Horses and Hearts

Horses and Hearts

RVS Learning Specialist – A person’s passions can come in many different shapes or sizes, flavors and themes. Some people love travel, others are foodies, while some feed their souls with art or music. One of my life’s passions involves a six foot tall, brown-eyed, well-muscled guy by the name of Tipper. I should clarify, however, Tipper is my horse! As someone who has always had a passion for horses, I know how wonderful they can be for the soul. So, when I heard that students in Rocky View were getting the opportunity to work with horses to build their confidence and self-awareness, I was very eager to find out more.

I had the privilege of seeing two of the programs that Rocky View students participated in this year: Spirit Winds Ranch, Equine Assisted Learning with Laurel Griffin and Whispering Equine, Equine Facilitated Wellness with Carrie Watson. Both left a lasting impression on me, and from the comments and reflections of the students participating, I could tell that our students were also powerfully impacted by the experiences.

At Spirit Winds Ranch, elementary students learned what it means to build trust and relationships through working with horses. Although I have had many personal experiences in this area, Laurel’s program opened my eyes to a whole new world of skill building. The session I observed was all about using common sense. While working with their “horse partners”, the students read a challenge aloud and then planned to lead their horse through obstacles in the safest, kindest way possible. The students were instructed to watch for their horse’s non-verbal cues: ear position, eyes, licking their lips, etc. I was amazed at the creative problem-solving skills that the students were applying as they worked through the obstacles. When the horses struggled to complete a task, the students used their newly acquired empathy skills to find out why. Every student experienced success, and you could see the sense of pride on their faces and accomplishment in their voices.

The essential life skills that were taught and reinforced during this exercise were invaluable. The students communicated verbally with their partners and volunteers, and non-verbally with their horses. They demonstrated resiliency through trying different strategies and then adjusting, based on their horses, to achieve success. They also collaborated effectively with their partners, volunteers, and horses. At the end of the session, students reflected on what resonated with them from the morning. Some of the words they chose were, “flexible, fun, creative, strong leadership, thinking, and dependability.” The self-awareness of these young students was impressive.

At Whispering Equine, high school students participated in an equally life-changing experience. In this session they started in a cozy classroom in the barn where Carrie led them through a discussion about types of stress and how people cope. The students identified experiences of their own that had caused them stress and reflected on how it made them feel, physically and emotionally. They would then discover that the day’s activity with the horses would be all about releasing that stress and tension, both their own and the horse’s, through acupressure.

After the students had time to groom and bond with their horses, they led them into an arena to start the exercise. The students were taught to recognize their horse’s energy fields and were instructed to watch for signs of physical release: chin quiver, sighing, yawning, licking their lips, head shaking, etc. Carrie talked about “offering intention” to the horse instead of just trying to do something to them. The relationship that the students had previously built with these horses was crucial, as this experience would make both the horse and the student vulnerable to one another. She instructed them to be mindful of their own body and eye positions, breath, and finger tension, all of which would communicate different messages to the animals. Each student started behind their horse’s ear and used the tips of their fingers to work along the Bladder Meridian – an important line of energy in acupressure that runs the length of the body. At a point of tension, the horse would blink, indicating a spot that required focus. Watching these students use their hands to connect with their animals was incredible. As the horses would release a spot of tension, the students would often do the same. Each was silent and intently focused on both their horse’s and their own physical and emotional sensations.

In talking to the students after the session, I discovered that mornings at Whispering Equine were often emotional. As the students worked through areas of their lives that cause them stress or anxiety, they dealt with difficult feelings in ways they would not ordinarily be able to. Other days were energetic and uplifting, leaving the students with a stronger sense of confidence and self-assurance. No matter the day’s emotional tone, the students felt they could safely connect and communicate with their animals without fear of judgment or critique. Their reflections and sense of growth through the program were both touching and inspiring. These students were unanimous in saying that this was an important and powerful experience for them.

My own lifetime of experiences with horses has taught me that they are incredibly perceptive creatures. They can read body language and sense emotions. Through seeing these students and their interactions with horses, I have come to see how valuable their intuition can be in helping humans reflect on and heal from their own emotional challenges. I only received a brief snapshot of the incredible programs that Laurel and Carrie put on, however, the impact of their work was evident. I am looking forward to seeing more students in Rocky View Schools supported through equine learning. Horses, with their beauty, empathy, and rich personalities, are powerful agents of student wellness. As a lifelong horse-lover, it moved me to see students reveal a deep connection to these magnificent creatures. In a word: unforgettable.


Rocky View Providers:

“Spirit Winds Ranch” Cochrane, AB – Laurel Griffin

“Whispering Equine” DeWinton, AB – Carrie Watson

“Inner Equine Journeys” Carseland, AB – Lori Thompson

“Equine Enrichment” Carstairs, AB – Angie Payne

“Heard Wellness Through Horses” Carstairs, AB – Amy Monea

Homework Help

Homework Help

Superintendent of Schools – After repeated check-ins over the long weekend, at 8:15 on Monday night my youngest son pulls out his backpack and finds some math homework that needs to be completed. Sound familiar? After a moment or two of panic, followed by some sage parental advice, it was time to get it done. In an effort to try and help get him to bed at a reasonable time, I pulled up beside him and watched him tackle his homework.

