Curriculum Redesign in Alberta

There is much ado lately around the purpose of education.  As I near the end of an education career, it is fascinating to me how much things change and yet how much they stay the same.  While there is much in the literature and has been forever; by default, a system is designed to maintain the status quo.  It takes a great deal of effort and courage to gain momentum outside this natural tendency toward the status quo.

We should be learning many things related to the recent downturn in the economy in Alberta and, in fact, worldwide.  Our current education system was more or less designed to produce compliant and knowledgeable factory workers.  And really, not much has changed from a “systems” perspective.  We still argue the merits of a school calendar based on how that calendar affects our family.  And in the end, regardless of which or whose logic wins the current debate, it’s mostly one size fits all.  This is but one, simple example.

I think what the current Alberta context has clearly demonstrated is the absolute need, rather than a want, for maximum flexibility.  It’s true that one important purpose of school is to assist in the socialization of children.  Saying that, in today’s mobile world, there are so many other opportunities in the day to support that purpose.  Community offers so much as well toward this goal:  sports, library, fine arts and more.  While school offers a tremendous opportunity for a child and family to begin to build a network, this is hardly the only alternative today.

It seems that an option for students in today’s work world and that of the future includes making their own work.  A static knowledge-based curriculum has only limited relevance and should no longer be considered the base from which to build a program for students.  You will get no argument from me that basic literacy and numeracy skills are crucial; they are.  In fact, it’s these skills that should be the building blocks.  After that, does it really matter?  Which tidbits of content are most relevant?  Well, if you’re playing the TV game show Jeopardy, I guess you won’t know that until you’re on the show!

Sure, some background in history, geography, science, fine arts, wellness, trades types of skills and economics are more than helpful to all.  But how much detail in these areas are needed?  And by which students?  Today’s family situations in a new economy yearn for flexibility.  Thus, it will become even more problematic for the current school system to remain relevant.

The current curricular reform in Alberta, in my opinion, is a bold and courageous right step in the right direction.  In my mind, an important question is, “Will this be enough soon enough?”  What we see in Alberta is also happening world-wide.  Political and economic realities seem to be polarizing our society even more into have and have-not citizens.

If anything, the current and future purpose of education must to be assist in the goal of improved equity, period.  Without an improved sense of fairness in our community, province and country and beyond, the current issues we face will continue to grow across our globe. Equal and equitable are not the same thing.  And that can be very difficult to reconcile.

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Holiday Reflections

This last Christmas message from me, in my role with Prairie Rose School Division, has been a struggle to write for a number of reasons.  Whether in my role as Vice-Principal, Principal or three Superintendent-type of positions, it can be a challenge to write about the same holiday theme over such a long period of time.  Our Principals say the same thing about their newsletter messages.

The sad reality is that I remain somewhat disheartened by all the negativity surrounding our society in all parts of the world, including here in Alberta.  There certainly are many struggles.  I have yet to learn (decide) the chicken-egg answer.  Is the negativity leading to stress and mental health issues or are mental health issues leading to the negativity?

It seems to me that we are becoming increasingly polarized in our positions; I’m right and you are wrong.  We should strive to talk more about our interests and issues, and less about the people who may think differently than us.  Be hard on the issues and soft on the people.  Few people I know really wish to make life miserable for anyone.  There are multiple perspectives and most deserve to be considered.  In the end, there is often a “yes” or a “no.”  Not all contexts can result in win-win.  This does not mean that a point of view has not been carefully listened to and considered.  We must now evaluate news from the media to determine whether it’s valid or not.  This is complicated by a shift for media sources, to at least appear they are taking on specific political ideologies, rather than reporting in truly objective ways.  And don’t get me started on the role of social media in all of this.

Therefore, my Christmas wish for all is to enjoy whatever the time, place and people have to offer; whether that be home, vacation or work.  While our work is vitally important, so are the people.  I also wish that you are able to enjoy both your work and people you are with, whether you are staff, a student, PRSD8 partner or community member.

While there is much to be concerned about these days, there is also so much to be hopeful and grateful about.  I am so proud of the many, many ways our students, schools and staff give back to community.  While this is especially true at Christmas, I see and hear about many examples throughout the year.  Giving back to community is proven to be a very important strategy leading to a positive state of mind.

There’s nothing like a good ole Christmas concert to help us get ready for the holiday season.  The schools do this for community much more-so than for themselves.  I hope you have enjoyed the concert(s) you have attended recently, I certainly have.

After many years of experience in a number of roles, I believe the right thing to do is to carefully consider our purpose for what we do, our motivation for why we do it and to look for ways to be confident, resilient, hopeful and optimistic.  There are always options, some easier than others and not always obvious.

