Useful (and Easy) Digital Communication for Parents?

July 6, 2017

I am working on attempting to use digital communication in a much more open and daily manner, as well as my own blog more once again. I took a bit of a hiatus from my blog due to trying to keep my nose above water, but it is time to continue!

One thing I have been working with and fighting with has been to find an easy way to use my phone to share learning at the school. I want to use my phone as my main tool for a number of reasons:

  • I always have it with me
  • It takes photo and video
  • It has speech to text
  • I have learned I don’t have to download the photo and video to send it out…

I have been using Twitter much more for the school, using @BelPark CBE and #BelPark, in order to regularly show and share what is going on. My friend, George Couros, demonstrated just how easy it was at a Professional Learning session I got to work with him at in Calgary.

Unfortunately, up until a month ago, it was all going on my cellular plan as our wireless network was not very accessible in the school. I would have had to log in on my device every day, so I did not bother…

Oh wait, we just got a wireless network upgrade installed where staff will be able to connect their personal devices up and they will stay connected for the whole school year! That means my cellular bill will not take the hit! Yay!

My hope is is to find a way to send out text, photos, and video through one tool so that it goes out through all the Applications that I have set up for parents, including Facebook and Twitter.

After some struggles and lots of tests I think I have figured it out using Twitter. My goal is to have our school use Twitter for communication rather than each teacher have to post and maintain a classroom website…

Let you know how it goes in September,

Building School Community in our Bigger Community…

April 19, 2017

Last night our BelPark School Council had the opportunity to hold our meeting at our designated High School. The principal, Jana Macdonald, joined us, gave us a short tour, and shared with us an understanding of what Bowness High School was all about, which I would sum up as a focus on students and building community. We also had Steven Klukas, Principal of Thomas B. Riley School and some of his staff join us as we have been delving into Mathematics learning this year, and wanted an understanding of what mathematics instruction would look like as kids moved on into grade 7 and into High School down the road.

I was quite unsure about how this would work and what the impact would be, but we took the risk… Jana spoke to building community with High School learners, and how respect went both ways. Steven spoke to a focus on the learner and finding ways to meet their needs and help students learn to think, rather than just copy and repeat. Parents asked questions and frank discussions were had about learning and issues around cell phones, online interactions, and drug issues.

After Steven and Jana had left, many of our parents engaged with me about how they found the evening fantastic and so beneficial for their understanding of the next schools their children would attend. Many shared how this dropped their anxiety and has them excited about their children moving on to TB Riley and Bowness HS. Last night went beyond any possible expectations, and benefitted students, parents, and all of our schools within the community of Bowness.

We also shared our strategy that all of the Principals for schools in Bowness get together in an informal group and meet to work together around issues that impact all of our schools. I knew the work was going in the right direction, but how often do elementary schools get to collaborate with a 7-9 school or a 10-12 school.

Next steps: Our School Council and our staff are already scheming and dreaming about how we can connect:

  • We already have HS mentors come work with our students once per week (Awesome!)
  • With the Foods department around healthy snacks and using the kitchens to look at healthy food and snack creation
  • With the construction departments around supporting our students in building and making
  • Our Out of School Care program is thinking of how we get kids connected to TB Riley and Bowness High School

I love seeing the connections we are making. Definitely connect with your community schools!

Taking Risks… and Being Transparent About Them

October 5, 2016

After reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros) this summer, I challenged myself to be more transparent around the professional risks I plan to take this school year.

Often, we share our risks after they have already been successful, rather than being up front before we actually take the risks. This year, I have shared my risk goals with our staff, with the intention of helping our staff feel safe in taking their own risks and asking questions on how to make our school and board to be better and do better.

I know that some of these risks will go great, and others may not develop due to about a zillion factors in the life of a school… Such is life, but I want my staff to see my failures and well as my successes…

My risks this year that I shared with staff are below. Now I am sharing them out there with you! I will follow up through the year as to how it all goes!

