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!

James Bond and Teachers: Blunt Instruments or Multi Tools?

December 9, 2015

On the weekend I am going to go see the new James Bond movie, Spectre, with a buddy. I am so excited, I feel like a kid at Christmas! Oh wait, it is almost Christmas…! I have been a huge Bond fan since first seeing Goldfinger when I was 10 years old.

In the movie Casino Royale, “M” calls Bond a “blunt instrument.” I love my work and am always thinking on how to improve, so I connected this to my work as an educator.


It got me thinking about how much Education has changed, and if the analogy of “blunt instrument” applies to us as educators. Are we blunt instruments where everyone is treated as the same nail after nail after nail, or are we working on more focused objectives around individualizing learning for each and every student, such as a multi tool with many different tools to do what is needed?

I remember as a beginning teacher (a long time ago…) my focus was on “covering” the concepts and SLAs that needed to be covered. Teaching was covering the material as a teacher, and less about helping kids to actually learn. Then a shift started, from “teaching” to “learning.” Our job has changed from teaching to helping kids learn. This is a subtle shift to most, but is a ground-shaking change for teachers.

There have been huge changes in the realm of education in the 20 years since I first became an educator. We have begun to learn more about and focus on 3 big changes:

  1. Student Engagement in their learning where it makes sense, is purposeful and meaningful
  2. Task Design and implementation that makes kids have to “think” in addition to developing basic skills
  3. Formative Assessment and Assessment for Learning have moved us beyond doing a summative unit test to assessment being a tool to help kids be able to learn, self-assess, reflect, and decide on the best next steps. Teachers are there to help kids learn skills that we use as adults every day in our own work and personal lives.

With the work on student engagement, task design, and formative assessment and coaching students rather than just assessing if they have memorized something or not, I believe that we have taken on a much better learning focus and are moving from being teachers to educators…


Work hard, learn tons!

41 Strategies for Bullying Prevention and Building Positive Behaviour at Belvedere Parkway School

November 20, 2015

41 Strategies for Bullying Prevention and Building Positive Behaviour at Belvedere Parkway School
(I actually wrote this more for our school on our Admin Team Blog ( but thought it was good to share with all. My plan is to next ask our students to see what they would say as to how we support them in positive behaviours and the prevention of bullying.) 
The Belvedere Parkway School I saw today was when one little grade 1 girl was losing her earring and it was hurting and pulling on her ear. There was no blood or visible injury, but every single child in her whole class was there trying to support her and make her feel better! This truly depicts what typical ROARS behaviour is all about at BelPark!

That made me feel great seeing that, as this morning I saw that a parent had written and posted this on Facebook:

“You know what disgusts me. My daughter is 5 and is in grade one and she bumped her lip and got a fat lip and all she was worried about was that people in her school were going to make fun of her for a fat lip. Like seriously she shouldn’t have to deal with that kinda stuff in grade 1, she should just worry about going to school and enjoying it and having fun not worry about kids making fun of her in grade 1. Just thought I would rant this because I don’t think this is right bullying is suppose to not be tolerated in schools but I don’t see anything being done about it. Rant over!”

I want to help all parents understand that at BelPark we have implemented a ton of supports for students, many in the past year, to build a culture of tolerance and acceptance and positive behaviour. One of the reasons I love working with students is that they love to learn, and all want to learn how to behave reasonably and to regulate themselves. Unfortunately, kids make mistakes, and we deal with them. We have many proactive strategies, as well as reactive, to deal with issues. Often, the reactive strategies are not visible as it is not helpful, beneficial, or fair to make consequences public for all to see.

The definition of Bullying is that “Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual.”

If I had a big fat lip, I would probably be self-conscious about it as well, as this is an absolutely natural reaction. Bullying, though, involves power, intention, repetition and purpose to intimidate, not being worried about a fat lip.

Below is a list of 40 of the intentional and purposeful strategies used and implemented at our school to support positive behaviour.

