Red Deer Public Schools – Alternative School Center Visitation – February 2014

One of the best forms of PD is to check in with colleagues who have already started on a journey to develop/implement what it is that you are seeking to learn and create for your school community. We have long believed in the benefit of inter-agency work to support students with significant mental health needs and have been searching for an implementation model.  The Journeys Program which is part of the Red Deer Alternative School Center program fits the bill providing an exemplar of partnership roles, supports, and funding.  Now comes the work of bringing our partners into our vision to create programming that will synergize our expertise and resources.

C2 Key Leader – ATA Summer Conference – August 2013

I have had the privlege of being asked by Parkland Teachers Local 10 to serve the role of Key Leader for the PSD C2 Committee. I have never taken the opportunity to engage in any ATA activities in my career other than a few annual general meetings.  However, the promise that C2 holds was appealing so I gladly accepted this three year commitment. This summer conference was an introduction to the C2 history and process.  This was certainly an education into an aspect of my profession in which I have never delved. I must say that my impression of the ATA as an organization has definitely been elevated as a result of my experience at summer conference.  Here are some of the key messages that I took away in regard to C2.

    • The legacy of C2 work over the next three years will ideally lead to a change in culture and working relationships within school divisions where frontline teachers will be an integral part of determining how children are educated in classrooms within their school division. 
    • The lens to look through is teacher efficacy.  Teacher efficacy hinges upon doing what is right for kids.  As well, we need to bring the mindset of professionalism and innovation.
      • 1 + 1 = more than 2
      • For ATA committee members to be effective, we need insight from our colleagues from the Board who understand governance, legislation, liability, etc. more than the average classroom teacher, to ensure that all aspects are considered as we move through our work.
      • It is very important to take time to establish relationship among committee members. You need to establish a foundation of trust and mutual support
      • Remember that legislation trumps all.  Technically, a teacher is only required to do what is listed in the Education Act. However, you’ll see the language is vague and subject to interpretation.  That is done with good reason to allow for local responsiveness.

And I won a free pair of socks!!

Access & Privacy Conference – June 2013

The session that I attended from this conference was related to establishing a solid records management plan at both the school and school division levels. This was a very practical session on how to proceed with establishing records management procedures. A key quote from the workshop that illustrates the importance of making this seemingly mundane task a priority is… “Records management is your shield or the chink in your armor when it comes to a FOIP request or any other legal matter.”

Youth Addiction Services Edmonton Tour – May 2013

In working with a number of families where there were concerns that their teen was either beginning to explore or was a regular substance user, I just needed to know what services were out there.  The YASE Tour was a great way to see their facilities and learn about their programming.  As with most “people organizations” nowadays, they are operating on a continuum –  YASE Continuum of Supports. This is very helpful to know as many families are somewhat tentative as they access information.  It’s nice to be able to explain that there is service all the way from a short information session to residential treatment.  If you want to know more, here’s their brochure – YASE Brochure.

Bleeding For Help – May 2013

Self-harm in young people is not a topic that I have learned much about and I have been coming across more and more students engaging in cutting behavior. Really, I could have used this session a few years ago. I had realized the cutting and burning behaviors certainly fit this category of negative coping behaviors.  What I hadn’t considered was that, typically for boys, physical fighting or high-risk physical behaviors like jumping from heights that can lead to injury might fit into this category as well. This session also confirmed for me that young people who engage in self-harm are not attempting suicide, however, this is a factor that contributes to higher risk. Self-harm is really about being desperate to escape the negative feelings they are experiencing and replacing emotional pain with physical pain. I liked the term ’emotional literacy’ from this session and the subsequent actions of teaching kids to identify and communicate their feelings and helping them feel they have the freedom to do so.

Calm, Alert, and Learning – Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation – April 2013

Dr. Stuart Shanker from the Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative shared his latest research which he has outlined in his book Calm, Alert, and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. One of the foundational understandings of self-regulation is that it follows a developmental progression just like intellectual or physical skills.  We need to acknowledge and plan for these developemental levels as we work with our students. Self-regulation is very much tied to our physiology. As children tire, become over stimulated, etc., adrenalin and cortisol levels are influenced which then set the stage for behavioral disregulation. The good news is that by gaining understanding of self-regulation, teachers can create micro-environments in their classrooms which different students can access to self-regulate.  In addition, children can be taught self-awareness and personalized strategies for their self-regulation.

