Principal, Prairie Waters Elementary – It is not uncommon in today’s schools and on social media to listen to someone speak about the importance of authentic learning, purposeful learning, and meaningful learning. Others might preach about the importance of students doing “real life work” to prepare them for the “real world.” I certainly have used all of those buzz words and sometimes all within the same sentence on occasion. However, what is spoken about less often is HOW a teacher or a school might shift what they do to provide an environment where students access authentic, meaningful, and purposeful learning opportunities.
I certainly am by no means an expert on creating this type of environment for students. However, I am increasingly learning that it needs to be grounded in community and relationships. While this may sound simplistic, it is very complex and requires a long-term commitment and lots of ‘buy in’.
To provide students with learning experiences that are purposeful, authentic, and meaningful, educators must eliminate the walls that confine our teaching to approximations of what we are trying to achieve. Truly authentic experiences can’t happen day after day in closed spaces. By accessing opportunities and connections in the community our students’ learning can gain purpose and relevance. If we want our students to know “why” they are learning something, getting them out of the school or bringing the right people in can help a lot. Yet, a desire to engage with our greater community isn’t the whole answer. That is the easy part. The much harder part is developing the relationships that allow this to happen. This demands a commitment that takes years to develop and countless conversations to change paradigms.
Business owners, agencies, artists, and trades people don’t traditionally interact a lot with schools and students. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to. By developing relationships with them and engaging them in our desire to shift what schools look like, we can change our learning environments to look more like the ‘real world’ and less like the factory inspired model that they were built on. That invites the question – What can you do to build relationships with your community to impact your student’s learning?
Project Lead, Attendance Innovation Campaign – Attending school on a regular basis is important for the positive development of academic, language, social, and work-related skills in children. Schools offer a structured setting for academic development, language rich environment, opportunities to develop social competencies, and experiences that nurture skills such as persistence, resiliency, problem-solving, and the ability to work with others to accomplish goals.
It is well-known that students who attend school on a regular basis, missing five or fewer days over the year, score higher on standardized and school-level assessments of achievement. These students often graduate from high school and are much more likely to become employed following the completion of school. However, despite the positive incentives for maintaining regular school attendance, thousands of students across Alberta demonstrate problematic levels of school absenteeism and tardiness.
There are approximately 180 instructional days in one school year and teachers have a large amount of curriculum content to cover within that timeframe. Given teachers share their knowledge and passion for learning on a daily basis, students who miss or are late for school are placed at a relative deficit for lost instructional time and valuable learning opportunities. According to the research, students who miss 10 percent of instructional days are placed at significant risk for academic and social challenges. This means, regardless of the reason for absence, students who miss 18 days over the year will likely be off-track in their learning. Thankfully, there are many ways in which absences can be combatted by families, schools and communities. If you need help getting your children to school, are an educator or administrator who needs help working with students who miss school, or a community leader who values the role of school attendance in fostering successful citizens, please check out the following links for useful tips.
Resources for: Parents of Preschool Students ; Parents of Elementary Students ; Parents of Middle or High School Students ; Teachers ; Administrators ; City Leaders
21st C Learning Specialists – If you haven’t worked directly with one of the 21st Century Learning Specialists in the last few years, there’s a reasonable chance that you might not know who we are or what we do. In fact, the most common question asked of us is probably “what exactly is it that you people DO?” However, even if we haven’t had the privilege of getting to know you personally, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve been exposed to some of our work.
The Places We Go, The People We See
For instance, if you’ve watched any of the RockyDocs videos or those published to the Rocky View YouTube channel, you’ve most likely watched something that we created. If you’ve been to a major class or program exhibition featuring student work somewhere in the division, you may have attended something that our team has supported directly alongside the teachers championing those programs. And if you’ve attended a divisional professional learning session where administrators or facilitators had you immersed in collaborative work, talking with and listening to many of your colleagues rather than a “Sage on the Stage,” there’s a chance we were involved behind the scenes with preparing that session.
While the work of our team is sometimes a bit of a moving target, our primary mission is to help teachers and administrators deliver on the goals of Rocky View’s Four Year Plan – particularly those related to developing the key competencies of a 21st Century Learner. Part of the reason our work changes and evolves from year to year is that we’re constantly iterating, trying out new things, and working hard to stay on top of developments in educational circles around the world.
Another reason why our work might be in a state of transition this year in particular is that we’ve had some recent personnel changes. Josh Hill and Rick Gaudio have taken a leave and a sabbatical respectively. Taking their places are Jason Ness (from Building Futures Cochrane) and Janelle Phillips (from Mitford Middle School). Joining the team in a new position that is shared with the Technology Department is Sara Martin (from Mitford Middle School). Dan McWilliam, who is in his 3rd year in the role, has his work cut out for him, showing the new folk all the ropes.
In spite of the transitions, our team has plenty of work on its plate already, starting most significantly with our Design Cohorts that kick off in September. Pairs of teachers from around the division will have the opportunity to take on the roles of students as they are immersed in an authentic Inquiry and Project Design Challenge. While some will create iconic trailhead signs to be placed throughout the division, others will take on the roles of architects and environmental designers, and a third group will contribute to a curated collection of photographs and artwork that encapsulates the many facets of Canadian identity in this, our sesquicentennial.
With a first person understanding of the scope and sequence of these projects, teachers can then bring similar projects to their own classrooms. We’re excited to see students inquire and create collaboratively in processes that bring authenticity to their learning. We’re also excited to be able to capture those processes and their products so that they might further inspire others to take up this kind of work.
We also will be continuing elbow-to-elbow work with teachers who are doing innovative things in their classrooms (Fellowships), as well as working with administrators who hope to bring these practices to their schools through Professional Learning efforts (dSchools). You can learn more about this work at our website, www.makinglearningvisible.com, which is itself also on our to-do list, in need of some redesign and a couple fresh coats of paint.
While we know we won’t be able to collaborate with every teacher in the division, we hope we’ll have opportunities to connect directly with as many of you as we can. If accessing our team through our main “menu” isn’t a likely option, we hope to have the chance to connect with more of you on Twitter (#rvs21C) or through our travels around the division. Please feel free to contact any of us via email if you have questions or ideas to bounce our way.
Dan McWilliam, Janelle Phillips, Jason Ness, Sara Martin