  1. ROARS – Bullying Prevention and Positive Behaviour Program – recognizes good behaviour around Respect, Ownership, Attitude, Responsibility, Safety
  2. ROARS CERTIFICATES are given to students to recognize and celebrate specific positive behaviors, not as a general citizenship award
  3. ROARS ASSEMBLIES are used to teach students about appropriate behaviour at school and in life through the ROARS code
  4. Teachers and staff utilize the ROARS philosophy in the classroom to not only demonstrate positive behaviour, but to help students practice, learn and use positive behaviours
  5. Our BelPark STUDENT LEADERSHIP program has been developed to encourage and guide students in learning leadership skills as well enabling positive role in their school
  6. Teachers and students learn using LITERATURE CONNECTIONS and books such as “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”, “Wilson Sat Alone,” “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed,” “Weslandia,”  and “Hooway for Wodney Wat” to learn about dealing with bullies and social issues
  7. The grade 5/6 classes are working on the concept of “People, Places, Perspectives” this year. They are looking specifically around ways to prevent and deal with bullying, looking at the PERSPECTIVES of both sides, finding videos on how to deal with bullying, and have just finished reading a book called “Confessions of a Former Bully.” They are also looking at video stories such as “The Power of Words” ( to gain a greater understanding of citizenship and helping others
  8. All of this learning is actually part of the ALBERTA PROGRAM OF STUDIES in Health around the concepts of citizenship and getting along together
  9. The CBE RESULTS: Citizenship, Character, and Personal Development are specifically reported on in CBE report cards and are part of classroom instruction in every CBE classroom
  10. High school MENTORS from Bowness High School are part of our Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Calgary mentorship program, and work with a number of our students and building relationships and providing mentorship
  11. Our whole school learned about ROARS through a video about how small behaviors can make a huge positive difference for people
  12. Working with students to teach them STRATEGIES for when they are not with adults and setting them up with independence, problem-solving and self-advocacy
  13. Our grade 1/2 classes are helping students learn positive behaviors through the concept of “EXPECTED” behaviors and “UNEXPECTED” behaviors, so that they know and can identify what expected behaviors are in the classroom or on the playground
  14. We are participating in ANTI-BULLYING WEEK (going on right now from Nov. 15-24) to create a “A safe and caring school environment for every student, every day”
  15. Our Kindergarten students are doing action RESEARCH around learning to identify how others feel by the looks of their faces in photographs, then learning how we can support people with these feelings through intentional teaching and instruction
  16. Many classes hold regular CLASS MEETINGS to discuss issues in the class or on the playground, thus the classroom and the teacher can support all students in figuring out solutions or strategies
  17. Our students have BUDDY CLASSROOMS that they team up with so that older kids act as leaders and role models for young students, who get to learn from working with positive older students
  18. Many staff are utilizing PROGRAMS like “The Zones of Regulation” by Leah M. Kuyper and “Interoception: the Eighth Sensory System” by Kelly Mahler to support understanding in working with behavioural issues
  19. Mr. Rakowski has attended and PRESENTED at conferences on Social and Emotional Learning in Calgary, AB; Cleveland, USA; Toronto, ON, Harvard University in Cambridge, MA; Phoenix, AZ; Kananaskis, AB; Jasper, AB; and Seattle , WA.
  20. Teachers are on SUPERVISION in the morning, at recess and at lunch so they are easily accessible
  21. Mr. Rakowski meets all of the BUSSES each and every morning to connect with students and deal with any issues that have arisen
  22. Mrs. Caso meets all of the BUSSES each and every afternoon to connect with students, deal with any issues that have arisen, and try to assist that all students get on their bus
  23. The number of SUPERVISORS for Lunch Supervision exceeds the minimum we need on duty so that they are visible and available
  24. The BOKS Program was implemented to offer physical activity for students before school from 7:30 am to 8:15 am, as research show that this helps student to work and learn in positive ways
  25. Our FOOD FOR THOUGHT Program was implemented this year to make sure all students have enough food. If kids are hungry, they often do not have the same abilities for tolerance and positive behaviour
  26. The SPARK program was implemented in order to support students with attentional or other issues as a short physical exercise program in the morning to help students brains wake up, as well as learn how to use positive behaviours during play
  27. A number of our classes are participating in the CLASSROOMCHAMPIONS.ORG program where they have 2 Olympic Luge athletes as mentors to learn about positive behaviour, resiliency, integrity, goal setting and hard work
  28. We have a bunch of students involved in the HOCKEY HEROES program, which promotes positive self-esteem, problem solving skills and positive teamwork through a hockey program after school
  29. Mr. Rakowski, teachers and staff work with STUDENTS to help them understand what to do when there are issues:
    1. Tell them to Stop
    2. Walk Away
    3. Get help from an adult
  30. Mr. Rakowski, teachers and staff are always AVAILABLE to work in dealing with behavioural issues and helping students to stand up to bullying behaviours
  31. We often work ONE ON ONE with students who need support with their own or dealing with the behaviour of others
  32. We often work with SMALL GROUPS in working out issues
  33. We often work in individual and small group GUIDANCE COUNSELLING sessions
  34. We engage in whole class teaching of social skills and SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING
  35. Our LUNCH SUPERVISION TEAM support and work with specific students around learning positive behaviours
  36. Our EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANTS support and work with specific students around learning social-emotional learning skills and resilience skills
  37. We sometimes bring in CBE BEHAVIOUR SPECIALISTS to support our work in severe cases
  38. We work closely with AGENCIES such as Child and Family Services, BowWest, United Way, Bow Wellness, and other to support students in their basic needs and learning
  39. Our Student Leadership members want to create a VIDEO made specifically for BelPark students on how to deal with bullying behaviours, and it will be shared and posted online
  40. We also work with PARENTS ON STRATEGIES to support students at home and at school
  41. Mr. Rakowski, teachers and staff work with PARENTS to help them understand WHAT TO DO when there are issues:
    1. Help the student talk to an adult
    2. Talk to your child’s teacher
    3. Talk to the Admin Team if needed