AISI Conference 2013 – February 2013

It was a great start to the conference with Dr. Andy Hargreaves touting the educational leadership that Alberta has provided the world with the creation of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI). Through his examination of high performing school systems, Dr. Hargreaves is amazed that a structure was created so that all schools in the system can show that they are innovative. Alberta also shows leadership in all of his 5 I’s of Education – inspiration, improvement, innovation, inquiry and inclusion. I left that session inspired to say the least.

My favorite part of the conference was presenting with my amazing colleague Diane Lander (@DianeLander) who was the AISI Cycle 4 Coordinator. We volunteered to present an overview of the Cycle 4 project from PSD that focused on critical thinking.  Our presentation, Is Critical Thinking just a “Theory”, or is it the “Big Bang” you are Looking for? took participants through a critical challenge that asked, “To what extent does embedding critical thinking (into teaching and learning) impact student learning?” We received great feedback on our session and it was fun to do. I must say that I was a bundle of nerves though. (Thank You Letter – AISI Conference 2013)

Groups At Work: Structures and Strategies for Professional Learning – October 2012

This session was all about developing a culture of involvement in meetings, an aliveness that values all voices in the room. It’s not necessarily about collegiality because if  you’re not making waves, you might not be having the right conversations in the meetings.  Leaders need to create a safe, respectful environment that fosters thoughtfulness and conversation that sustains thinking. My skill needs to be making the groups skillful. Laura Lipton provided numerous strategies, structures and principles from her book Groups At Work: Strategies and Structures for Professional Learning that facilitate this professional culture. This session was directly applicable the very next day!  One of the best sessions I’ve ever attended as a leader.

TC2 Critical Thinking Workshop – October 2012

This session was an absolute must for my role as AISI Coordinator given that critical thinking is the foundation of the PSD Cycle 5 project. Wally Diefentaler from TC2 – The Critical Thinking Consortium started us off with a placemat activity to collectively create a definition for critical thinking. My group’s definition was “Using purposeful problem-solving with criteria and collaboration as a means to engage students and stimulate the thinking and learning process.” I like the model that TC2 provides as it breaks a broad instructional strategy that may not be fully realized into components that teachers can understand and refine separately and bring together to fully integrate the power of critical thinking in their teaching and learning process. One thing that struck me was that a well done critical challenge would be highly engaging for students for several reasons.  It would ‘problematize’ the curricular outcomes causing the students to become involved with the material rather than just learning about it. Critical challenges create communities of thinkers by providing common vocabulary and learning strategies.  As well, the open ended nature of critical thinking work allows for multiple perspectives so that each student’s point of view can be validated.

Alberta Assessment Conference – September 2012

This conference was a great refresh for my new role as the AISI Cycle 5 Coordinator for PSD. I had done a fair amount of work with assessment in past roles but it has been awhile.  Ruth Sutton gave us in her pep talk asking the question, “Is it time to re-brand Assessment for Learning?” In the midst of media attention regarding provincial testing, she remind us that “weighing a pig doesn’t make it grow” and testing kids doesn’t make them learn.  As well she championed formative assessment for those of us who are committed to these practices urging us to avoid automated practice and continue to be intentional in achieving our collective goal of developing autonomous learners.

One session that I found particularly helpful was Creating Credible Criteria. As our AISI project was combining self-assessment and critical thinking. Much of the session was a reminder of the foundational role the Program of Studies should play in the teacher’s determination of what evidence of learning would be acceptable at the end of a unit of instruction. Teachers must have a clear understanding of the program of studies in their mind before involving students in co-creating criteria. An example of a mismatch between the program of students and student outcomes would be when the skills of ‘design and construct’ become ‘build’. The match between the program of studies and the student’s criteria must be explicit.

