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…

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Enhancing Education Through Partnerships

November 4, 2015

http://cbe182.weebly.com/the-stories/day-43-derek-rakowsk-principal-belvedere-parkway-school

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!

http://cbe182.weebly.com/the-stories/day-43-derek-rakowsk-principal-belvedere-parkway-school


Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) – My Own Essential Learnings…

May 21, 2014

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has been at the forefront of my thinking over the past two weeks. I immensely believe that in order for educators to be able to enable students in academic learning, Physical, Social and Emotional needs must be met or at least have a plan in place for developing the needed competencies.

Basically, a student cannot learn if they are hungry, are anxious about what is happening in their home, or worried about their safety. As well, if they do not have the skills or competencies to deal with issues, concerns, and disputes as they arise, they will have a difficult day in a school where they must live and learn with hundreds of other students and adult staff.

The Circle of Courage is a major part of the culture and tradition of Keeler School, and has been the biggest factor in the development of a philosophy that builds and recognizes the development of citizenship, belonging, generosity, independence and mastery. I think the next step for us is looking at how we actively teach and coach students, all students, in developing their SEL competencies and skills.

In that regard, what do we need to do to improve to enable student learning in both Social and Emotional Learning, as well as setting them up for improvement and success in academic learning?

Develop a school culture of citizenship and SEL… We must live SEL through the culture of the school through common language, understandings, focus, and intentionality. The Circle of Courage will remain our cultural foundation, but now we need to reflect on how we better enable the development of the skills and competencies that build on that foundation.

We must be direct teaching in the development of SEL competencies… We sometimes forget that students do not automatically gain these skills through osmosis.

We must be purposeful in working to enable students to develop SEL competencies… This is not something to be left to chance. We use class meetings, teachable moments, guided inquiry, and specific, focused lessons so students can develop these competences from Kindergarten on through their school career.

This is long-term learning, not a short-term solution… This will not solve all of our issues, but we will see a change in the school culture through this work. This will help us to move beyond reactive.

We must find ways to be proactive in working with students around behavioral, social, and emotional needs… I believe students can learn, all students, how better to work with and get along with others, as well as about their own social and emotional needs and lagging skills.

Teachers, Staff and Administrators must all act as positive role models and coaches… If we are not modeling this, with each other, with kids, with parents, who will?

When an issue does arise (as they always will), we must look at the core of the issue and examine what the lagging skills are, then work to develop and coach students… What is the core of this issue? What does the student need to improve? How do we coach them to build them up?

When a student is referred to the office, we must support students with strategies where we are role modeling as well… How can we assist them in learning to self-regulate after the escalation, as well as build up strategies and supports to prevent the escalation in the first place?

  • 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!

This is my thinking at the moment. I can’t wait to engage in further learning and collaboration with my colleagues!
D


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!
D


Going “Back to the Basics” or “Discovery Learning” in Mathematics? The Wrong Question to Ask…

March 19, 2014

There has been a lot of discussion in the media around so-called “Discovery Learning” in math and a petition was presented to the Minister of Education in Alberta asking to have Alberta go “Back to Basics” around student learning. Quoting from the petition, math basics seem to be algorithms, timetables, automatic recalls, and vertical additions.

The question is not about just “memorizing basic facts” or “discovering math.” There is a whole world in between and we need to look at this in a better way than as “new math” or “old math,” but as what is best for our students and designing and implementing mathematical learning that works for each and every one of our students.

We have never left the basics, we have just made them more purposeful…

Let’s actually make ourselves start to think on what mathematics means. Is it beneficial to know basic facts? Absolutely! Is it important to be able to think within math? Absolutely! I worked with my grade 5 and 6 students to easily be able to mentally multiply numbers like 40 x 60 (2400, if you were not sure). They could do that. But, I also have a calculator and am a total spreadsheet geek to do and check operations as they become more complex. There is nothing better than using formulas in a spreadsheet…

Unfortunately, spreadsheets and calculators do not tell me if I am using the right formulas in the correct manners to figure out what I need, or if my answer is the “right” one. I have to be able to understand the output and decide if it makes sense or not. I do not need the headaches that would come from an accountant who cannot understand my bottom line and puts a decimal in the wrong place… Oh my!

3 Analogies to Guide Us…

1. Science – Imagine if we use the same thinking in the sciences. Students should only learn the skills… Science is meant to be experimental and allow students to think. They are meant to think about outcomes, create hypotheses, and come up with ways to be able to test those hypotheses. When I teach science, there are times that experiments don’t work out perfectly. Students had to figure out if it was something in the process, in the materials, or just a fluke. In other words, they had to think as well as the able to use scientific skills and reasoning.

