Unleash the Power of Play

Unleash the Power of Play

Supervisor of Jurisdictional Programs – In September, Calgary hosted the International Play Association’s tri-annual conference titled Unleashing the Power of Play. Delegates from over 50 countries came together to celebrate, advocate, educate and learn about the latest research in relation to play and child development. This event couldn’t have come at a better time. Early childhood educators within Rocky View Schools are beginning a dialogue regarding play: the role of play in early learning, the delivery of the curriculum through play, and the balance between play-based programming and school-based academic requirements.

Kindergarten teachers report that the pressure to teach academic skills earlier and earlier has been gradually gaining momentum. The popular notion that the earlier a child can read and write, the more successful they will be throughout their academic career seems well established in society. These increasing academic expectations have led some educators to up the academic rigor in the classroom, which unfortunately, often comes at the expense of opportunities for play.

While increasing academic expectations in kindergarten might appear to afford children an academic advantage, we now know that it does not. Children who have the opportunity to acquire foundational literacy, numeracy, and social skills through rich and authentic play experiences actually have the advantage. They will be better equipped to process and regulate their emotions, reason with information and solve problems; empathize and take the perspective of others. They will develop stronger communication skills, a more diverse vocabulary and will be better prepared for future formal academic instruction.

There is no question that educators ought to have high expectations for their kindergarten children. Play-based programming does not mean that children play all day without teacher support and direction or that there is an absence of goals or expectations. Programming through play is a way of engaging with the curriculum that honors children’s interests and developmental level. If we place more importance on the acquisition of academic skills at the expense of these opportunities, we are doing a disservice to our children. They will miss the opportunity to develop fundamental skills essential for their academic, social and emotional growth.

The Journey to Inclusion

The Journey to Inclusion

Director of Learning Supports – Have you ever read a book that cast a reflection on a part of your life? When I opened One Without the Other, I was introduced to the teaching world of Shelley Moore. It resonated. The students, conversations and meetings described in the book felt familiar. More importantly, the clarity in the work created by Shelley and her students provided a good model on which to reflect upon where we are in RVS on the journey to inclusion. (Please read the book to find out where that is!)

It’s only been about 10 years since large-scale laptop use in schools was implemented. Since that time, the proliferation of digital tools in schools has changed the educational landscape. Only a few short years ago, it was a source of frustration for families and school staff to have to search through binders of visual symbols for students who had no other means of good communication. Today, we are able to condense massive volumes, visuals and text to speech onto the tiniest portable devices. The landscape in schools has moved beyond digital device use as well. However, as dramatically as we have changed, we are stuck in many ways too.

In a way, One Without the Other describes the first competency in an inclusive education system. How do we make inclusion real and authentic for each of us? This is the nature of the work in the Learning Department. The things we are doing and the ways in which we do them is showing promising practice in Rocky View Schools. We are in the beginnings of a new iteration in curriculum design that has the potential to improve how we educate our children in inclusive settings. When I think of the intersects between the work of our design, literacy, learning and diversity specialists, I am brought to the place where the real and authentic becomes apparent once the learning is made purposeful for each of our students. When we work with synergy in our schools and with our parents, then we see inclusive learning in action.

Learning about Learning Sprints

Learning about Learning Sprints

Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was able to join one of our schools and take part of a pilot project being led by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The project is called the Agile Schools Network led by Australian, Dr. Simon Breakspear. Dr. Breakspear and his team have looked at educational research, effective teaching practices and what works in the business world to come up with their approach. Their model, called Learning Sprints, is not revolutionary, but brings laser focus to small, incremental changes in an effort to make large change. In our context, it is about working collaboratively, focusing on student outcomes and how to help students achieve success by addressing one small issue at a time.

Dr. Breakspear challenged us to work as a team to take “boulder” challenges, break them into “pebbles” (smaller components), and then find a narrow, specific outcome called a “sand” focus. Once the issue is defined, we work to understand the issue. Why are students struggling with this outcome and how might we be contributing?

Next we look at what we can do to design learning opportunities to specifically help students achieve the outcome. We don’t look to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead we look at what we can do in an effort to help students achieve that small, specific outcome. We identify a target group of students for the sprint. We look at what research tells us, as well as build on the collective wisdom and experience of the people in our sprint team.

Now it’s time to put the plan into action. We spend 1-4 weeks attempting the designed activities and we assess. We hold weekly stand-up scrums to discuss successes and challenges and share what is working. We ask ourselves, “How do we know if we helped address the outcome? What worked and what did not? Given the experience, what do we focus on for the next sprint?”