1. Time Supports for Staff professional learning and enhancing learning
IDEA Time – Innovative Development of Educational Advancement – Our admin team will teach the students in each grade level so that the whole grade team has time as a team to plan together.
BUILD Time – BelPark Unleashing Innovative Learning & Doing Time – Our intent is similar to “Google Time” or “20% Time,” where staff will have specific time to think, research, collaborate and work on areas of development that they are PASSIONATE ABOUT AND DO NOT NORMALLY HAVE THE TIME TO FOCUS ON. This is not for doing Field Trip forms or planning as per usual, it is for work that pushes us forward!
PLCs – consistent times every 2 weeks for teachers to work together
Team Planning Times – specific times consistent every 2 weeks for teachers to work together

2. Learning Commons
• LC Philosophy Implementation & Utilization with students

3. Twitter for Staff Collaboration and Collaboration with other Schools
• My Favourite and Best Collaboration & Learning Tool (behind PLNs)
• How do we get staff on and using it to collaborate both within and outside our school?

4. YouTube Channel – Admin Video Communication with parents/community
• How do we utilize video to improve communication with the community?

5. Learning Garden on West Side of School
• Collaborative Design, Development and Implementation of Outdoor Learning areas

I will keep you updated as to how this all goes!

Work hard, learn tonnes!

It’s About Time

September 9, 2016

(I had the opportunity to write for CBE182 again this year. It is a forum to share great learning coming from the Calgary Board of Education, and it is great to follow!

It’s about time…

It’s all about time. It takes time for great learning, whether its students engaged in learning to be amazing citizens or teachers engaging in professional learning.

Ponder how you personally learn best… My greatest learning happens through:

  • Discussion with amazing colleagues
  • Building on ideas we create and shape
  • Working on innovative enhancements for learning (which is my passion and my work)
  • Taking risks and being willing to fail
  • Writing for and sharing with an authentic audience (
  • Reflecting on success and failure and the work I do every day

How do we set up conditions for students to learn in the same best ways that we ourselves learn?

  • Discussion with others
  • Creating ideas and building understandings
  • Becoming passionate about their work and learning
  • Learning to take risks and fail (and learn from failure…)
  • Writing for and sharing with an authentic audience (not just their teacher)
  • Reflecting on success and failure and the work they do every day

This year, we are creating time for our teachers:

  • For discussion, creating ideas, working on passions, risk taking, sharing, and reflecting
  • The admin team is releasing teaching teams so that teams have more time to work together
  • We are limiting staff meeting time and using a Google Doc for information items
  • Staff will have time to BUILD (BelPark Unleashing Innovative Learning & Doing) to work on ideas and research to make learning even better! (Sorry, I love acronyms…)

Hopefully, the “timely” risk taking pays off!

Keep learning tons!


Derek Rakowski (@derekrakowski) has been a CBE student, teacher, and principal. He still thinks he has the best job in the world, as he is learning each and every day…

Thanks, Volunteers, For Your Contributions to Public Education!

June 2, 2016

BelPark is literally the most diverse school I have ever seen. We have many ethnicities, races, abilities, languages, levels in academics, differences in socioeconomics, etc.
I believe that Education is the great equalizer, provides opportunities for all kids, and enables kids to grow and develop into great citizens. Our volunteers help us to enable and empower our students, from food to exercise to reading to field trips to fantastic learning opportunities to gardens to grandparents to… Wow! Here are some of the opportunities we have provided and supported kids with this year!

  1. BOKS Morning Exercise Program
  2. Food for Thought Healthy Snack Program
  3. Wednesday Food Hamper Program for Families
  4. Interpreters for new refugee students and families
  5. Supporting our students with clothing, food, shoes, boots, coats, games, puzzles, books, etc.
  6. RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) Program from Bowness High School
  7. Grandparent Reading Program
  8. Readers and Scribes for provincial achievement tests
  9. Building, seating, and planting our outdoor raised garden beds
  10. Learning Commons Design and Implementation
  11. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Calgary
  12. Jump Math After School Program
  13. Boys and Girls Club of Calgary
  14. BCA safety committee
  15. Bowness Park walking field trips and outdoor education
  16. KidsLoveBowness – planning and supporting school initiatives and fundraising
  17. Planning and Implementing Sports Day
  18. Planning and Implementing Grade 6 Barbeque Celebration
  19. Classroom volunteers for learning, reading, connecting…
  20. Supervising Swimming lessons for Kindergarten to grade 4 students
  21. Supervising Skiing and snowboarding lessons for grade 5 and 6 students
  22. Field trip volunteers
  23. Pizza Lunch Volunteers and Coordinators
  24. Casino Fundraiser Volunteers
  25. School Council – You are the best!
  26. Parent Fundraising Association – supports all of our children with fundraising, field trips costs, artists, residencies, performances, and making sure all kids are able to go on field trips!