2. “Practices” and “Games” – My son loves soccer and hockey, and he is currently 7 years old. He has a ton of skills that he needs to work on, but if it was only the skills that he practiced, he would get bored really fast and his love for soccer would be lost. Instead, we help students of the game of soccer to do both, they practice skills but they also get to test out the skills in a game situation. We don’t want kids only playing the games, but neither do we want them only practicing. Imagine if we said to a soccer player that they could not play a game until they were 16 years old…

3. Lego – In many ways, learning is a lot like Lego. When they get a new Lego set, most kids will build the set using the step-by-step instructions and will create a perfect replica of the photo on the box. Afterwards though, my son cannot help taking the set apart and rebuilding it into crazy castles with moving arms and laser guns and hidden doors and what ever else is imagination can create. One is not better than the other, but LEGO is supposed to be reimagined and utilized in other ways. Otherwise we would not be able to take it apart and use it and much more imaginative ways that the Lego designers could have ever imagined themselves…

So, to those who say that we need to go “back to the basics,” I argue the “basics” are in the Alberta Program of Studies already (honest, take a look!). It is just that teachers are no longer using only a textbook or a useless worksheet to help students learn the “basics” in isolation.

Rather, I hope that students would be learning math in a fashion that creates high levels of engagement, authenticity, energy, focus, and, most importantly, THINKING!

When I am budgeting, I use a spreadsheet with 870 lines and 11 tabs, and there is no “correct” answer where I get a nice checkmark from the “teacher” if I did it correctly… There are tons of options and different approaches, and it is definitely an art! I used to be able to copy my teacher very well in school, and so was “good” at math. I did not have to actually think, I just had to be able to recreate what the teacher did on the blackboard, and I knew my basic facts, but I did not understand it. Math is not a nice, cut and dried “find the correct answer” kind of discipline.

After all, Einstein would never have gotten anywhere if he had only worked on mastering one method and only knew algorithms, timetables, automatic recalls, and vertical additions! Math is changing and growing, and we need to become better at enabling students in how to use and understand math, as mathematics is so much more than just memorizing basic facts…

The whole question of “old math” or “new math” is moot, as we need to set up mathematical learning that works for each and every student.

Change happens because we have learned and grown, and that we want to make something better. We have learned and grown in understanding of how we learn math, so let’s continue to make it better.

Just having the tools does not make you a carpenter! But if you don’t have the tools, you can’t be a carpenter… (And I am sure any carpenter would tell you there is a ton of thinking and math in their work!)

Click here to go to the Make It Memorable: Learning is More Than Memorization petition

Yours in great mathematical learning,
D


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!
D


Demography Isn’t Destiny

November 6, 2012

Demography Isn’t Destiny… – The success of our learners should not just depend on the area they are born in…

Do not be afraid to fail. Be afraid to succeed in things that do not matter.
Dr. Benjamnin Mayes

“The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible…”
Arthur C. Clarke

Equity, that our kids get what they need to be successful, and Excellence, that kids can be the best they can possibly be, needs to be the mantra for our work. Kids only know their situation, their life, and their context. They do not often know any different. Why would they? They always assume there is something better out there, but I think they assume most people have the same situation as they do, and that there is nothing atypical about their life or home, no matter the social issues continued in that home life. I grew up in the area in which I now get to be Principal, and know that education will be the best way to help our students rise above hardship.

So what does that mean?

Empowering Students Through Education – Education will be the key to positive change for our kids. Not poor education, not just the basics, not worksheets, but authentic learning that makes our kids think and collaborate and reflect and learn…

Overcoming History and Cultural Differences – Many of our kids are affected by their history, whether cultural or family or individual. We need to help them get past that, no matter their ethnicity, family, background or country of origin. Big issues for some of our kids…

Turning Hardships into Opportunities – The hardships are there… we need to turn them around and start to look at how we build upon the strengths that our kids bring, rather than only focus on lagging skills…

Building Relationships and building Common Ground – Relationships and process have to happen before we even get near change. How we work together, build trust, and communicate is how we will get to bringing about important change. We need to get from stranger to leader… I still remember when the time I was finally waved at by parents outside, months after I went to Keeler. I knew that moment was the beginning…

Time for all of us to step up and make it all happen. It will take all of us together, but I know that we can do it.

I am not sure who said it, but “Anyone can fly, you just have to have a place you have to go and no other way to get there…” and we need to figure out how to help our kids do this!

Work hard, learn tons!
D


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