Learning Design Specialist – In preparation for the Learning Design Maker Cohort, we thought it would be interesting to ask teachers, “What do you make and why?” Tough question! Immediately I put on my teacher hat and thought, “Well, I make awesome lessons, labs and fun projects because… curriculum!”
And then I thought about what making really is: making is finding creative solutions to unique problems. Teachers are designers of learning; we are here to design for our students and to learn alongside them. One way teachers can create authentic experiences that are fun, engaging and real, is to come up with interesting and relevant challenges for kids to solve. In making, students rise to the challenge by creating authentic, high quality products. They will be engaged, reflective, collaborative, and feel accomplished. During the Learning Design cohort, our goal was to generate engagement by encouraging teachers to make something they were proud of.
The modern maker movement is about making high quality products for an authentic audience or consumer. Whether a person knits a blanket to give as a baby gift or bakes cookies for coworkers to enjoy, creating a high-quality product worth sharing is the essence of making. When a student produces something that they take no pride in, either because they lacked the skill to reach a level of quality they could be proud of, or the product has no consumer beyond a teacher who will grade it, the engagement can be limited. When students have an opportunity to create products that are meaningful to them, that they can be proud of, and that can be shared with an authentic audience, making becomes magical! Teachers don’t have to be experts. Being willing to pose a question and learn alongside students can be just as powerful. Providing an opportunity for students to explain, exhibit or show off to parents, industry or local government adds even more to the experience.
Making requires more than knowledge and some remembering. It often requires deeper understanding, reflection, and an application of knowledge. And isn’t that the goal of teaching – to create authentic learning experiences that drive students to be engaged learners ready for problems of the future? So what are you making?
Superintendent of Schools – There are so many jobs I could not do. I am consistently impressed with the skills of others and after watching them for a bit, I start to wonder if I could pull off what they are doing. Upon reflection, I normally come to the conclusion that I probably could not. I don’t think I am really different from most because each of us has a unique set of skills and experiences that allow us to be successful at different things.
The latest job I realized I could not do is music/band teacher. I am, and was, a pretty good teacher, but I do not think I could be a music teacher. I honestly do not think I could do it. I was at two winter concerts this past week and while I was impressed by the student performances, it was the two teachers who gained the majority of my attention. They were so generous and positive with their young performers. They beamed with excitement. They were so encouraging with their students, who had only begun playing that instrument two months before. Every so often, I could see the teachers in that “flow” state described by author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The work appeared effortless; they seemed lost in the moment. Yet through the movement of the baton, the encouraging prompting, or the rise of an eyebrow, they supported the young musicians. I saw pride in the teacher as a youngster hit the note that they had been struggling with. When the teacher put their arm around the struggling soloist, I saw care, support and encouragement for the young risk taker. It was a lot more than just a winter concert!
So, add music teacher to the list of yet another job I could not do. For all of you who are music teachers (including my niece who is going to school to be one), kudos to you. Thanks for all that you do!
Director of Human Resources – For those of us who haven’t spent much time on university campuses recently, the landscape has truly changed. Spending a few hours at the Werklund School of Education’s (University of Calgary) Interdisciplinary Learning Showcase last week left me energized and thrilled for the future of education! And it’s not just Werklund doing great work. Other institutions continue to chart new territory in learning and teaching, preparing tomorrow’s teachers for an ever-evolving classroom. Working directly with Mount Royal University, Ambrose University and Concordia University of Edmonton, I have the opportunity to learn first-hand of the great thought and planning going into teacher preparation programs throughout our province.
Last week’s Interdisciplinary Learning Showcase exemplified the potential that exists when we consider the possibilities in education. Second year students were challenged to develop engaging learning opportunities encompassing interdisciplinary rationale, in-depth collaboration with peers, a focus on all learners, inquiry and assessment.
Have you ever wondered about coyotes and people co-existing in Calgary? Or how Alberta’s heritage trees present links to our past? What about how society determines what is ethically acceptable in the current moment? Those are just a snapshot into the dozens of projects on display last week at the U of C! Learn more about what was showcased last week.
Having studied many, many years ago at the U of C, I can confirm today’s teacher preparation programs are very different from what I experienced many years ago. That’s not to suggest my experiences were inadequate; to the contrary, I believe I was well prepared for yesterday’s classrooms. When I look at the incredible work currently undertaken in Alberta’s universities, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
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.
Principal, Ralph McCall School – Some of them “played school” in their basements as a kid. Others discovered a passion for working with children and teens through volunteer or paid involvements. Many of them have family members who are educators. Each one recently completed a succession of valuable practicum experiences. And now all of them are embarking on their teaching careers in Rocky View Schools and throughout the province.
Welcome to the profession, beginning teachers!
In RVS, we are recent beneficiaries to innovation, energy and the enthusiasm of working alongside dozens of colleagues new to the profession. How valuable each is to their site and to their students. How fortunate the families of these learners is to have an inspired new teacher leading their sons and daughters.
But as thrilled as we are to have them on the RVS team, how do the veterans among us ensure these new teachers aren’t merely surviving, but thriving? According to an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) study from 2013, there remains a high attrition rate of teachers who leave the profession within their first five years. The potential reasons for this are vast and not the focus of this commentary. Rather, it is to highlight how experienced colleagues might mitigate it happening, providing ample support to beginning teachers from the outset. In RVS, and across the province, there are many options and formats being employed. If you’re a new teacher yourself, I hope you are accessing some / most / ALL of these. If you are in the position to guide or mentor, please do so! We all need to be aware of the following opportunities for our colleagues, just starting out:
RVS Community of Practice for Beginning Teachers
ATA Beginning Teachers’ Conferences in Calgary and Edmonton
#ntchat (New Teacher Chat on Twitter)
School Based Mentorship Partnerships and Programs
Administrative Support through formal and informal evaluations
And more – just Google “Supporting Beginning Teachers” and there is no end to the titles, resources and other ideas!
All teachers were once beginning teachers. We all remember what an exciting time it was, what it felt like to be starting out and what a big difference even the smallest of supports made. We are lucky to have so many new colleagues in our Rocky View Schools. Let’s ensure we nurture their talents and their well-being!