I would like to wish all a very Merry Christmas and the best of the season.  I am so thankful for the commitment and many talents of our staff.  I hope the time with family and friends kills all the cold and flu bugs and rejuvenates us all for the important work coming up in the New Year.  For sure it will be interesting!

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Mental Health Literacy

Prairie Rose School Division #8, in partnership with our Alberta Health Services Health Promotion Coordinator and all four school divisions in Southeastern Alberta (PRSD8, SD 76, Grasslands, and MHCBE) applied for a cross-jurisdictional grant through the University of Alberta Wellness Fund to provide Go to Educator and Mental Health Literacy training to teachers and administration within southeast Alberta. The grant application was successful, awarding the project $60,000 to be divided among each school division.

The Go To Educator training was developed in 2009 by Dr. Stan Kutcher, Sun Life Chair in Adolescent Mental Health. The “Go-to-Educator” component of this training is based on observation that in each school, there are educators with whom students form good relationships, naturally go to for help, and feel comfortable talking about their problems. Therefore providing training to this group of educators in how to recognize mental disorders can be expected to substantively promote early identification of mental health problems and mental disorders, thus potentially leading to earlier effective interventions of mental health problems and mental disorders.  In turn, this can potentially lead to earlier effective interventions and the provision of ongoing support within the school setting to those so identified. These “go-to” educators can include subject teachers, student service providers, principals and other staff members.
The Mental Health Literacy Curriculum Guide provides a complete set of educational tools to increase understanding of mental health and mental disorders among both students and teachers. The guide, developed in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, focuses on training teachers to be comfortable with their own knowledge of mental health and mental disorders. The guide then empowers the teachers to share this knowledge with their students through curriculum delivered in a multiple-media module format.  The program uses a variety of interactive sessions that help to promote dialogue among students, as well as with their teachers. Discussing mental health and mental illness in a supportive, familiar environment enables youth to feel safe, ask questions, gain knowledge, combat stigma and develop their own opinions of the world around them.

We are very excited for this opportunity to provide mental health literacy training to teachers and school leaders.  We will update everyone once more concrete plans related to professional development of teacher and implementation with students are finalized.

Use this link for more information:
http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/school-mental-health-literacy

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Wellness Wildly Important Goal

We have recently launched a new second Wildly Important Goal (WIG) in Prairie Rose School Division in addition to our first WIG of improving literacy rates.  That goal is to collaboratively plan and implement strategies related to healthy school communities and division.  Students report to us through the Canadian Tell Them From Me Survey that anxiety is their number one wellness issue.  Anxiety rates are on the rise in our school division in spite of our best efforts to date.  Dr. Jody Carrington, a well-known Psychologist from Olds, AB told our staff that the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan reports unprecedented rates of depression in Alberta school staff families.  Our society has become very complex indeed. There is never enough time or money.

Our wellness model is intended to be very broad and consists of three main pillars: Psychological Capital, Drive (Motivation) and Purpose.  Although the model has it’s roots in business and human resources, we believe the model holds huge potential for improvement in overall wellness.

I encourage you to learn more about the background related to the model.  We have added a new section to our Prairie Rose School Division website specifically related to this new Wellness goal.

Click here to view the new Wellness WIG webpage.

I am honored to have been selected by my Superintendent peers to the provincial “Valuing Mental Health” committee and I look forward to talking about the potential of psychological capital as a framework for improved well-being and self care.  Learning is improved in a culture of care and wellness.  I plan to report on this journey  in the future through this blog.

In the meantime, I am very proud of the gains we have made as a division on multiple indicators related to our first WIG related to literacy.  Hope is about multiple pathways and strategies; I hope we will be as successful with improvements to wellness as we have been so far with literacy.

 

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Gearing Up for a New School Year

I would like to take a moment to welcome both new and returning families and school communities to the 2016-17 school year at Prairie Rose School Division.  Our mission here is to positively inspire lifelong learning through everyone learning together.  Most of our energy is in one way or another directed to this purpose.

I thank our school communities for your support last year.  Achievement results from Alberta Education’s Accountability Pillar will be available in early October.  Survey results from last May and all other indicators such as graduation rates, transition to post-secondary and all other indicators show significant improvements.  I am proud of the staff for their very active support related to our first Wildly Important Goal (WIG) of improvements in literacy, especially reading.  The Board of Trustees invested significant dollars last year in improving and updating classroom literacy resources.  Your active support of this and other strategies included in the Board’s Education Plan is greatly appreciated and is making a positive difference for students.