The homework was a series of questions about division – three and four digit numbers divided by a single digit number. He was quite good; I was impressed that he could solve most of the questions and explain the strategy being utilized. He had the majority of the homework completed in class, but identified about three or four questions that he had questions about because they just did not seem right. We tackled one of those together and then he was able to complete all the remaining questions.

I thought we were finished, but then he flipped the page and I saw there were MORE questions on the back. He was not sure if he needed to do them as they were listed as advanced. I read them and grimaced as they were quite a bit more challenging than the earlier problems. These problems were provided to challenge some students to extend and apply their learning. I’m not sure if it was to delay going to bed when he said he would like to try a few. He persevered to solve the first couple of questions, then the next question stumped him. I told him that is okay and that we’d think about it some more and then see if we can develop a plan to tackle that question on another night. I liked that he wanted to solve the question and we’ll see when I get home tonight if he has any ideas on how to tackle the question.

Anyway, in the end my takeaways are: while trying to teach independence to your child is important, for your own sanity, be physically present when your kids check for homework prior to 8:15 pm  on the Monday night of a long weekend; doing homework with your kid can be fun; and having the resilience to tackle a problem that does not come easy is a good life skill.


Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy

Learning Specialist – Becoming more advanced in the critical element of digital literacies involves thinking about your own literacy practices. It involves reflecting on how they have come about, what has influenced you, and how your actions affect others. Belshaw

Rocky View Schools is known for being progressive and making every attempt to support learners in terms of technology. The Technology for Learning Team recently brought Doug Belshaw to Banded Peak School and the Cochrane RancheHouse to do some professional learning around how to connect digital literacies to our other district initiatives including the 21st Century competencies and RVS’ Literacy and Numeracy Framework.

Doug Belshaw is a leading educational consultant in digital literacies, open learning and open badges. His TEDTalk and PhD research focus on the essential elements of digital Literacies. On May 1 and May 2 Rocky View Schools staff from across the district worked with Doug to learn more about supporting and developing digital literacies for our learners.

Currently, RVS offers online courses to learn more about digital citizenship and media literacy through MediaSmarts. Students can take Passport to the Internet: Student tutorial for Internet literacy and MyWorld: A digital literacy tutorial for secondary students. Information Communication and Technology (ICT) is the Alberta Education program of studies integrated into every class at all grade levels in our district.

On a daily basis our learners use technology to learn at school and at home. The ubiquitous nature of connecting of learners anyplace, anytime can be amazing and frustrating. How do we ensure that RVS learners develop authentic digital literacies that are timely and relevant in an ever changing world?

With Doug Belshaw, RVS staff discussed the strategies to provide deliberate practice around technology to develop digital skills while at the same time balancing digital learning contexts and mindsets.

We spent time defining and clarifying the context of  Digital Literacies at Rocky View Schools:


Then, we spent time introducing the 8 Elements of Digital Literacies to RVS staff which include:

More information about these digital literacies can be found in Doug Belshaw’s book, the Essential Elements of Digital Literacies and from Doug’s slideshare presentation.

The next step is not creating a new digital literacies framework. Instead, we will be examining all the ideas and strategies suggested over the two days by looking for common themes. We will then focus on aligning and connecting the themes offered through Alberta Education and current teaching practice throughout the district. Rather than creating a new vision, we will be working on enriching and supporting digital literacies by focusing on how we communicate and learn in online environments to ensure learners are successful, are engaged and are supported.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Verena Roberts, Learning for Technology Specialist.

Learning and Sharing with our Neighbours

Learning and Sharing with our Neighbours

Superintendent of Schools – This past week I attended the last of our regional College of School Superintendents (CASS) meetings for the year. CASS’ stated mission is to be “… the voice of system educational leaders, providing leadership, expertise, and advocacy to improve, promote, and champion student success”. It is made up of our senior educators who serve divisional leadership roles. It includes more than just Superintendents, but also Deputy/Associate/Assistant Superintendents and many Directors on the education side of our shop. Our zone includes: mega divisions like Calgary Public, and Calgary Catholic; divisions with similar geography like Foothills; adjourning neighbours like Golden Hills and Canadian Rockies to name a few. As a region, we meet four times a year to discuss topics of common interest.

The ability to sit and talk with others who fulfill a similar role is very important. It does not matter if those conversations involve fellow teachers, fellow administrative professionals, fellow coaches, fellow nurses, fellow parents or any other role specific groups. The ability to share issues and challenges allows for learning to occur for all parties. Hearing someone else’s perspective on an issue helps expand my knowledge – challenges me to revisit my thinking and often spurs new ideas. Often you walk away from such conversations with more options to consider and a few times you are just glad that you are not dealing with their specific challenge.

Working collaboratively makes all of us better. I do not feel we are in competition with our fellow school divisions. We all are here to serve our communities in providing the very best for our youth. We have lots of learn from each other. We do not need to reinvent the wheel time-and-time again. We know our local context and know when we can lift a great idea and implement it exactly as another division, when it could work but with some changes, and when it just will not work in our local environment. When we work together we amplify our individual strengths.

Thanks to my fellow CASS colleagues for sharing and helping me grow.


Celebrating Teachers Conventions

Celebrating Teachers Conventions

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!