Communicating with Parents – Purposeful Strategies

September 1, 2017

Welcome back to the 2017-18 school year!

Things are flying already and I am so glad to be getting back into it. One of my big goals continues to be developing positive and useful communication strategies with our parent community as well as our community at large. Our school has developed a new website and we are looking at some new and enhanced communication strategies for our school.

  • We have a new wireless network with the ability for personal devices and school iPads to be connected continuously over the year without having to login each time (I am sooooooo happy!). This completely changes our communication game, as now we can utilize online social media tools in an easy and ubiquitous manner.
  • We are looking at utilizing Twitter as our main communication tool between teachers and the school and our parents. I can’t wait to see it in action! It will allow sending out information, photos and videos in quick ways without having to maintain a full website. I hope it will be a much more dynamic and timely matter of communication. Twitter has a great App for phones to make it super easy. More information will go out to parents to help them get set up.
  • Our system is now using School Messenger which allows us to text, email, or send voice Mail messages to parents. It has opened up the way we can communicate with all parents in the school.
  • I hope to make a website a much more dynamic tool that demonstrates the daily life of our school and shares needed information with parents.
  • We are hoping to minimize the amount of paper usage by making as much of our communication as possible in a digital matter. There will be, at times, paper communication if needed, but we will try to keep it minimal.
  • Face to face communication is always a priority. We are trying our first open house today at school from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Students, families, and parents may pop in to meet their teacher and see their classroom. Our intent is to try to help students coming from school on Tuesday with as low a level of anxiety as possible. (THE OPEN HOUSE WAS AN AWESOME EVENT! IT GOT RID OF A TON OF ANXIETIES!)

Have a wonderful school year everyone! As always, work hard and learn tons!



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,

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…

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!

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!

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!

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