Superintendent of Schools – Early in the term for the Board of Trustees, they take a massive road trip to visit each school / site in RVS. I join the group for the tours and get the opportunity to visit our schools too. It takes about nine full days to visit all the sites, but I believe it is a very important opportunity. Trustees are elected for a specific ward, but they are required to make decisions in the best interest of the entire division. Visiting every site helps put discussions about facilities, budget, and communities into perspective.
While lengthy in total time, visiting over 50 sites over nine days does mean each visit is a bit of a whirlwind. We are in a school for about 45 minutes and in that time, we walk throughout the facility and hear about the school. Principals are asked to organize a facilitated brief tour of each building, featuring initiatives that exemplify the school community. Often, we have students lead us on the tour, while other schools have the principal take us. No matter who the guide is, the tours are always enlightening even for someone who has been in the facility a few times. To me, one of my roles is the taskmaster to keep us on time. It is challenging as there are so many good things going on in our schools; we could stay for hours but it just is not possible.
After each site tour, we jump in a bus and head out to the next site. Often in that drive between sites, we discuss something we saw or heard about. Other times the tour will generate a bunch of questions for us to discuss. The ride time is an important part of the tours too.
I must say, as someone who has taken their fair share of bus trips for sports teams when I was younger, things have changed when on the bus. I remember an important coach in my life, Lyle Sanderson from the University of Saskatchewan, lamented when the Walkman and later the Discman became popular. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself again.) Lyle would say that team trips changed from card playing, chit chatting, highly interactive events to quieter, more individualistic trips when people put on their headphones and listened to the tunes. Having recently been on a few bus trips with 12 and 13-year-old hockey players, that is partially true, but there was still plenty of noise generated by those peewee hockey players. On these early tour days, I can tell you that between some schools it would be quiet as each of us pulled out our phone and got caught up on emails.
Thanks to the schools we have visited so far. The tours have been absolutely great!!! To those we have not visited yet, we will see you in the upcoming weeks.
Superintendent of Schools – Shortly I will be joining the trustees as they tour every RVS site over a period of nine days. These visits provide both new and veteran trustees with the opportunity to physically see each school and learn a bit about it. We are riding on a bus to visit about six sites each day, so I’m sure we will have plenty of conversation between each visit.
A comment I’m sure to hear is that each school is unique. That is so true! Every school has a culture that reflects its community, physical space, staff and students. In RVS we do not have a cookie cutter approach to our schools. We support diversity in approaches while collectively working towards the goals of our Four-Year Plan. We try to effectively blend both choice and standards – and it can be a delicate balance. Most importantly, schools are responsive to the needs and aspirations of their students.
This past week we had grand opening ceremonies for two schools that opened this fall in RVS. Fireside School in Cochrane held their event in the morning and Windsong Heights School in Airdrie was held later that same day. Both schools have almost the same physical plant, but they are unique. These differences are more than just the colours on the walls; you can see the passion of staff and reflections of the community in the differences between the two schools. The schools are building their cultures around similar narratives, but not identical. And the ceremonies were both great. Like their cultures, each school’s event was similar, but not identical. Both celebrations were student-led and included speeches from dignitaries, videos and student performances, but the type of student performances varied due to the different people in each school.
Our schools, like the students and staff within, reflect the diversity of our communities. We come together to support each other while celebrating both our uniqueness and our common experience. In my humble opinion and to quote Martha Stewart, it’s a good thing.
Principal, Cochrane High School – Last May, I received an email out of the blue from a community member in Cochrane inquiring if we have a 3D printer at Cochrane High School (CHS). The man informed me that he had heard of a company that provides online plans for 3D-printed prosthetic limbs and that his granddaughter was in need of a hand. I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of being involved in this project. I approached the Communications Technology teacher in my school with this idea and we began to brainstorm some ways that we could get students involved in this pursuit. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the end of the year arrived quicker than expected and we were unable to get the project done. The summer passed and in September, the teacher was approached by two Grade 11 students who were interested in printing a hand as a project. The teacher brought these students to my office and together we began to put things in place so that the idea could quickly become a reality.
After contacting the family, we were able to invite the little girl to the school for a meeting. Our students measured her hand, described the way the process would work and had her pick the colours for the prosthetic. At one point the little girl, who is an absolute gem, said to the boys, “This is a great opportunity for you guys isn’t it?” And so we began.
Last Wednesday, we had a meeting with the little girl and her grandfather during which the boys, their teacher and I presented her with her new working hand – one that was printed for her on our 3D printer and based on a design that emerged from an online community that was founded for this purpose. I cannot begin to describe the immense sense of pride that I had knowing that our students made this happen for her. It has been one of the highlights of my entire career.
