Superintendent of Schools – Noun – ad·vo·ca·cy \ ˈad-və-kə-sē \ – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.
Let me start by saying I am not an elected official. I work for the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools and have an employment contract directly with them. At the same time, I have a long list of statutory requirements in the School Act that I must comply with. In my role, I work closely with our trustees to support them in their advocacy efforts. I might provide them background information, discuss strategies, share what I am hearing about the topic through my circles, draft letters, and countless other tasks.
Over this past year, I am consistently impressed by the work our trustees do to advocate for students, staff and communities. The advocacy takes all different forms – meeting with the Minister of Education; meeting with MLAs; meeting with local government officials; meeting with other trustees from around the region; working as a collective through the Alberta School Boards Association or the local zone; writing letters to the Minister on topics such as capital needs or transportation funding for French Immersion students; providing feedback on potential legislative changes; attending consultation sessions to provide input on a wide variety of topics; and meeting with parents and other stakeholders in a wide variety of settings, including school councils.
RVS’ advocacy efforts are often focused on influencing potential changes or decisions being made by government. Board of Trustees are heavily influenced by laws of the land and associated regulations. Boards do not have complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do.
Recently, I was able to spend two days as part of an RVS contingent at an Alberta Education consultation for our region. Trustees, senior staff members and parents were in the room discussing a wide variety of topics related to potential legislative changes. The sessions included group work, but also allowed individuals to provide direct comments to Alberta Education through online tools. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these topics and provide input rather than reacting to them once they are enacted. Having table discussions with people from different school divisions and from different roles helped me understand the issues from different perspectives.
While advocacy efforts take time, and may not have immediate results, I believe those efforts are worth the time and energy.
RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 3 of 4: As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.
During Exhibition, the student’s research is authentic as they take ownership for their learning from the very start. Once the whole grade 5 group decides on the central idea, each group/individual makes up their own lines of inquiry which decides what direction their research will take. From here they make up questions to investigate based on each of the eight PYP key concepts. When the students decide the path their research takes, it becomes more authentic for them and is truly something that sparks their curiosity. The central idea, lines of inquiry, and key concept questions will help the students stay focused and on-track during their investigation.
Students are required to select and utilize a variety of strategies and resources to meet the outcomes of the inquiry. Students should use a variety of secondary sources such as books, websites, magazine and newspaper articles, surveys, artifacts, science investigations, working models, field visits, studies, etc. The more sources they access the deeper their understanding will be.
A huge part of the student’s inquiry is based on primary sources. Some of the most important information is gathered from the experts who have lived and experienced the actual issues being investigated. These interviews are always rich in knowledge and provide an in-depth look into each group’s topic of study. The interviews can be conducted face-to-face, through Skype or FaceTime, over the phone or on-line. The students always get so excited when they get to interact with an expert and the information they obtain is so valuable. The students develop their own interview questions which are largely based on the lines of inquiry and key concepts. Not only do the students gain great inquiry techniques, but it also teaches them excellent communication and interview skills.
We strive for the students to engage in an in-depth, collaborative inquiry to provide them with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives. By discovering various viewpoints, and not always ones they agree with, it allows them to see the whole picture of their issue and become even more of an expert on their topic of study. It pushes them to go beyond simple research and look at their issue from several different angles.
During Exhibition academic honesty is emphasized. The students are expected to correctly cite all the sources that they use for research. This does not only include text information, but also pictures, videos, articles, interviews, etc. It is of utmost importance that the students put all the information they access into their own words. We want the students to be able to confidently speak about their topic so it is important that they understand and make sense of the evidence they acquire.
On-site visits or field trips also give students excellent insight into their selected issues as well. By actually experiencing things first hand, it helps them develop a deeper understanding of their topics. The more opportunities and exposure the students receive, the more enriched their learning will be.
Please feel free to follow along with our student’s progress as we continue to grow through the Exhibition process by accessing our blog at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/pwexhibition/ You can also find us on Twitter by following our hashtag #pwex17.
This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters Elementary School on Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 pm and Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15 am. Everyone is more than welcome to attend and see what our students have to share. Hope to see you there!
RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 2 of 4: As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection. This project is a culmination of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and gives a chance for students to demonstrate all of their attained knowledge thus far, as well as challenge them to go further in their learning. All five elements of the PYP will be on display during this inquiry: Attitudes, Knowledge, Key Concepts, Skills and Action.
