Graduation Season Has Begun!

The learning celebration season is now officially here. Over the next six weeks, many of our schools will convene graduations and farewells for students who move to a new high school experience from grade nine or to the world of work or post-secondary from one of our four Prairie Rose high schools.

These celebrations are also significant for us at division office. We don’t have the opportunity of working with students each day. These celebrations are an important reminder for those of us who do our work behind the scenes of our purpose of serving students, staff and community.

It’s apparent from these ceremonies, and from the recently released accountability pillar results, that our staff do serve their school communities well. The results are very positive.  Students demonstrate their learning and skills in very real ways by the work they do to prepare for these events, and by being involved and leading parts of the program.  We would like to thank the parents who completed these survey results through Alberta Education. Your support of our schools is vital.

The spring signals a new level of energy and renewal. There is much to be thankful for and to celebrate. #PRSD8PROUD.

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Mental Health Literacy GO TO Training

Recently I had the opportunity to be trained in the mental health literacy GO TO training workshop with more than 50 staff members from Prairie Rose School Division.  This is the first direct training strategy related to the PRSD8 Wellness Wildly Important Goal.

What is a GO TO person?  This is a staff member whom students naturally go to for help in the school setting.  With this recent training, they bring a higher level of mental health knowledge to the school setting and as a result are able to link students in need to appropriate in school supports.  These trained individuals are also able to provide on-going support to the student as part of the in school team.  These individuals are not counsellors or therapists and do NOT diagnose mental health disorders.  These staff are more able to describe behaviors they see in students that may be of considerable help to a health care professional.

Did you know that 70% of all mental disorders are diagnosed between the ages of 12 -25?  Schools are in an important position to be able to help identify and refer students who may be struggling with mental wellness.  Early identification and provision of best evidence treatments and social and educational support can substantially improve outcomes.

The most common mental health disorder is anxiety.  The “Our School” survey the past few years confirms this in PRSD8.  Anxiety has been diagnosed in about 13% of the population between the ages of 9-17.  Other disorders were carefully reviewed with staff including a brain-based approach and some basic questions to assist with collecting important observations to be shared upon referral.

The next step is Mental Health Literacy CURRICULUM training which will take place on May 22, 2017.  This session will include specific lessons to be shared with junior and senior high school students in our classrooms.  I have had a sneak peek as the resources, they are excellent.  I believe this will be a natural next step compared to the PRSD8 self-help wellness model.  The learning can be applied to self, family and friends, a very universal strategy for those receiving this valuable information.  With “Everyone Learning Together” we can all make a difference supporting those in need and preventing what has become epidemic in the complex world we live in.

 

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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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