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.
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!
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!”