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! http://cbe182.weebly.com/)

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 (https://unravelingnewfrontiers.wordpress.com/)
  • 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 http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/6201.

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! https://translate.google.com/

The Perceptions (and the Reality) of Refugee Students – What are we really seeing?

March 2, 2016

In December my school was one of three in the CBE that started up a program whose purpose was to support refugee students who have been identified as English Language Learners with backgrounds of Limited Formal Schooling. The ultimate programming goal of our LEAD class is to provide sheltered, trauma-sensitive, short-term language, academic and cultural instruction to enable students to transition into community classes.

Going in, I had a definite perception of what I thought the students would be when they came and joined us. I want to share what my early thoughts were, and what the actual reality was when they came to our school!

Basic Needs

I have seen a big difference between “Privately Sponsored” families and “Government Sponsored” families. “Privately Sponsored” Refugees have a group of people, such as a school group, who have put up supports for a family to come to Canada. I made assumptions about what our “new to Canada” families would have for basic needs, but it is very dependent on the supports they have. Our “Government Sponsored” families do not have the same levels of support, and we are working to support any of our kids, already in our community or if they are new to Canada, with nutritious food, clothing, footwear, winter clothing, etc.

School Readiness Skills

As our “new to Canada” students have had limited experience in a formal school setting, I did not know what to expect when they joined us. For many of our students, they had to learn much of the basic learning and processes Canadian kids would have learned in Kindergarten. Two things that surprised me were:

  1. Many of the “basic” school skills our “new to Canada” students were missing (e.g. lining up…)
  2. And how quickly our “new to Canada” students learned these skills (not perfectly, but better)

Our “new to Canada” students, with differing levels, came to our school with a desire to learn, respect for others, manners, smiles, parental supports, etc. Just like us…

Ability to Participate in School

Our “new to Canada” students have already become a big part of our school. Community students welcomed them right into our school, want them to integrate into their classes, act as leaders in a reverse integration model, and want to include them in play and social situations. Our “new to Canada” students want exactly the same things any other kid would want. They want to feel included, welcomed, be able to learn and to engage in social activities. We had a Teacher-Student Floor Hockey game, and were not sure if our LEAD students could handle it. They LOVED it! It was their first “hockey game” ever, but even though they had no English and had never seen the game, you should have seen their SMILES!!! J

Parental Support

I had no idea what to expect as to levels of parental support our “new to Canada” students would come with. Guess what? They are exactly like any typical cross section of our Canadian students and parents. All parents want the best for their child, and want to send their best child to school every day. Just like we all do!


School Council and Parents

Our School Council had a great discussion the other night in how we could support our “new to Canada” parents, and I was amazed at the ideas, thoughts, and supports that were raised by our parents from the perspective of parents. They truly want to support our “new to Canada” families, and want to integrate them into our school community as much as possible. They are such an inspiring group, and such a great group of role models for students and parents. They want our new families to feel comfortable to come to our huge Book Fair event, our Family Dance, our assemblies, etc. Just like we all do!


It has been a ton of work for our school staff in getting this program going, and I want to thank everyone, staff, parents and students, for all of your support for both our school and our new to Canada” families.

After all, they are just parents and kids… just like we all are!

Mr. R

Living on the Frontier of Education! – with Dr. Simon Breakspear

January 29, 2016

I was able to spend Friday with Dr. Simon Breakspear, who is known internationally for his practical insights on learning innovation and system reform. He is the founder and CEO of LearnLabs, a global learning research and design agency. We discussed and worked on navigating disruptive change, developing innovation capabilities and how to drive continuous improvement for better learning.

How can established schools learn to embrace change and adapt quickly?

How can educational leaders balance the pressure for system stability with the imperative to innovate learning for the future?

I loved that in our conversations he used the term “Learning Frontiers” (Check out the name of this blog!). We are still on the “frontier” of where we as educators are moving. If, as a teacher, you think we have figured it all out and that our system is perfect, then we will have issues…

Wikipedia defines a “Frontier” as a region at the edge of a settled area. It is a transition zone where explorers, pioneers and settlers were arriving. That is, as pioneers moved into the “frontier zone”, they were changed by the encounter.

I love that we are on the “Frontier” of educational understanding, as this means we are not at our destination yet, and the frontier is always moving. We are becoming better. We are moving into new areas and places. We are not leaving the effective wagons behind, but are improving as we move. Wagons got engines and became cars…

In education, we are always on the Frontier. Education has been improving and adapting since I started, and long since before I came along, since the time when formal education began. We are in a time of unprecedented change. The best schools and educators in the world will be those who can embrace change, adapt quickly and continually innovate towards better and better learning.

Growth for me back as a teacher back in 1996 was moving beyond having kids copy notes on Government off the overhead and calling that “Learning…” My definition of learning has changed so much since then, as has my practice, my beliefs, and my learning behaviors.

I knew that I wanted learning to look better, I just did not yet know how. I looked to others to become better and increase the impact I have had on students, staff and parents that I have had the honour to work with.

To paraphrase Simon, he shared, “I don’t care what you know, I care about what you do when you don’t know…” I turned to the people around me to learn. I am so thankful for the amazing colleagues I work with every day, my online network, and the people who have pushed and challenged me to become better…

And better…

And continually better…

Work smart and learn tons!

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