Thank you to everyone who volunteers with students for:

  • Supporting public education for all kids, no matter their home life, finances, or supports.
  • Enabling the growth and development of all of our students
  • Providing excellent learning opportunities for our students
  • Helping to make our school a true “community school” – We could not continue building BelPark, and our students, without each and every one of you…

To all our volunteers who support Education in Bowness, in the CBE, and in Alberta, THANK YOU!
Mr. R

Purpose in Questioning – Asking Questions to Stand Still or Move Forward?

April 13, 2016

A blog from George Couros had an immense impact on me earlier this week. It was called “Asking Questions To Stand Still or Move Forward?” and it can be found at

It got me really to thinking about the possibilities in the how we are working with teachers, parents, students, and even how we work within our school boards and districts.

When we are questioning or thinking, are we doing so with the purpose of keeping things the same, or are we questioning and thinking with the purpose of moving things forward and making the right choices in the best interests of kids?

This just reminded me of the old “That’s not how we have always done it here…”

I am not even talking about this from aspect of “change” or the need to engage in change for the sake of changing. If we are making choices for the best interest of kids, we may be asking questions that help us decided to stay the course. Or we may decide that it is in the best interest of kids to modify or engage in full-scale change. In the end, though, the choices we make our about moving forward and in the enhancement of learning for kids.

We need to ask ourselves, “What is my purpose in asking these questions?”

On the flipside of the coin, are we asking questions about the work of our teachers or districts with the purpose of keeping everything the same? Are we trying to make sure all teacher practice looks the same in every classroom? Are we trying to keep things in our schools to the way we already know?

I had a phenomenal conversation with my friend and colleague, Lisa Nachtigal, this morning, and we stared discussing how much the world of Education has changed in the last 20+ years since we entered the field. Assessment… Approaches to Curriculum… Deep, purposeful, impactful learning… Moving from “Teaching” to “Learning”… I hope we continue to ask questions so that Education looks even better when I am very old in another 20 years! J

Quite a change in perspective when we start questioning about our purpose in questioning in the first place…

Thanks again George! You always force me to think!


An Hour in the Life of a Refugee Parent

March 9, 2016

We hosted a learning session last night for our new to Canada Refugee families from Syria last night with an amazing CBE DLSA (Diversity & Learning Support Advisor) whose speaks Arabic.

Our presentation was in Arabic. Our PowerPoint was in Arabic. Questions were in Arabic.

I stood there and looked pretty…   (You can argue about that below in the comments!)

Over the course of about 90 minutes, I tried to listen and figure out words, hints about emotions, understandings, and try to see the relationships that were developing between the parents, kids, the DLSA, our teachers, and myself. Unlike French or Spanish, I could not see words on the PowerPoint for clues. I could not hear similar words between languages, as if I was listening to a Spanish speaker and could pick up some understanding.

After an hour, I had such a headache…

After an hour, I was able to go back to my normal little English world…

Put yourself in the place of these parents or kids. I am in a classroom in a new country, in a new city, with new teachers I can barely communicate with (I am getting very good at Charades!), with new kids, not understanding expectations or how to ask questions… That would make for a long, tiring day.

Thankfully, in the end, kids are much more resilient that us old people, and their brains will learn much faster than mine.

What an eye-opener that was…



(Thank you)

(Good Bye)

P.S. Thanks to Google Translate!

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