Students Hold Local Candidates to Task in All Candidates Forum
Amrit Rai Nannan and Anna Jensdottir, Meadowbrook School and Heloise Lorimer School Teachers – What better opportunity to get students interested in our democratic process than to let them grill local candidates? On October 11th, that’s precisely what grade six students from Heloise Lorimer and Meadowbrook Schools in Airdrie were invited to do. As teachers, we saw an incredible teaching opportunity, so we organized our very own political forum so that students would have the opportunity to interact directly with Airdrie’s political candidates and more importantly get their questions answered face to face.
We started off hoping to get one or two mayoral candidates and a few councillor candidates out. If we were lucky, the school trustees would be willing to join as well. CIVIX (a non partisan organization whose goal is to create civically engaged future voters) pitched in to provide our schools with the Student Votes Program. Scouring the internet we were able to scrape together contact information. The overwhelming response we received from the candidates was beyond what we imagined – three mayoral candidates, 13 councillor candidates and four school trustees. Excited talk about who was coming started to dominate the classroom discussion and students even started reaching out to candidates on their own. At this point we knew the students had taken ownership of their learning and we had succeeded in our goal of engaging the students in the electoral process.
Frequently, adults and students see candidates as foreign beings that are not approachable. We wanted to break down these walls and show students that the political process is accessible and relevant to them too. We have found that students feel that their voice is not heard because it cannot be translated into a vote on election day. This leaves them feeling alienated and frequently apathetic. After being involved in this spectacular day, students have gained a new appreciation for the power of civic engagement. Our students have been out and about in the community, discussing the issues with their parents and their aspiring representatives. Not only have they actively shown their own influence in our city, but they’ve also gained experiences that will follow them as they grow into our next generation of responsible voters.
They old adage says that “it takes a village,” and for us, it was a proud moment to see the whole village show up for our students.
Literacy Specialist – In order to understand students as readers, it is important for teachers to collect information data about their reading and plan from there. In the first weeks of school, this can be a bit daunting; however, it is also a valuable opportunity to get to know students as individuals and to start building relationships.
Being able to make the most of this valuable time with students requires the rest of the class to work independently. This would allow teachers time to meet with students and gather information about student reading. The beginning of the year is a great time for teachers to work with students to establish routines and expectations. Together, they illustrate and practice strategies for independence to incrementally build stamina around sustaining classroom routines. Over time, students are able to work with increasing independence, providing teachers with the time they need to gather information about the readers in their class to drive student instruction.
To build independence, students and teachers need to clearly establish and practice routines and expectations for the literacy block. It is important to take time to illustrate what following the expectations does and does not look like, and to outline the roles of all class members. Co-created class anchor charts are a great way to remind students of agreed upon expectations and routines. Other classroom structures directly support student independence in the literacy block, including student specific book boxes, environmental print, and readily available materials for reading and writing.
Taking time to embed formative assessment opportunities in classroom practice helps teachers to determine the next steps for instruction. The data gathered through assessment can help to inform the focus of whole group instruction, as well as small, more guided activities like Guided Reading, one-on-one conferences and targeted strategy groups.
Over time, ongoing formative assessment becomes a running track record of student reading growth, which translates into anecdotal data for sharing with parents and students through online student portfolios and report cards. The RVS Literacy Profile is a great place to record and collect this data. Teachers can use the RVS Assessments for ongoing formative assessment to understand the needs of their students, rather than periodically taking chunks of time away from instruction to assess readers for report cards. Using this data, teachers are then able to plan their whole group and small group instruction to target specific areas of need as indicated by students.
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.
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.
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”.