforcement that they are getting good at problem solving or communicating with adults. These become real world opportunities to connect with people while making their learning visible.
To all the staff in RVS who give their own time to put on events such as these, thank you! You are building community, connecting generations, demonstrating that you value learning outside of the four classroom walls, and so much more.
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.
Principal, Prairie Waters Elementary School – My 15-year-old son asked me the other day, “Dad, has the world ever been this messed up since you’ve been alive?”
It was a great question. His question was prompted by his knowledge of recent current events that include, but aren’t limited to: increasing tension with North Korea, White Pride rallies, athletes kneeling during the national anthem, and devastating hurricanes that seem to arrive one after another. Not to mention, the Las Vegas tragedy, which occurred more recently. I replied to him somewhat sadly, “I’m not sure that I have.”
We know that if there is one thing that is constant, it is change. However, the pace and complexity of this change seems to be growing. Our world is becoming increasingly connected. Information moves rapidly and our individual and collective decisions can have significant impact, both positively and negatively.
Rocky View Schools’ mission is “We engage all learners through meaningful and challenging experiences, preparing them to understand, adapt and successfully contribute to our changing global community.”
It is an inspiring and worthwhile mission; however, as expected, it leaves us begging the question, “How?” The question becomes particularly complex considering that by the time many of our students in Kindergarten join the workforce as an adult, Earth is expected to have approximately another 1.2 billion humans joining the 7.6 billion that already share this planet (United Nations, 2017, June 21).
I believe that to respond to this extraordinary complexity, our children must become internationally minded in a way that is extraordinarily uncommon. It lies in our ability as educators to develop tremendous compassion for others and a humbling ability to be open-minded. The International Baccalaureate Organization believes that we must “encourage students … who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” This way of thinking is somewhat contrary to what many of us have been taught; however, to successfully respond to our world’s challenges, we inevitably must think differently.
As parents and educators, it is important that we deliberately and mindfully look for ways to build compassion and open-mindedness in our students. Should we create more opportunities for our students to be involved in service learning opportunities? How do we provide opportunities for our kids to be exposed to and learn from our differences? Should we explore issues more deeply through multiple and “competing” perspectives. And, as parents and educators, how do we approach multiple perspectives without bringing in our own biases that will limit our kids’ abilities to approach challenges deeply with an open mind.
Maybe if we are successful in answering these questions, our children’s children will have more optimistic questions to ask their parents.
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.