RVS Principal, Ralph McCall School – As Program Chair for this month’s Palliser District Teachers’ Convention, I was sharing at a recent School Council meeting about some of the exciting Professional Learning opportunities teachers would be participating in. Our trustee was especially interested and commented that the Board of Trustees often hear about jurisdictional and in-school professional learning events, as well as participate in their own educational conferences, but know little about teachers’ conventions. While teachers’ conventions are “closed to the public” events, they needn’t be shrouded in mystery. In fact, they have evolved to become outstanding professional learning events, the details of which ought to be celebrated.
Teachers’ conventions began in the 1890s as a Department of Education event so that school inspectors and superintendents could meet annually in the fall with teachers at one school in each community. Over the next several decades they moved from individual school sites, to hotels to large conference centres. They further evolved from initially being a venue for inspectors to “correct” individuals’ teaching, to being mostly an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) platform for sharing business, finally moving to the rich, two-day conference style event, complete with a plethora of sessions across all curricular areas that they are today.
The Palliser District Teachers’ Convention Association (PDTCA) sees delegates from nine ATA locals participate together. Geographically, the district covers most of rural and “rur-ban” southern Alberta (with the exception of Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat). With over 4000 PDTCA delegates in attendance, Rocky View teachers make up about 30% of this cohort. This year, we are proud to welcome three world-class keynote speakers to open our event: Mr. Mark Tewskbury, Dr. Temple Grandin and Mr. George Couros. Further to these speakers, our program is offering over two hundred other sessions, mostly at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Regency. Sessional topics – many of them presented by local speakers – range from best practices in Literacy and Numeracy across all grade levels, to Coding, Robotics and Maker Spaces. Teachers can create hands-on visual art or musical pieces, enrich outdoor and environmental education programs, become better informed about the rising mental health needs of youth, improve second language and immersion instruction, participate in woodworking and culinary arts demos, hone content in religious studies, develop mastery in using Google Apps or scientific tools and more. So much more.
It is all accomplished, in Palliser, by a Board of volunteers who give up multiple evenings and weekends to plan an amazing event for colleagues. Further, these colleagues are receiving this professional learning gift through the contribution of $103 of their annual ATA dues. Where else could one participate in a two-day, world-class caliber event, put on by volunteers and at a cost of only one hundred dollars?! As I opened with, the details are to be celebrated!
So this year, on February 23 and 24 when the students are enjoying the end of their February break, please think of their teachers and the work we are participating in to make classrooms dynamic and engaging, yet still inclusive and achievement-oriented places. Yes, we ARE reuniting with former colleagues and networking with future new ones over coffee and lunch, but teachers’ conventions are NOT “paid days off”. We have our sleeves rolled up, our heads are down, and our minds are being challenged, inspired and re-energized. The teachers in Rocky View and the rest of the Palliser District are coming together to make schools the best they can be. We thank you for supporting these two days of professional learning…. and all the work we do!
Learning Specialist – CTS Teachers from across Rocky View came together to collaborate, create and ideate on designing CTS projects to include core subjects and that also would meet the needs of the students and school. We started the day being inspired by the staff and students of Building Futures in Airdrie. The teacher participants were blown away by the professionalism of the Building Futures students. The students introduced themselves, shook hands with teachers and talked about about the benefits of their program, why they enrolled, and how it was changing their outlook on school.
Then we made our way to the shop at W.H. Croxford. Teachers had time to talk to each other about projects they have done and what they were interested in doing in the future. One key thing that has struck me over and over again this year, is how much we crave time to talk to other professionals about our practice and projects. Rarely are we given time for a tête-à-tête about what is going on in our classes. Professional Learning days and staff meetings often have tight agendas with a lot of bullets to get through, leaving no time just to chat. Shooting the breeze shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time! Build it into your agenda by using speed dating or critical friends protocols that are structured to allow for talk. It can be so helpful to have someone to share your ideas with, brainstorm ways around barriers, and #humblebrag** about the amazing things your school does. The feedback left by teachers and administration following PL sessions led by the 21C team this year, reflects this. The opportunity to hear what other schools are doing is valued and powerful.
Teachers at the CTS Remix day were then faced with a challenge: “How would you redesign a shipping container to meet the needs of your school and/or community?” Teachers partnered up and created incredible designs! A biodiesel plant, a makerspace powered by green energy and a Transformer-inspired container that would expand to allow for multiple uses and then contract back to an innocuous-looking shipping container are just a few of the thoughtful designs that came out of that exercise. From there, teachers had time to consider how they could redesign what they were doing in CTS classes. With creative juices flowing, teachers arrived at inspired and inventive projects that included repurposing an existing school space into a makerspace, redesigning a tent trailer into a mobile showcase for student art work, and rethinking the entire grade 10 curriculum to create a more personalized learning experience.
