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

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…


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…

شكرا

وداعا

(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…
D

Work smart and learn tons!


The 95% Rule – What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of My Students?

February 2, 2015

“What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of My Students?” (assuming all staff in a school are Leaders of Learning)

I was lucky (or unlucky, depending), as I was one of those kids that was good at remembering and memorizing and “got” the work we were assigned in the classroom. Unfortunately, there was never a need for me to have to “think” or to develop any growth in learning or work competencies, as it came easy for me.

Learning to think and learning how to learn needs to happen in learning from the earliest ages right on through high school and university, and into the work world! I can tell you, I no longer “memorize it for the test” in my work. I think and prepare and experiment and consult and discuss and reflect…

I had the opportunity to listen and think along with Viviane Robinson, author of “Student-Centered Leadership” this morning. The title refers to using the lens What are the Consequences of My Leadership on the Learning and Achievement of Students?” I would suggest that a leader is any teacher or administrator who is expected to help kids learn. She identified 5 Dimensions that have a large effect size on student learning and achievement:

5 Dimensions of Student-Centered Leadership

  1. Establishing Goals and Expectations (0.42) – We need to know what we are trying to accomplish in order to try to get there… What is our vision of great learning and how to we make it more effective?
  2. Resourcing Strategically (0.31) – Time with teachers and students is our scarcest resource, so how we approach curricular decisions is critical. What are we resourcing for, but as well, what are we not resourcing?
  3. Ensuring Quality Teaching (0.42) – How do we improve the impact and effectiveness of our work for students?
  4. Leading Teacher Learning and Development (0.84) – Admin is not just management and having nice uniforms. How do we “UNLEASH” excellent learning in our schools, rather than continue with the status quo?
  5. Ensuring and Orderly and Safe Environment (0.27) – If students don’t feel safe, how will we even get near learning?

(From Viviane Robinson, February 2, 2015)

The 95% rule is the idea that “I control and design 95% of my day by how I act and react.” The more I think on it, the more I see the 5 Dimensions fit both the work of educators and students.

  • What are students trying to accomplish, and do they know? What are students actually doing in our classrooms? (Establishing Goals and Expectations)
  • What are students using their time for? Time with teachers and students is our scarcest resource, so how we approach curricular decisions is critical. What are we resourcing for, but as well, what are we not resourcing? (Resourcing Strategically)
  • How are we designing and implementing the most effective learning opportunities for each and every student? (Ensuring Quality Teaching)
  • How do we unleash students and teachers in their learning, so it goes beyond 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and outside the 4 walls of the school? How do we design learning so that students want to come to school? (Leading Teacher Learning and Development)
  • How do we create an optimum learning environment for ALL students depending on their situation and needs? (Ensuring and Orderly and Safe Environment)

In the end, we need to continue to question and push each other as leaders of student learning to create opportunities to be the most effective we possibly can in improving student achievement. We know that our work is hard, and I am glad for that, as I do not want a binder I can pull off the shelf to “solve” a student. The problems we face around learning are so complex and thus will need complex solutions. We we need to go beyond “satisfactory” approaches to “more and most effective” approaches.

The curse of our work is that it never ends, but the blessing of our work is that it never ends. I love that I have never felt like I have completely figured “it” out. If I ever feel like I have completely figured it out, then I will know that I am in trouble… J

Our work needs to promote every educator’s ability to inquire into their impact on learners, and continually working to have a more effective impact.

We are so lucky to have teachers who are striving for achieving more effective learning for each and every child. It is such an amazingly fun journey!

Work hard, learn tons!
D


If I Am “Smart,” Do I Have to Work Hard?

October 23, 2014

A bunch of learning questions have been running through my mind today:

  • If I am “smart,” do I have to work hard?
  • If I have trouble at “learning,” do I have to work hard?
  • Can kids learn to be better learners?
  • Can adults learn to be better learners?
  • Can kids learn to play soccer together?
  • Can we become more intelligent?
  • If we put the time and can we become more intelligent?
  • If we put the time in, can we become fluent in another language or music or a sport…?
  • If I have not learned something, is it that I have not learned it yet? Or that I can’t learn it…?

I think these questions, answered honestly, would tell us a lot about our educational practices and how we approach learning.

Am I a “teacher” that disseminates the information? (Sounds like using Google…)

Or am I an “educator” that is an “Activator of Thinking?” Is it my role to enable kids to learn? If the students did not learn it, who needs to worry about that?

This all comes back to our conceptions of assessment and reporting as well. What is the report card intended to do and why do we put all this work into them? What is our purpose in them? The analogy that guides my thinking is:

“Who do kids learn more from, the COACH or the JUDGE?”

Is it the number at the end that the judge gives me on my performance that I learned from? Or, if thinking about professional sports players, is it the hours of video watched and critiqued, the work with the coach to improve, the formative feedback from coaches and teammates, the intent to improve their abilities and skills, and the discussions before, during, and after the practice or game that make all the difference? Or the score in the end? Without the other stuff, the score will not be affected…

Seems like a pretty easy question, but we need to make sure that we are utilizing this thinking with all of our students. In the end it is up to us as to how we approach learning and reporting. If we are designing great learning opportunities, do they have:

  • clear learning intentions
  • challenging success criteria
  • range of learning strategies
  • know when students are not progressing
  • providing feedback
  • visibly learns themselves

SO, how do we help all kids to know that they need to work hard? Not “You are smart so you don’t need to work hard…”

Work hard and learn tons!
D


How do we make the most of our School Councils?

October 1, 2014

How do we make the most of our School Councils?

Last night I was part of our second meeting of our Belvedere Parkway School Council and Parent Fundraising Association (PFA). A team from the Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA – http://www.albertaschoolcouncils.ca/) came out to work with us on a session around what is the role of a school council and how do we utilize it to enhance the learning of students. I thought I knew a lot about the work and contribution of school councils, but I was very impressed by the knowledge that Karen and Marilyn shared and guided us through.

 

There were a number of things that I learned that were very helpful:

A School Council is a means for parents and community members to work together with the school to support and enhance student learning. A SC is legislated to advise the principal respecting matters to the school.

The Responsibility of School Councils are to:

  • Foster, develop, maintain, and reflect the culture of the school
  • Provide the opportunity to participate in the advisory role
  • Create the forum for discussion
  • Seek and represent school community views

A School Council needs opportunity to provide advice on the development of the school’s:

  1. Mission, vision, and philosophy
  2. Policies
  3. School development plan
  4. Annual results report
  5. Budget

A great quote I pulled from our session was:

“The School Council is a leader of parents…”

Probably the best thing that we got out of this, though, was this meeting helped us as a School Council in the creation of a School Council culture and the development of a sense of team, setting up how we will work together in the future…

I highly recommend having them out to your school council, as it was hugely beneficial for us! Check out the workshops from the ASCA at http://www.albertaschoolcouncils.ca/?page=Workshops

Work hard and learn tons!
D

 


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