Superintendent of Schools – This week I had the absolute pleasure of teaching for a bit! Okay, to be honest, it was more like I got to be a guest speaker. How did this happen?
About eight weeks ago, I walked into the Wildrose meeting room at the Education Centre where a group of teachers were working with our Learning Design team to develop rich, engaging learning opportunities for their students. As I often do, I walked around observing projects that were being collaboratively designed. I came upon a group of teachers from Elizabeth Barrett Elementary School who were building learning opportunities about Saskatoon for Grade 2 and 3 students. I casually mentioned, “Hey, I used to live in Saskatoon.” Instantly the teachers looked at me and said, “Do you want to come to our classes and share?” I said yes and suddenly I was now on their planning map under the resources list.
Full disclosure: I’ve worked with kids of all ages, but all of my formal teaching was with high school students. In planning what I’d share, I needed to remember that these were seven and eight year olds, so I attempted to include some student participation, keep things light and connect a few stories that you might not find online.
Three classes of students squeezed into a classroom and we learned about Saskatoon together. They had already learned lots about Saskatoon and we even had a handful of students who lived in Saskatoon at one time in their early lives. Plenty of other students had visited or driven through Saskatoon. Early on, I shared that I grew up in Moose Jaw and, of course, I had to ask who had seen “Mac the Moose” while visiting Moose Jaw.
When we were talking about the land, I shared a picture of both Cochrane and Saskatoon and asked the students to tell me which picture was which town/city. They nailed it. And when I asked how they knew, they talked about seeing the mountains in the background of Cochrane. I asked if there are mountains in Saskatchewan and most kids said, “Nooooooooo.” I clicked to my next slide and there was a picture of Mount Blackstrap just a few minutes outside Saskatoon. As you can see in this picture, “mount” is probably a significant stretch. We laughed together and I shared the story of how Mount Blackstrap was built in order to allow skiing at the 1971 Canada Winter Games.
In the blink of an eye, the 40 minutes were up. I hope the kids enjoyed talking about the land, weather, population, housing, things to do, major events and listening to me try to answer their “I Wonder”-ings. I certainly did. The kids were polite, grateful, funny and inquisitive.
Thanks to the teachers for allowing me to join your learning community for a short bit. I hope to rejoin the crew in April when they hold their celebration of learning about Saskatoon.
Superintendent of Schools – Let me start by saying this… I’m a real techie. I love a wide variety of technologies and enjoy the challenge of learning and teaching new technologies. I’ve owned and used the latest device X or software Y for 25 years. My interest is combined with formal education in the domain – my B.Ed. was with a Computer Science major and my M.Ed. was in Educational Technology. Not just a user of technology, I’m also very interested and experienced in network design and optimization, security, programming, and many other foundational technologies. Deep down, I’m a serious techie.
Until I rejoined RVS in 2016, I have directly overseen technology as part of my role since 1990. Now, I just bug the RVS tech team every once and a while. I still read about the latest in technology almost daily.
In the mid-90s, I was part of a pilot project between the University of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon Public Schools where I was given an Internet account to see if there was anything to use with students. At that time, most members of the general public did not have access to the Internet as it was still really a research network. Google did not even exist at that time. The Internet was so “small” at that time that I could read/review every website in the world that came online in any one day (only 25-30 sites created in any one day). Creating websites was a programming exercise with no simple or click and drag creation tools. I taught my Grade 10s HTML (the language of websites) in 1996.
Like many hardcore techies, I do not have a Facebook nor Instagram account. I use Twitter (@gregluterbach) as part of my personal learning network, but I also have a Snapchat account. (I just wanted to learn about it.) I love to analyze large volumes of data using tech tools to look for patterns, find ways to represent complex data in different views, or to create visualizations to help others make meaning of numbers. I enjoy helping others use technologies (although I am least patient with my family members). I love that technology can be used to level the playing field for so many learners.
Over the years I have found that vendors have merged concepts so that people can interchangeably use all operating systems. I like to think that you could give me any device or any operating system and I can make it work.
What is next in my tech journey? I think I am finally going to jump on the home automation bandwagon – I’m a late adopter on this trend. I have some privacy and security concerns, but the tech is so cool and has dropped in price that I’ll probably need to dive in. There go a few days on my next vacation as I bring this to life. Sorry family!!!
Superintendent of Schools – Last week we had our third Leadership Team Meeting (LTM) of the school year. These LTM meetings involve Education Centre leadership staff sharing and learning along with school principals and assistant principals. We keep them to a morning only, so time is tight. Yet for the past year, we have included some form of professional learning in each of these meetings.
We spent about an hour with colleagues from the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC) and Alberta Children’s Services. We watched and discussed the recently developed video about a school’s role in keeping our kids safe. The 28-minute video highlights what child abuse is, how to recognize the signs of child abuse and how to respond / report suspected abuse. It is a tough topic but the video does a nice job in walking people through the basics. We spent an additional 30 minutes asking questions to the experts from SKCAC and Children’s Services. We learned together by watching the video together and through the subsequent discussion that followed. All of our schools will be showing this video in the upcoming months to help our staff.