Data Driven Dialogue – August 2012

This was my first session with Laura Lipton and Wow!! Every school leader should do some work with her to elevate their instructional leadership skills. She’s a guru of adult learning. This session was based on a book she co-wrote, Got Data? Now What?: Creating and Leading Cultures of Inquiry. I have always been a believer in using data to review and improve practice.  However, this session immediately pointed out the importance of building in group process strategies. As a leader, I have tried to depersonalize data analysis by stating that this is a non-judgmental event.   To really be effective, I need to incorporate group process to create the culture of community where deliberation about the data can take place. She provided ton of strategies and structures to develop high performing groups within a staff to make the most of data analysis.

iLearn Center Visitation (St. Albert) – November 2011

Having been at Connections For Learning for a few years now, we have done much to identify areas of our practice that need adjustment to support our students and have implemented changes.  But we continue to struggle using modules as our primary instructional tool.  The modules do serve the positive purposes of facilitating part-time portable programming that can be supported at home and individualizing programs for students in multiple grades over multiple programs.  However, modules-based learning is a difficult way to go for students with learning and/or motivation issues, of which we have many.  I was seeking a better tool and I found it.

The iLearn Centers/St. Gabriel’s Storefront School have developed their online programming by creating maps for each course. Each learning outcome links to learning activities, formative assessment activities, and then summative assessment activities.  It’s a very slick tool – now we just need to find a way to emulate it (huge job!). I also discovered their program structure which sees their storefront program providing in-school programming and staffing to three relatively small high schools. Very cool concept for a smaller school division.  As well, it was great to swap stories with people who do the same work that you do to affirm your practice and to pick up some helpful tidbits. This is a happening, forward-thinking organization and was well worth the visit.

Western Canadian Educational Administrators Conference – Leadership 11 – October 2011

This was another valuable professional development activity with some fantastic speakers.

Steve Munby started us off with a great talk about Leadership For the Future. He articulated five key indicators of strong leaders as the basis of his talk.

  • Leaders are genuine and authentic.
  • Leaders are learners.
  • Leaders develop teams and grow more leaders.
  • Leaders are indomitable and courageous.
  • Leaders are optimistic and cheerful.

Steve provided many insights, suggestions, and recommendations for additional resources for further reading and research. He spoke from a common sense and an inspirational perspective reminding us of our impact and the responsibilities we carry on a daily basis.  A key leadership question is not what do I want from my role, but rather what is wanted of me?

Focus on Learning: Embracing the New Age Learner was the topic of a great breakout session offered by Arief Ibrahim from Edmonton Public Schools.  The message was that we need to shift the thinking in the classroom away from what the teacher can or cannot do to what the student can do. Some of Arief’s key points to support this premise are:

  • Teachers do not have to be the technology expert.  They do, however, need to be flexible, vulnerable, encouraging, facilitators, influential, insightful, motivational, and creative.
  • Peer based learning communities, perhaps using a studio based learning model, where students tinker with knowledge learning from and teaching each other are a powerful learning tool.  Students build knowledge and skills publicly with each other, evaluate what they have created, and then build again after learning from each other.

I had an ‘a-ha’ moment where I confirmed for myself in the importance of using technology in a social setting as I viewed the TED Talk: The Child Driven Education by Sugata Mitra. I had been struggling with why technology was not seeming to be all that engaging with the at-risk students that I work with, at least in the context of classroom learning.  Duh! Having kids with learning difficulties working by themselves with computers is not much different than learning by themselves with books.  We MUST tap into the power of social experience to maximize learning. It might take some work and re-training but it will be powerful.

Sir Ken Robinson (Wow!)- Creativity in Education is Now as Important as Literacy  

With his gift for speaking, Sir Ken reminded us both in the global sense of humanity and the individual level of each person that we are completely unique and immensely powerful through our imagination.  Our imagination gives us the power to create and re-create our lives.

Education plays a significant role in the creation of lives and is a personal experience for each individual.  Each person has their own economic and individualistic reasons to participate in education and if it isn’t personal, it isn’t anything.  At the heart of education the only thing that matters is the relationship between the teacher and the student. Teaching is an art form, not a delivery system.  The targets for the future of education must be to personalize, customize and innovate and we must be relentless in attaining those elements.  Life is not linear, it is organic, it is created.  Education needs to mirror that concept to foster creativity and produce relevance.