Dr. Breakspear and his team developed a number of tools, which he shared over the course of the day. The approach seemed very manageable and calls on us to collaborate and work collectively. We learn and grow as a small team focused on a specific student outcome. It builds on concepts of action research, spirals of inquiry, professional learning communities, but on a micro-scale. I liked the concept of multiple, micro-projects rather than spending the whole year on one outcome. Through addressing multiple “sand” problems we will be able to address the larger “pebble” challenges, which when put together helps tackle the “boulders”.

Favourite quotes from Dr. Breakspear over the day:

  • “Literacy and numeracy are the gateway drugs to learning.”
  • “The best way to do big things is to do a bunch of little things.”
  • “You’re not teaching if students are not learning.”
  • “Teaching causes learning.”

We will spend two more days with Dr. Breakspear and I’m looking forward to learning more. If you want to learn a more, check out http://www.agileschools.com.


Make a Difference  – Student Leadership  – CSLC 2017

Make a Difference – Student Leadership – CSLC 2017

Director of Learning Services – Next week, a large delegation of high school student leaders and teachers from Rocky View Schools will be descending upon Waterloo, Ontario for the 33rd CSLC (Canadian Student Leadership Conference). This learning and leading event will be life altering for many.

When I think of the learning opportunities I have had as an educator, none is more memorable or remarkable than the career-imprinting event of the first-ever Canadian Student Leadership Conference hosted in Yorkton, Saskatchewan in September 1985. As a ‘wet behind the ears’ brand new teacher with all of three weeks of experience under my belt, I was asked by our assistant principal if I would like to accompany two incredibly accomplished grade 12 leadership students to this event. Without hesitation I said, “Sure!” not realizing that the conference, which 33 years later is now fondly referred to as CSLC (pronounced see-slick), would help define and shape my career in education as a teacher, coach, colleague, learner, administrator, director and community member across multiple jurisdictions.

Our flight out of Edmonton to Regina was exciting ‘back in the day.’ The quick flight was followed by a much lengthier van ride from Regina to Yorkton. In the van we were ‘starstruck’ as conference speakers, Jack Donohue, former Canadian National Men’s Basketball Team coach, and Pamela Wallin, host of CTV’s national morning news show ‘Canada AM’ (and now more infamously recognized as a Canadian Senator), rode with us and told amusing tales the entire ride. We were completely engaged and the conference had not even started.

The excitement and entertainment of the van ride to Yorkton was quickly overshadowed upon arrival at Yorkton Composite High School where Barry Sharpe, the teacher chair for the conference, greeted everyone.  Our threesome was quickly engulfed by the energy exuded by the 800 student and 200 teacher delegates to the inaugural student leadership event. The dream of Barry Sharpe taking what had previously been a provincial conference and elevating it to a national event had been realized, starting a wave of service and leadership development across Canada that continues today.

Over the next five days, student leaders and adult advisors were engrossed in ‘living leadership.’ Through networking sessions, workshops, keynote speakers and team building, we garnered amazing ideas to take back to our schools. We met like-minded, action-oriented people who were committed to ensuring student voice was honored and empowered. The personal and professional connections we made at that first ever conference, have remained strong through 33 years in this work. To this day, CSLC connections such as Dorothy Karlson (SK) and Dave Conlon (ON) remain some of the most profound professional influences and resources in my work as a jurisdictional leader.

It’s kind of like Robert Fulghum said in his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Almost all I really need to know about leading, I learned through student leadership. Certainly, foundations of my philosophy as a school administrator are rooted in my passion for student leadership. The lessons from some of the keynote speakers at that first conference, including Mark Scharenbroich and Alvin Law, are timeless and have guided me as a teacher and administrator throughout my career. “Leave a place better than you found it,” is a mantra to which I subscribe thanks to Mark. Alvin’s ability to confront unimaginable challenges as a thalidomide baby and turn them into opportunities to make the world a better place remains inspiring and humbling.

The hospitality of the community of Yorkton was unparalleled, demonstrating personal, school and community leadership in ways we had never seen. After five days of awe-inspiring, motivational, generous and truly selfless sharing of ideas by compatriots from across this amazing country, our little threesome gratefully and graciously returned home, exhilarated and bursting with ideas to make 1985-86 the ‘best year ever’ at our school. The ‘legacy’ for the students was improved culture and spirit in the school, through the student leadership events they undertook. As a staff member, I explicitly engaged my peers in making our school a ‘great place to learn and work’ with CLSC inspired activities.

Our participating RVS schools can expect some wonderful and energetic ideas to be launched in their own schools this upcoming year, once their student leaders and advisors return from CSLC 2017. We look forward to learning how our newest group of RVS leaders will #makeadifference.

Building a Rich Literacy Culture in Your School Community and Classroom

Building a Rich Literacy Culture in Your School Community and Classroom

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.