As with all large student-initiated inquiries, naturally we wanted to capture the process of this wonderful student learning, but how? Fortunately for us, wonderful members of the RVS 21st learning specialists team were available to help us out with their expertise. Spending a day with Janelle Fortmuller allowed us to storyboard two different documentaries that we will focus on during the 9 weeks that will help visualize the students’ journeys. With a purposeful and deliberate attempt to capture learning each week, along with making room for the impromptu moments of learning, we hope these documentary storyboards assist us in making our learning visible.
Our first documentary will focus on the Exhibition in its’ entirety and the Exhibition as a whole process. From the first week of capturing students’ excitements and explanations of their topic, to identifying various self-management, communication, social, thinking and research skills used weekly, we dedicate each Thursday and Friday to capturing student voice about the process via weekly reflections. These powerful snippets of video allow students to tell their story as they go through the process, with the hope of capturing all of the A-Has’ and frustrations experienced by students, to be put together in a process of Exhibition documentary.
Our second documentary arose from the idea of educating parents and guests during the two Exhibition days of May 3rd and 4th. In the year’s past, we’ve urged the parents and guests to challenge students during the Exhibition to have a conversation about their learning and process they went through. As some teachers are aware, urging parents and guests to participate more can be more powerful when it comes directly from students rather than our teacher voice. We wanted to build on last year’s marginal success of a student created video that involved students urging parents to challenge them, to question them, to have a conversation with them. This documentary was influenced by Janelle’s insights as well and our storyboard has more clarity and purpose that builds off of last year’s success.
Along with making our daily learning as visible as possible through our Exhibition Blog and Twitter #pwex17, we hope our two documentaries open the doors to anyone within our division and beyond to see the growth and learning that occurs during the Exhibition and one of their final pieces of their PYP education.
RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 1 of 4: Prairie Waters is one of only 11 schools in Alberta that is an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering the Primary Years Programme (PYP). One of the unique features of this program is the PYP Exhibition. In our students’ final year at Prairie Waters (grade 5), they engage in an 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.
The IB explains the purpose of the PYP Exhibition:
- to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate independence and responsibility for their own learning
- to provide students with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives on an issue
- for students to synthesize and apply their learning of previous years and to reflect upon their journey through the PYP
- to provide an authentic process for assessing student understanding
- to demonstrate how students can take action as a result of their learning
- to unite the students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in a collaborative experience
- to celebrate the transition of learners from primary to middle/secondary education.
This year, under the Theme of: “Who We Are”, students developed the central idea for our Exhibition: “Actions, relationships and mindsets shape the global community.” We have 29 groups of students who are investigating 29 different issues, which they are emotionally invested in learning more about. From living a minimalist lifestyle, to gender judgement in sports. From media bias to addressing the needs of the homeless. From grief and loss to the importance of a good night’s sleep, we have a wide variety of issues that have been selected by our students, which they have deemed significant and relevant to learn about. Together with the support of their group members, their classroom teacher, their parents and a mentor, students engage fully in the research process. Mentors volunteer their time once a week to meet with their group to provide advice, support, and guidance on the inquiry process. This year we have mentors from the community of Chestermere, family members of our students, pre-service teachers, support staff, and teaching staff within our school. Exhibition certainly couldn’t be successful without the generous support of those who offer their time as mentors to our students!
Throughout their inquiry process, our students share, reflect, and connect with the world outside of Prairie Waters through our Exhibition Blog: http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/pwexhibition/ . We encourage you to follow along with our students as they embark on their Exhibition journey this year! We have visitors to our blog from almost every continent on Earth each month, through the power of Twitter and connecting with other classes around the globe who are also participating in the PYP Exhibition at the same time. You can find us on Twitter by following the hashtag of our journey, #pwex17. These avenues of sharing the Exhibition process provides our students with the understanding that their audience, their learning and their actions as a result of their learning are far-reaching and can have an impact all the way around the world. This wider authentic audience certainly encourages our students to step up their game when ensuring their information is accurate and credible.
This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 and the morning of Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15. Everyone, far and wide is welcome and invited to attend and celebrate the accomplishments of our students. We hope to see you there!
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.