The second part of the meeting was some self-directed professional learning led by a variety of our divisional learning specialists. These sessions included topics such as: documenting literacy assessments; numeracy; physical literacy; assistive technology; digital literacies; project planning; e-portfolio tool for younger learners; supporting our indigenous learners; and others. People self-selected based on their personal interest and school goals and for one hour they dug into the topic in their groups of 5 to 25 participants. The value of people learning and sharing together is powerful. At the table I was at in the numeracy session, schools shared strategies that were working for their struggling math learners. People were nodding and writing down ideas that they could consider for their school. I was reminded that often schools are not aware of what another school are trying. The importance of getting people in small groups and let them share and talk was affirmed.
The last part of LTM was some information sharing. As much as we try and minimize these “stand and deliver” pieces, they still have value. People appreciate each department highlighting an item or two from their multi-page update, which was previously included in the agenda package. We try and keep it to a minimum, but walking people through a complex item and allowing for nuance to be shared remains to be valuable. A quick question at the right time is valuable to almost everyone in the room.
So, there you have a recap of last week’s leadership team meeting and a bit about why I think it is important to get people together to share and learn together.
Superintendent of Schools – Happy New Year to all! It is somewhat strange to say that in January for schools because school divisions in Canada run on a September to June calendar. The New Year celebration is a somewhat confusing time as the new calendar year neither marks the end of a term nor semester for us. We are 40% through our school year, so it is not necessarily a natural time for us to look back on the “year”.
That said, I will look back over the past calendar year and share a few reflections as they relate to my work life in RVS. I was still the newbie when 2017 came around, having returned to RVS the previous August. It was apparent that the “I’m the new guy” card had expired. I was warmly welcomed by people with so much support that I felt I was a full-fledged member of the team by January 2017.
Much of my work is supporting our Board of Trustees and the important work they do. It was quite early in 2017 when the Board made a decision to request from the Minister of Education a variance to the ward boundaries and to add another trustee. By early spring, the approval had been granted and RVS was set to move from seven to eight trustees. Over the summer, we were rocked with the passing of Trustee Helen Clease. It was very challenging as it occurred at a time when many of us were away on vacation and the Board was not meeting. The reality of the loss of Helen truly hit home at our first Board meeting in late August when her chair sat empty. September saw the election cycle begin and three trustees, who I had spent a fair bit of time with over the past 12 months, chose not to run again. It was tough to say good-bye to Sylvia, Bev and Colleen. In mid-October, we added five new trustees to the Board and the important work of building relationships with the team and providing important orientation information began. A very busy October, November and December window has positioned the new Board for success.
Another component of my work is dealing with legislative changes over the year. School divisions have to operate within the law and over 2017 we saw a number of bills passed that impact our operations. In the spring sitting, Bill 1: An Act to Reduce School Fees made major changes to our system. We hustled to deal with all the changes resulting from that legislation. Further changes via Bill 8: An Act to Strength Municipal Government, Bill 17: Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, Bill 26: An Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis, and Bill 28: School Amendment Act all impact us in one way or another. Each time new legislation is passed, we need to review the implications, make changes and help communicate those changes.
Another major area was the opening of new schools in 2017. The fall saw two new school openings in RVS. Windsong Heights School opened on the first day of school for children in southwest Airdrie. It was a massive push, right through the long weekend, to get occupancy and then get the classrooms ready. Fireside School in south Cochrane opened in mid-November with the same last-minute panic. In both cases, it was exceptional to see the effort from so many different RVS staff to get the school open and ready for students. Also, in the spring of 2017, we received approval for a new elementary school in Hillcrest in south-central Airdrie, so that was definitely exciting.
Throughout all of this, what I saw in RVS was steadfast commitment to public education and the children in our communities. Whether it be trustees or staff, we are here to serve our communities. The focus on goals within our four-year plan (learners being successful, engaged and supported) was clearly evident. Through the efforts of our team, we managed another fall with almost five percent student enrolment growth.
To our RVS community, I wish you the very best of the new calendar year. Good luck in all that you do. Aim high. Take care of each other.
Superintendent of Schools – The following holiday message of appreciation was shared with the staff of RVS this past weekend:
As the calendar year comes to a close and we reach the Christmas break, I want to take a minute to share my appreciation. I am consistently impressed by the efforts of our RVS team. I see, read about, and hear about many of the amazing things you do and the differences you make in the school and community. I know that for every one story I hear, there are countless other positive stories that I never hear about. You make these differences through your actions, your words, your dedication. Many of these differences are made in volunteer efforts that you give of your own time to help our students and our communities.
We all have different roles yet together we make a greater difference. It is the collective efforts of many that yield the largest impacts. I also need to recognize that sometimes it is the quiet one-on-one conversation you have with a student, a parent or a colleague that makes a profound difference in their life. One is not more important than another but collectively our RVS family makes a difference in our communities. For this, I am truly grateful to be part of the team.
Given the size of our team, over 2,400 team members, I am unable to acknowledge each of your efforts individually. I try and highlight the good work through various channels, but certainly there is way more going on than I will ever be able to share. Please understand that I appreciate all that you do.
Having recently completed the first term report cards, fall sports seasons, and Christmas concert season, the break comes at an important time. It is time to unplug for a bit, spend important time with our families, find some time to do what you like to do and recharge the batteries.
Be safe, have fun, take care and enjoy the holiday season!
#WeAreRVS #TogetherWeAreBetter #ProudSupt #RVSed