Superintendent of Schools – During difficult times, often we get to see the very best in people. In the past few weeks I’ve seen a number of RVS family members hit with incredibly difficult circumstances. In each case, I saw other RVS family members step up to lead efforts to try and help those impacted families. These are the moments that make me especially proud to be part of the RVS team.
RVS staff, by the nature of our sector, enjoy serving others. We serve our communities, local families and our students. So many staff volunteer their time in countless ways to make a positive difference. It is part of the culture of our schools and of RVS.
Given our work, it is easy to be proud of the work we do. We are not perfect, but our work is noble and makes a difference in the lives of many. Every RVS team member contributes and it is through those varied contributions that we make a difference. With no disrespect to other professionals, we are not about a corporate bottom line, not about stock market value, not about productivity ratios, not about quarterly sales. You only have to spend one day in a school or watch the #rvsed hashtag for one day on Twitter to get a flavour of the difference we make each and every day.
When fellow RVS team members are in need, we step up to the plate. When a student needs some winter boots, our staff reach out to help make it happen. When a tragedy happens in a community, we join in to be part of the healing and help others. People pitch in, dig deep and give of themselves. It is incredibly moving to see and be part of.
Now we are not alone in these efforts. We have so many amazing partners, organizations and individuals that we collaborate with to help others. We have many corporate and non-profit partners who help us feed kids daily. Other partners help create learning opportunities that we could never offer on our own. Countless unsung heroes volunteer in our schools on a daily basis to help. We amplify each other’s efforts to make a larger impact in our communities. For all of this, we are thankful for your assistance.
So, while turkey and pumpkin pie are distant memories, I am thankful and grateful for our RVS staff who give so much of themselves to make a difference. I am very proud to say I am part of the RVS family.
Superintendent of Schools – Late last week I was honoured to be a part of RVS’ Long Service Awards. We celebrated the contributions of 70 staff members who contributed 20, 25, 30 and 35 years of service, as well as those who recently retired. These 70 staff members served our students and communities for an unfathomable 1,700 years in many different roles.
The evening was a small token of appreciation and a chance to celebrate their substantial contributions. These contributions cannot be quantified, measured or categorized, but they are significant. All of the staff recognized made a difference in our schools and communities.
Those who celebrated their 35th year started in RVS in about August 1982. At the top of the charts in August 1982 was a famous song from a Rocky movie – Eye of the Tiger. Anyone celebrating 30 years in RVS might recall driving to work on their first day in September 1987 listening to La Bamba by Los Lobos, which also was a movie tune. They might have bought a brand-new IBM PS/2 with the 386 chips with their first few months’ worth of pay. Those celebrating 25 years with RVS likely saw in their first year either Wayne’s World at the theatre or Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. They went to the movie to take a break from flipping diskettes while Windows 3.1 was loading. Our friends celebrating 20 years did not have an iMac because they were not even released quite yet. They may have been early adopters using AOL Instant Messenger on their dial-up modem while singing Elton John’s Candle in the Wind.
In between the movies, songs and technologies, these 70 staff members built connections, found countless ways to contribute, laughed, maybe cried, and hopefully had plenty of fun.
For those we are recognized last week for their long service and/or retirement – thank you. We thank you for all that you do and all that you did. Thank you for your contributions to public education. Thank you from the kids. Thank you from the parents. Thank you from Rocky View Schools.
Congratulations to our 70 long service recipients/retirees and to those celebrating their 10 and 15 year service milestones (who we will be recognizing later in the year).
Superintendent of Schools – Each year, school divisions in Alberta must generate an Annual Education Results Report (AERR). This report serves as an assurance/accountability tool for school divisions by providing its communities with access to information regarding its students’ achievements, as well as its operational successes and challenges. The report comes out in early December, but we started putting the pieces together this past week. A small team met with various stakeholders to discuss and highlight accomplishments around our goals and outcomes from our Four Year Plan. For each specific outcome, we try to describe (in 250 words or less) what happened over the past year.
Sounds easy? Nope! I find we are so focused on continuous improvement it is hard for us to stop and remember past accomplishments. Conversations stray into what we are currently doing or challenges we are attempting to address now. We really have to rein ourselves in to focus on what happened last year. We take for granted the great work done previously as we know we have much more to do and rarely take time to celebrate our accomplishments. Another challenge is quantifying and documenting the work. Much of our accomplishments are best described in the rich stories from teachers and/or learners. Capturing those rich experiences in a format that fits in a written report like the AERR is tough. In my experience working in some other sectors, they dedicate people to tracking and recording the accomplishments. But K-12 is so focused on providing services, we do not have anyone focused on tracking the actions. As we encourage departments to document their journey using rich media resources like videos, tangible learning artifacts and social media posts, it does help us recall the impact we are having.
We have provincial academic performance measures like Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and Diploma Exams (Dips) that we use to measure progress as well. We also have provincial satisfaction survey data, along with a local RVS survey specifically tailored to our Four Year Plan. Those quantitative data sources are easier to include in AERRs, but even they require interpretation and a back-story to truly understand the data. People who are not from the education sector often feel frustrated when looking at our results because of the variables that cannot be isolated nor ignored. You cannot compare public education to a factory model where productivity gains are demonstrated by the number of widgets outputted by adjusting the speed of lathe or implementing a new conveyor belt technology.
I am describing this reporting challenge from a divisional perspective, but the same occurs for our schools. They are now developing their School Annual Results Report (SARR) and face the same challenge about looking at data, and documenting successes and challenges in relation to their own School Education Plan. I know they face similar challenges because we are so busy “doing” that we do not capture all of the successes and stories.
Stay tuned until early December when we release our Annual Education Results Report. This year we will not be producing a digital copy, as its due date falls in line with moving to a new public website platform. However, If you want to see what an AERR looks like, click here to see past reports.
Superintendent of Schools – Noun – ad·vo·ca·cy \ ˈad-və-kə-sē \ – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.
Let me start by saying I am not an elected official. I work for the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools and have an employment contract directly with them. At the same time, I have a long list of statutory requirements in the School Act that I must comply with. In my role, I work closely with our trustees to support them in their advocacy efforts. I might provide them background information, discuss strategies, share what I am hearing about the topic through my circles, draft letters, and countless other tasks.
Over this past year, I am consistently impressed by the work our trustees do to advocate for students, staff and communities. The advocacy takes all different forms – meeting with the Minister of Education; meeting with MLAs; meeting with local government officials; meeting with other trustees from around the region; working as a collective through the Alberta School Boards Association or the local zone; writing letters to the Minister on topics such as capital needs or transportation funding for French Immersion students; providing feedback on potential legislative changes; attending consultation sessions to provide input on a wide variety of topics; and meeting with parents and other stakeholders in a wide variety of settings, including school councils.
RVS’ advocacy efforts are often focused on influencing potential changes or decisions being made by government. Board of Trustees are heavily influenced by laws of the land and associated regulations. Boards do not have complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do.
Recently, I was able to spend two days as part of an RVS contingent at an Alberta Education consultation for our region. Trustees, senior staff members and parents were in the room discussing a wide variety of topics related to potential legislative changes. The sessions included group work, but also allowed individuals to provide direct comments to Alberta Education through online tools. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these topics and provide input rather than reacting to them once they are enacted. Having table discussions with people from different school divisions and from different roles helped me understand the issues from different perspectives.
While advocacy efforts take time, and may not have immediate results, I believe those efforts are worth the time and energy.
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.