At its essence, this is a story about making connections. This process really started for me two years ago when the teacher approached me about his interest in 3D printing and inquired about the possibility of our school purchasing a printer. The connection that we made that day as we discussed the possibility of incorporating this device into our school’s programs laid the groundwork for the rest of this story. The grandfather’s choice to reach out to me to inquire about this innovative possibility is another connection. And yet another one was made by the boys when they shared their interest in 3D printing a hand with their teacher, who then directed them towards me. The boys’ global connection to an online community enabled them to secure a design and this was yet another important connection that unfolded from this process. This story culminated in a little girl trying on her purple and blue 3D-printed hand and within 30 seconds, picking up a bottle of whiteboard cleaner that was sitting on a table in my office. On her face was one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. Talk about making connections!
This is how profound things happen in the world: through connections. Our focus for the last year at CHS has been quite simply that: “Making Connections”. It’s something I believe we’ve always done well at CHS, but recently, with our sights set on pursuing these powerful moments, and amplifying their presence in our school, the connections we have observed have been amazing. It is astounding what a dedicated team of hard-working people can accomplish for their students and their community when they have a goal they all believe in.
Superintendent of Schools – I try to be out at schools as much as possible. It can be a challenge with all the meetings I need to be part of, but it is important for me to connect with our students, staff and communities. Over the past week and a half, I’ve been at over 10 schools and these are just a few observations from those visits:
- Kids are happy to be in school – serious;
- Each of our schools are clean and well maintained due to the great work of our maintenance and custodial crews;
- Our staff put tremendous efforts in building warm and welcoming learning environments;
- Middle school students can really eat hotdogs;
- Professional learning is critical;
- The amount of paper that goes through a school office at this time of the year is daunting – we need to continue to find ways to automate processes and reduce the volume of paper going back and forth between school and home;
- Building early connections between home and teacher/school is a great way to support the success of students;
- Some school welcome back breakfasts can rival Stampede events;
- We have over 35 new teachers who just graduated in 2017 that are keen to make a positive difference in our schools;
- Principals and Assistant Principals are magicians in how they juggle so many competing demands on resources and their time;
- Schools care about kids and do great things to support them to help achieve success;
- Students consistently demonstrate that they value inclusion;
- Opening a brand-new school is even more work than I thought it was and our staff who have been through it are owed a great amount of appreciation;
- Teacher creativity is limitless;
- Attendance in week one really matters – establish good routines to start the year off well;
- School Councils provide meaningful ways to help shape your school – get involved;
- RVS team members that work in support roles create the conditions that allow students to succeed; and
- Sitting in day-long meetings is physically demanding.
I am so proud of our schools and our RVS team. I will continue to be out and about in our schools and communities so remember to stop me and say “hi”.
Settler Students Learning with Elders and Knowledge Keepers on Treaty 7 Territory
RVS Teacher, Heloise Lorimer School – Over the 2016-2017 school year, I collaboratively planned and facilitated learning opportunities centered on Indigenous-land based pedagogy. As a Settler, a non-Indigenous person, I have received guidance, knowledge and kindness from three Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. Together we facilitated sharing of Indigenous ways and offered land-based educational experiences to my students.
Heloise Lorimer School opened as a brand-new school for Rocky View Schools in the fall of 2016. The school is situated on traditional Niitsitapi, Nakoda, Tsuu T’ina and Métis territory, also known as Treaty 7 lands from 1877 and Métis Region 3. For thousands of years, the territory has shared knowledge, care and the ancestors of these nations; past, present and future. It is essential to relationships that the recognition of traditional lands and treaties takes place on an ongoing basis. As a new school, we have had our first year to connect with Nations and establish our relationship together.
Each Indigenous Knowledge Keeper had land sites that were important to their Nation and places for the students to develop relationships with. Each site provided a place for understanding and contextualizing knowledge that would be shared with them. These places were generously offered by Knowledge Keepers and became the centre of our planning for visits and sequencing of learning events.
Place-based learning incorporated ceremony, stories and sharing of knowledge. The places where this model of learning took place were:
- Our classroom
- Heloise Lorimer School Field
- Glacial Erratic, Airdrie
- Kings Heights Pond, Airdrie
- Nose Hill, Calgary
- Grotto Canyon, Exshaw
- Blackfoot Crossing, Siksika
Over 100 students were able to learn with Niitsitapi, Nakoda and Métis Knowledge Keepers. Multi-grade groupings for experiences took place, as well as interdisciplinary learning. The greatest outcome was the relationships that students created. Students found connections to one another amongst their experiences. Guided reflection empowered students to share and have pride in their ideas and knowledge. Furthermore, students gained success in understanding and meeting curriculum objectives related to Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, Physical Education, Art and Social Studies. My grade 3 class was significantly influenced by our collaborative learning opportunities with Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers.
Please visit the following website to review our learning together in detail: http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/indigenous-land-based-education/.