Superintendent of Schools – Like many families, my family is a very busy family with everyone hustling to different events. In the fall and winter my family is consumed with hockey. Hockey practices, games, skating on the pond, skating treadmill appointment, hockey fundraising activities, getting skates sharpened, weekend tournaments, checking out the latest gear, spring hockey tryouts, etc. The same can be said for most families, but you can substitute soccer, basketball, dance, swimming, piano, language learning, skiing, dirt biking, 4-H, sledding, etc. for hockey.
It is challenging because it seems like all activities are asking youngsters and families to commit to only one activity. Specialization is commonplace and the days of kids playing multiple sports, while skiing recreationally and learning the piano are gone. Now that said, we are guilty as we allow ourselves and kids to get sucked up into the vortex of hockey in the fall & winter and baseball in the spring & summer.
Despite the busy schedule, we try and make the time to eat together most evenings. It remains the best opportunity for us to have conversations, check in with each other, and see what else is going on in our lives. I’ve recently engaged in another opportunity for discussions with the boys, the captive audience hockey road trip.
As we have two boys typically heading off in different directions for hockey, we have to divide and conquer. Both of the last two weekends I’ve been out of town with one of the boys at different hockey tournaments / away games. The drive to and from the event provided me the opportunity to talk with my boys. My car is the low-tech vehicle in the family, so there is no TV, videos, satellite radio, Xbox and Wi-Fi to distract us. This past weekend we listened to a story on CBC about the US election and it spurred a great conversation about democracy, political organizing, voter turnout, media, and more. We would not have had that conversation if not traveling in a car for an extended period. The previous weekend, as we drove down Hwy 2, it was talking about ranching, which neither my youngest nor I know much about. We were engaged in a conversation based on what we saw while driving. It was a place-conscious inquiry project where we just talked and on a few occasions had my son open up my phone to find out some information that furthered the conversation. Visiting towns that are new to us provides more opportunity to talk about what industries are in that town and why, the age of the hockey rink, and why it is where it is, how we develop an appreciation for things that are different and so much more.
We are fortunate that friends of ours always volunteer to drive their kid and their kid’s friends to and from events. The kids are older and often it means going out on a Saturday night at 11 pm (or later) to pick up a group of kids. I asked them why they do it and they told me, just like my hockey road trips, it creates an opportunity to talk and learn about what is going on in their kids’ lives and the lives of their friends. No need to stalk their Instagram account or SnapChats, the kids talk in the car. The adult can ask questions and while their own child typically rolls their eyes, other kids in the car will chime in and respond. They describe it as a direct pipeline into the lives of their kids.
So, the next time you are heading out to drive the kids somewhere, take the long route, turn off the radio (or put it on CBC), pretend you forgot the phone charger, and see where the conversation takes you.
Superintendent of Schools – As the holiday season rapidly approaches I want to take a moment to share my appreciation for the fantastic people that make up Rocky View Schools. I have gained my appreciation by travelling throughout RVS and chatting informally with people, watching the countless tweets showcasing the great things going on in schools, attending community and school events, visiting schools, quiet conversations with students, observing the efforts of our staff, and living in a community within RVS.
What do I see? People who care, people who go above and beyond, people making a positive difference in our communities and with our youth. Whether it is a secretary, teacher, grounds person, education assistant, assistant principal, HR recruiter, afternoon caretaker, community volunteer coach, school tech and countless others – I see people who dedicate themselves to serve others. That is just how we roll in RVS. It is in serving others that we get our greatest rewards.
Our RVS team consistently puts others first. I see staff put students and their families ahead of themselves. I see the products of countless volunteer hours donated to make our schools an amazing place for learning, as well as a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment. I see our staff helping students contribute back to our communities and to the world. I smile with pride when I see our kids volunteering, raising funds for those less fortunate, finding their voice to identify injustice, and/or celebrating all that is right in the world. In most cases, it is with staff’s leadership, guidance, and support that the students are able to demonstrate their own leadership in our global society. Our staff models what it means to serve others.
As we reach the winter break, I want to say “thank you” to our entire RVS family. You make a difference in the lives of children, their families, your colleagues, and your communities. Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for welcoming me back into the RVS family with such kindness and concern for my family. Please be safe over the holiday, take the time to recharge your own batteries and try and do something for yourself and your family over the break.
Superintendent of Schools – Today the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2015 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a two-hour standardized test that attempts to assess the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science. It is administered in 70+ countries / regions. This version of the assessment focused mostly on science but also measure literacy and mathematics as well.
PISA is not without controversy. Canada and Alberta traditionally has done quite well on the tests and these results are often cited by jurisdictions around the world where results are strong. It is often one of the measurements used to compare provinces and countries. In Alberta, the government states that “Alberta participates in international studies of achievement, along with other provinces and countries. These include: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).”
Recently the Alberta Teacher Association voted to urge the Minister of Education to withdraw participation in PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Here is some background on the issue as described by the ATA:
“The PISA ideology accepts that economic imperatives, growth and competitiveness are the primary aims of schooling, and assures that student achievement in math and science are used as the key indicators of the future economic health for a region or society. It fails to recognize that the role of education is much broader and includes (among a host of other responsibilities) the nurturing of social cohesion in rapidly changing complex societies, passing on our diverse cultural heritage and the promotion of civic engagement and citizenship.
The real issues affecting society at this historical moment are the rise of societal inequalities, the need for greater social cohesion among polarized perspectives, and the collective actions necessary to combat climate change and its impact on local and global economies.”