It was a fantastic day and our thanks go out to all who participated. If you have an idea that needs some help getting off the ground, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can set up a time to chat!
**Definitely worth a Google if you haven’t heard of that term before 🙂
RVS Learning Specialist – Another common theme that we hear about on site visits is the emphasis on relationships. Each school we toured had a different, yet effective way to connect their students, staff, and community. Crescent Heights High School in Medicine Hat has recently started on their High School Redesign journey. Their initial focus has been on building relationships with students and staff and encouraging the pursuit of their passions. Forty minutes each day is set aside for a flex/advisory block that they call “CHAT.” During CHAT, academic, social, and emotional supports are provided. Each student has the chance to connect with an adult in the building, who, along with the supportive peer group, stays as their CHAT connection throughout their time at CHH. One Friday a month they have a day they call “Spark Day.” On this day, during CHAT, students can explore a topic or learn a skill of their choice. Sessions offered range widely, including sports, music, cooking, knitting, computer programing, jellyfish, and many more. The offerings are based on the passions of the staff and the students, and they change regularly. Many schools are experimenting with advisories so it was extremely enlightening to talk to a school about what has been working well and where they are going from here.
In Bassano School, relationships are key. With a high population of students from the Siksika Nation, the school has worked hard to foster relationships within the First Nations community to ensure the success of all students. It is one of very few schools in Alberta that can report no significant achievement differences between their FMNI and non-status students. First Nation students are just as likely to graduate from Bassano as any other student in the school. One of the many ways they have engaged their community is by bringing one of their Parent Teacher Interview nights in to the Siksika community. This demonstration of the school’s commitment to community has lead to substantially higher attendance at these meetings and broader parent involvement in the school.
Bassano School is more than just a building where teaching happens; it is a central hub of the community – a place where kids want to be and where community involvement is high. In their multimedia classes, equipped with green screen and professional lighting, students produce high quality newscasts and advertisements for local businesses and sports teams. The school also has a Human Patient Simulator where students work with nurses from the nearby hospital to check vitals, diagnose, and treat patients with all the authenticity of a medical training facility.
These site visits have all been eye opening. There has been something to learn from each person we’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and each place we’ve been able to explore. Although touring other schools is a great experience, powerful insights don’t necessarily require a road trip. Within every school there are opportunities to discover and stories worthy of hearing. A great first site visit can often be a visit with someone just down the hall or on the other side of your building. Often a powerful professional learning experience can come from simply observing a colleague teach, or being observed by a colleague, and then having a conversation about it. The beauty of being an educator is that we are surrounded by people to collaborate with, to learn from, and who share our goal of wanting to do what’s best for students.
Then again, sometimes it’s tremendously valuable to see other contexts in order to better understand your own. Do you have an initiative you’d like to see in action, or a concept that you’d like to explore remotely? Contact our team to discuss a possible site visit to support that goal.
Seeing really is believing!
Superintendent of Schools – For me it was a teaching assignment at Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon. I actually had one more class to take over the summer before graduating but I got a job teaching. It was only going to be a one-year teaching assignment while the regular teacher I would be replacing was covering for someone else who was away on a year-long leave. That morphed into spending 22 of the next 25 years working in the public education space. One year I worked in the private sector (wanted to see what life was like in the “real world”) and two years working in the post-secondary sector.
Last week I was very lucky to be able to help out at the RVS booth at the recent University of Calgary career fair. For three hours, I spoke to prospective teachers who were graduating this spring from the U of C. I had the opportunity to brag about the great things going on in RVS, what drew me to RVS (twice), and how we support our early career teachers. I answered questions about how people can apply and what prospects look like. I must say it was great to be at the RVS booth as we had a steady stream of students interested in what we have to offer. Thanks to Meghan, Shannon, and Roel for letting me join all of you.
The following night I had the pleasure of attending the ATA induction ceremony for over 100 teachers who are part of the RVS family and are either new to the profession or new to Alberta. I wish I could have stayed for the full evening but it was a chance to say a few words and get to learn about many of our new teachers. Each school created a short video to help introduce the new teachers. These videos were quite amazing and kept the crowd laughing. I’ve asked for the DVD so I can watch the other half of videos I missed. Key messages I shared with the group (but also apply to our entire RVS team): we are in this together and on the same team; keep learning and growing; okay to take risks and innovate; collaborate with others; invest in yourself; take care of yourself; and thank those who helped get you here!
In that spirit – thanks to Mr. Richard Turcotte who was my grade 6 teacher and teacher-coaches Dan Boyer, Al Andrie, and Ivan Tam who made such a positive impact on my life. I am a teacher today because of all of you.
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!