Mr. Rakowski, Mrs. Caso and staff work hard with students and parent to also understand that bullying is not bumping into someone on the playground… It is a repeated and targeted behaviour toward certain student(s) over time.
If parents have concerns, the most effective and proper course of action would be to talk to the teacher or admin team directly and immediately. Prompt attention to the matter will be given dependent on the specific circumstances.

Enhancing Education Through Partnerships

November 4, 2015

I had the opportunity today to be able to write for the CBE182 blog, which is a collaborative, teacher led, and grassroots effort to share some of the learning stories that occur within the CBE every day. This project has the goal of capturing 182 unique stories, one for each day of a school year.

With all the great partnerships developing this year at the school, and the kickoff of our “Food for Thought” initiative yesterday, I felt the need to share the many great things happening at BelPark with our parents, School Council, and other agencies and groups in Bowness.​

Thanks for all of your support for BelPark School and for education!!! You made writing this blog extremely easy!

All I Have Learned from Swimming Lessons…

October 14, 2015

Having now done probably about 10 years’ worth of swimming lessons with kindergarten to grade 6 students, I have learned a lot about education from those students…

You have never truly gotten to be an educator and until you are the only adult in a locker room with 40 boys trying to help them get ready for swimming lessons… Aye Caramba!


Parents, please do me a favor. Actually, please do me a few favors…


Please teach your child how to dress before they come to swimming lessons…
It is often hard enough for them trying to get clothes on when they are still wet from the pool as compared to if they have never dressed themselves at all.


Please teach your child how to dress themselves in a somewhat reasonably acceptable rate of speed…
We go all the way from having students ready in 20 seconds after they get out of the shower (no exaggeration!), to kids that still don’t even have their swim trunks off when 90% of the rest of the class is ready.


Please teach your child to recognize their own stuff…
It is painful going through the stuff and having to get a student’s mom to identify his gear because he could not. Going through all the lockers for trying and trying to help the student is a wee bit frustrating…


Swimming lessons are amazing as it is a great opportunity for students to learn to take risks based on their own abilities and knowledge, where the challenges are tailored to their level of comfort.

Swimming lessons are amazing as our students grow in independence in huge ways over the course of a week.

Swimming lessons are amazing, as one dad put it, it is amazing what growth the Ks show as they move to grade 1, the grade 3s show as they move to grade 4, etc.


It is amazing what I can learn, as an educator, from helping kids get ready for swimming lessons and afterwards. I am sure I could write most of their report cards just from those experiences.

And to all the dads and grandfathers (as well as moms and grandmothers) who have volunteered to help me out over the years, all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you!


And, just for your amusement, here is how I did thank all of our parent volunteers this year…,AAABPhvTOmE~,OCApyahQOXoFCT3rfJaXwh7ZNh4dag9f&bctid=4546608793001


Work hard and learn tonnes!

Learning with Classroom Champions

October 1, 2015

BelPark grade 3/4 students, through the leadership of Mr. Geoff Kearney, will be working, learning and communicating with Olympic athletes through our partnership with the Classroom Champions program. We can’t wait to get started!

Steve Messler (an Olympic Bobsled gold medalist and friend of Mr. R’s), the founder and CEO, wants to go beyond a one-off session in a school to where relationships are the foundation of the learning, which make it so more than just a “presentation” on one afternoon. The athletes we are paired with will work with kids both face-to-face as well as online and through video conversation to work on concepts such as resiliency, hard work, effort, sportsmanship, goal-setting, and fair play.

BelPark is so close to Canada Olympic Park (COP) and we can actually see it from our field!

The program started out by focusing on how we can support at risk students. Steve and I both believe that education is the great equalizer and that through role modeling we can help them to grow and develop the skills they will need to be successful human beings in academics, work, sports, activities, relationships, and in life. The major goal is to work to changing student’s engagement in school to help them be successful later!

For more information, go to the Classroom Champions website at

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