Canadian students are doing well on these international measures. We remain a very high performing system across the globe. Alberta continues to be a strong performer and the results demonstrate there is no need to panic. In science, Alberta (if it was its own country) would be the 2nd highest performing jurisdiction in the world. Our reading and math results are strong too. Reading remains very high overall and our math results continue to tell the story that we have work to do in that area. In science, overall, performance for girls and boys were equal which is good. In reading girls outperformed boys and in math the boys outperformed girls.
We need to empower and support our classroom teachers continue to provide effective classroom practice to improve overall student achievement, including aspects that are never tested on tests like PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS. Yes, literacy and numeracy and science are important but so are the arts, wellness, social studies, along with competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, citizenship, wide variety of literacies, etc. Truth be told, I’ve never hired anyone based on their PISA score, grade point average, or IQ test.
A number of countries have made PISA results the end-all and be-all. Students are subjected to repeated test preparation sessions and “drill and practice” to try and move up or maintain PISA results. In the end, is that the type of schooling we want for our leaners? I say “no”. We need our youth to be able to learn throughout their life and take on challenges that do not even exist today. They need a strong foundation of literacy and numeracy skills but it needs to extend well beyond just that.
In my humble opinion – our professional teachers, who know our students best, are in the best position to assess the achievement of students and support them on their own learning journey. Observations, reflections and classroom based assessments really tell the story. When we make learning real, engaging and visible it answers the questions about the effectiveness of our classrooms.
For more about the Canadian results see – http://www.cmec.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/365/Book_PISA2015_EN_Dec5.pdf
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I attended the Alberta School Boards Association Fall General Meeting. I am not a trustee so my role at these types of events is to support our trustees with information, try and answer questions they might have about how the issue under consideration might impact our schools, and provide chocolate during the long day of discussion and debate.
The event was broken into one day where trustees from across the province discuss policy matters and the second day was more focused on professional learning for trustees and senior staff. Additionally, the event included opportunities to hear from our Minister of Education and the Deputy Minister of Education. There also was an opportunity for trustees to chat and advocate with MLAs at a social event.
Boards put forth motions that they believe should be the official policy of the Alberta School Boards Association. Often motions direct the ASBA to urge/demand/request government to do this or that, or a motion could direct the ASBA to focus their advocacy efforts to try and address an issue. Most of the motions are provided to Boards to consider prior to the event, but emergent items can be considered at the event. Someone from the moving Board speaks to the proposed motion, then the debate and/or questions for clarifications occur. This is a room full of trustees who are quite savvy and know many procedural maneuvers provided under their bylaws and Robert’s Rules. Amendments come from the floor followed by amendments to the amendments. When things get sticky the parliamentarian is asked questions to ensure procedural fairness. Sometimes the debate is heated and often there is strong consensus around the floor. After the debate is completed then one person from each Board has the responsibility to vote (using electronic feedback gathering devices) on behalf of the entire Board. Within a few minutes the assembly sees the results of the vote.
So, what type of things do trustees from diverse areas across the province talk about? At this meeting motions included topics such as: supports to implement recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Call to Action; desire for adequate funding to support Arts programming in schools; that Boards do not have to belong to ASBA for continued participation in group benefits through ASEBP; that computer coding be integrated into the curriculum; that all Alberta students be provided access to an environmental education; increased bandwidth for schools; introduce a curriculum on Mental Health and Emotional Well-being for all students; design and implement a Pre-K to Grade 12 age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention curriculum; implementation of the recommendations in the “Report of the Alberta Mental Health Committee 2015.”; and kindergarten hours of delivery match kindergarten funding allocations.
What I witnessed at the event were passionate trustees trying to make our education system better for the kids in our communities.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board hosted their fall joint meeting with trustees and school councils. In addition to trustees, about 70 people were in attendance with a combination of division administrators, school administrators and school council representatives. The two-hour event included a casual pizza supper and information about resources for school council leaders and information about the ward boundary review, but the main focus was about the Alberta curriculum development currently underway.
Two Directors from Alberta Learning walked the group through a 75-minute presentation mostly focused on the “why” and the “how” of the curriculum development project. Looking around the room the group was nodding appropriately and when we had table talk opportunities there was plenty of discussion. We had bursts of questions/comments at certain points. When talking about the development process a couple key question were asked – “How are students being involved in this process that will impact them?” and “Have you talked to recent graduates about their thoughts about what they needed to learn?” These questions resonated with people and a conversation spun-off about when and how that could occur.
About 60 minutes through the presentation a parent made a comment that really hit home with me. The parent stated (very politely) that most of what had be presented did not really make any sense to her. Some other parents quickly vocalized similar sentiments. My mind raced through the previous 60 minutes as I tried to process her comment. I came to the realization that the talk was too much about the “why” and the “how” whereas parents in this room were more concerned about the “what” this means for their children. The talk had acronyms that parents did not know; it talked a lot about the technical components of the development process, which potentially really did not matter to parents; and a six-year timeline to build curriculum just does not make sense to many people. There was a hunger to talk about how and when the eventual curriculum would be implemented.
I walked away from the event with a reminder that we need to make sure that when talking to parents we avoid the edu-jargon that dominates our language. We consistently make assumptions about terminology that we use in our business is known to everyone. We need to focus on how whatever we are talking about impacts their children. Like everyone, we all want our kids to be successful, get what they need and have every opportunity available to them when they finished our system. We need to listen to what parents want for their children. People generally trust public education, but need to know that their kids will get what they need in the end. Maybe, for parents, curriculum development is like making sausages – we don’t need to know about how it is made, but just that it is good.