A trend as indicated by staff, students and the media includes concerns related to wellness.  Although we continue to improve in most data indicators, the weakened economy and more complicated societal factors have led to an overall increase in student anxiety.  Unresolved anxiety leads to depression and other mental wellness disorders.  Our second Wildly Important Goal will include work on this topic.

Other successes lately have included additional partnerships with Medicine Hat College and other community colleges related to dual credit opportunities for high school students.  Dual credit partnerships mean that students can gain high school and college credit while still high school.  We have included media announcement this summer and will have further announcements about this soon, stay tuned.  We also would like to have some important conversations about reporting achievement to parents this year.

We are very excited to see a new school at Schuler this year, high water tables have destroyed the foundation and we are excited to see the prototype building for small rural schools open later this spring.  Planning related to modernization work at Eagle Butte High School continues.

Start-up for a new school year often brings some challenges.  Our communication protocols include first speaking with the most direct person, usually this is the classroom teacher and/or the school principal.  Most issues can be solved at that level.  The use of social media will not solve a problem.

I am excited for another year filled with engagement, learning and fun.  We hope to improve a little each day and we will by working together for the best interest of our students.  On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome all to another year of “everyone learning together.”

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Literacy and Results June 2016

I have had the fortune of being invited into a number of our Prairie Rose classrooms this spring.  I have been doing my own very informal research on how teachers have been putting to work new assessment tools and resources throughout PRSD8.

It’s interesting to note that the updated accountability report from Alberta Education has been released today.  I am very pleased to report that our perception (survey) results from parents, students and staff are significantly improved this year and indicate very high satisfaction across the division in all areas.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.

In the classrooms I see a number of exciting trends.  While some teachers have more or less direct teaching compared to student directed learning within choices, I see a great balance of both.  I see more precise guided reading instruction at the students’ stretch reading level.  I see more resources being used at appropriate student reading levels.  And I see more appropriate student furniture that supports students’ needs and teacher instruction.

What is even more important is the love these teachers actively demonstrate for kids and teaching.  A smile  and positive reinforcement the whole class long.  A high level of exchange of energy between teacher and students is also evident.  This is where it starts.

I believe there is there is a strong correlation between this work and student, staff and parent perception.  I believe our staff are doing a better job than ever communicating with parents in ways that work for parents.  I am proud of the work of our staff and the improvement in results as indicated by the accountability report card.  I have also heard of many success stories of improved student reading scores from staff throughout the division.  The mission is to positively inspire students for lifelong learning by everyone learning together.  I think we’re moving in the right direction!  We just want to get a little better each day.  It adds up!

 

 

 

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SILLY SEASON

Welcome to silly season; that time of the year between the provincial budget release and the end of the school year.  Everyone works together to continue to keep one eye on the current year’s education plan while expecting part of the brain to plan for the next school year.

The board’s purpose is “to positively inspire students for lifelong learning” by “everyone learning together.”  While the education plan has many goals, outcomes and strategies, the two current Wildly Important Goals (WIGS) include:

  1.  To improve English language literacy opportunities for students across the grades  Did you know?
    • The PRSD8 logo is intended to show both a prairie rose AND a person reading a book?
    • The board contributed $350,000 to new literacy resources for the public schools?
    • Much of the energy and professional learning in PRSD8 this year has been dedicated to this goal.
    • We are very proud of the dedicated efforts of our staff in taking on this goal this year.  I have received many success stories this spring related to improved reading strategies and results from our schools.  I have been in a number of classrooms this spring with very rich and engaging literacy lessons.
  2. To implement Inspiring Education strategies as learning and resources allow            Did you know?
    • The new grade 5-9 Career and Technologies Foundations (CTF) program was optional this year in preparation for mandatory implementation next year.  Almost all of our schools piloted modules within this curriculum this year.  Much work on assessment in CTF was piloted as well.
    • We have termed the Prairie Rose interpretation of Inspiring Education as “Forward to the Future.”
    • Much work has been done in our schools related to the new student competencies.  These competencies are consistent across all grades and courses.
    • We expect to announce later this spring some very exciting dual credit partnerships with Alberta colleges at the high school level in preparation for September 2016.
    • EBHS and SCHS have high school redesign projects that are highly valued by Alberta Education.
    • Each month,  one of our schools presents a project related to this goal to the public board meeting.  These student presentations are a highlight each month.

We are planning some pilot writing project work in select PRSD8 schools for the fall.  It is our intention to keep an eye toward numeracy outcomes and personal and organization wellness too.  A key outcome in PRSD8 is to get a little better each day.

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