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


How Can School Administrators Support Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)?

May 15, 2014

I just had the opportunity to listen to Eric Gordon from the Cleveland Municipal School District discuss how the district implemented a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) focus in their schools district wide. The team reviewed the need for a focused and a continued focus on social and emotional learning after a school shooting in 2007 in a Cleveland high school. They discussed how the teacher us union was completely on board and how the schools have district wide, in about 125 schools, have implemented the paths program and the growth they have seen.

A major part of his discussion was on how this work on SEL could not be forgotten and that students need to be able to have the competencies around social and emotional learning to get to academic learning. He discussed how they have seen students who are higher in social and emotional learning demonstrate higher achievement in reading and other academic learning. Eric also shared how social and emotional learning competencies are the second highest predictive indicator, behind the student’s past performance, for their achievement levels on standardized tests. This continues to reinforce my thinking that a student’s physical needs, social and emotional and psychological needs are paramount for us to get to learning in other realms. We can’t get to learning if they are hungry. We can’t get to learning if they are upset or worried or in distress…

A Principal’s Roundtable on the Role of Principals and Administrators in Supporting SEL enabled a group of Principals and Administrators to come together for discussion on a number of issues relating to SEL.

In a school, there needs to be the development of a school culture that recognizes, supports, and is active in this work of developing SEL competencies in students and adults. The work is not about a specific “program,” or a “curriculum,” or a specific type of “pedagogy.” SEL and PATHS need to be all of those, as they are parts of a school culture that is developed through the use of common language, common strategies, skill development, the creation of SEL competencies, and a focus on SEL.

We discussed possible Calming Strategies to help students Self-Regulate if they do end up in the Office:

  • Do they need food, as they are hungry?
  • Give them some time. Whenever I rush this process, I find it just is not effective…
  • Use of consistent resources such as Strategy posters that can guide the student’s reflection and guide discussion between kids and adults.
  • An exercise bike or an individual trampoline – I have experimented with having an exercise bike available for students (if they choose to use it) as an active way to self-regulate, rather than “Sit down and be quiet.” I have a visual timer that we set for a specific time for them to use the bike. The early results have been great, when the kids choose to use it… Often a student who was highly escalated comes off smiling!
  • The implementation of a Sensory Room – A place with mats, swings or special rocking chairs, exercise balls, individual trampoline, calming lights, etc.
  • One principal shared that she has a Velcro target board with Velcro Ping-Pong balls that the students love to use, which is also a great distractor.
  • Pulse Meters as part of Math, but to have students check their pulse rate and then have them do self-calming. It is also a distraction or diversion…
  • Another principal shared that she keeps a bin of mixed up markers that needs to be sorted by a students, and it magically keeps getting mixed up!
  • Time for Writing for students to be able to think and reflect
  • Time for Reading as a calming strategy
  • A problem-solving process that students are used to, whether it is individual and quiet or it is guided and collaborative with an adult.
  • I think probably the biggest factor and strategy is how much of a focus on SEL takes place in the classrooms in the students’ daily lives at school. This work enables administrators in the office to build on the learning that is already taking place!

I am sure there are many other strategies as well, and it would be great to hear more!

Some great discussion all! I wish I could have captured more of it here!

Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership

November 7, 2012

As a leader in my school and my system, how can I be much more intentional, purposeful, and deliberate in how we work to achieve improved student learning?

This has been a theme through our work all week. Dr. Elizabeth City worked with us this morning on “Strategic, Learning-Centered Leadership,” and I think it is important to break that term down very specifically…

We need to be able to answer “Three Questions” about anything we are doing…

  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. How?

My own early definition of “Strategy” – a purposeful, intentional method to best achieve a specific outcome.

Dr. City offered a few ideas of her own about what “Strategy” often is…

  • Placing bets (or hedging our bets)
  • “The set of actions an organization chooses to pursue in order to achieve its objectives. These deliberate actions are puzzle pieces that fit together to create a clear picture of how the people, activities, and resources of an organization can work effectively to accomplish a collective purpose.” – Stacey Childress
  • A few carefully considered things to focus the systems work on that when put together, create a powerful engine for system improvement
  • A series of well informed, well educated bets
  • Balances problem solving with pursuing a vision
  • Evolves based on progress made, results and learning
  • NOT everything you do
  • NOT everything everyone wants you to do
  • NOT a sure thing
  • NOT something static
  • NOT a piece of paper or wall chart

Why does strategy matter? Does it matter?

A few days ago I would have grumbled about this question. Now I would say that Strategy is a tool that I can utilize to enable staff, parents, the admin team and myself to examine and make decisions beyond emotional responses. Strategy forces us to prioritize and make choices about what to do (and what not to do!) It allows us to marshal and focus resources and help our organization to move from where it is today to the brave and bold vision for student learning. Strategy needs to be both visionary and problem solving, or where do we want to go as well as what issues do we need to fix.

Unfortunately, Strategic Planning isn’t strategic if it:

  • Commits to doing too much
  • Tries to respond to everyone’s interests
  • Is static: doesn’t evolve based on learning
  • Sits on a shelf rather than driving our work

I have been the worst one to try to cram too much in our School Development Plan and let it be static, rather than using it as a driver for focusing and enhancing our work.

Working through this, I see our team has spent way too much time on wording and work that had very little productive value for our Strategic Planning process. I want to make sure we make it:

  • Targeted to improving student learning
  • Short and sweet
  • Easy to understand visually, like the CBE 3-Year Plan Overview chart
  • Addresses identified problems but leading to realizing our vision for learning
  • Everyone can relate their work back to it
  • Decision making is aligned to the strategy

Sounds simple, I know. It will be interesting to see how I can help our staff look at the School Development Process differently and developing Strategy differently. This must not be a worksheet activity or a make work project for us as a staff…

Work hard, learn tons!

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