The final keynote speaker was Dr. Phil MCrae. – Five Major Trends for the Future of Teaching and Learning: Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context 
I love this guy.  If you have a chance to listen to him speak, do it. I’ve heard him speak three times now.  His talks are jam packed with information about current trends, technology and the impact on education.  He will provide at least two or three or more books, or web sites, or concepts or trends to investigate to help provide direction to your practice to keep you relevant.  Each time I’ve listened to him, I’ve left with my head swimming with exciting ideas to explore and things to watch for as education evolves so that I can continue to keep relevant and moving forward.

Leading Our Way Forward – April 2010

This was a great step on my ed. tech. journey!  Being part of a school and school division team to devote two full days to visioning and planning how to leverage and integrate technology was certainly a valuable growth experience.  We were given much discussion time with very current and pertinent information to put a plan in place for our site.  Some of my personal takeaways included:

  • Julie Evans’s, CEO of Project Tomorrow, opening session offered some discussion about the values and attitudes of the millennial generation which was information I was seeking regarding the perspective of today’s youth particularly in reference to the pervasiveness of technology in their lives.
  • Lynell Burmark’s session on visual literacy was very useful in supporting the idea of effective technology instruction to ensure maximizing student understanding and enhancing communication skills.  Many of her suggestions also translated into supporting students with learning disabilities.
  • The H.E.A.T. Framework provided by Bernajean Porter is a useful reference tool to ensure that lessons using technology are designed to elevate student learning in authentic ways with students taking the lead for their own learning.

Crisis Response Planning – Fall 2010

This training from the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc. was provided by Parkland School Division as part of an initiative to develop a Division support plan to assist schools as they move through the experience of grieving the loss of a member of their school community.  A team of eight of us from across the school division participated in this training and continued to meet periodically through the year to co-author Parkland’s Trauma Follow-Up Manual for Loss and Bereavement. We continue to work as a team when needed to show up and provide support (counselling, administrative, staff, media, parent, memorial planning, follow-up) to schools that are experiencing a trauma to their community. Fortunately we have developed a tight, yet flexible process that works.  Unfortunately, we’ve had to try it out to find out that it does work.

Violence Threat Assessment Training (Levels 1 & 2) – Spring 2009 & 2010

Parkland School Division and Evergreen Catholic School Division partnered to bring these training sessions from the Canadian Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response to our area. The purpose of these sessions was to provide training for people to support individual sites as well as to become part of a multi-disciplinary team to respond to threats that are made which affect the school setting.  The threat assessment process is a very thorough structured process that involves professionals from several human services perspectives to meet with school based personnel to collect information from a variety of sources regarding the individual who has made the threat, examine the dynamics that person has experienced and is experiencing, and review the circumstances of the events of the threat situation.  The process carries on to provide guidelines to determine the level of concern regarding the threat and develop an intervention plan.

These were very intense training sessions. There was a lot of heavy information packed into a short period of time.  Still, there was a ton of insight given into the dynamics of students who had made and/or delivered upon threats to a school setting through several case studies.  Addressing the frailties and unpredictability of human behavior weighs heavy on the heart and is really quite scary when you think about the potential costs and your responsibilities in working with at-risk youth.  However, the process provides some reassurance when you realize there is a team to support you and a systematic response and process that you have to work with.

Having used the process twice at this time, I am convinced that this helping process supports the student in question with the priority of the safety of the school site taking precedence.  My big take-aways were:  No one ever just snaps. & Look for the empty vessel.

Literacy & Learning In The 21st Century with David Warlick – November 2009

This was a very timely session for me as it was about this time that I was discovering the wonders of the web 2.o world.  There are innumerable tools out that that can be shared with students to use in the classroom and I was amazed at the variety of tools could engage students in their learning.  Thankfully David Warlick shook me back into my professionalism. While his main message was in regard to the urgency to integrate technology into classroom instruction, he also emphasized the notion that all of these tools should be carefully examined and selected to ensure that they are a fit for the learning objective.

Distributed Learning Symposium – Embracing & Becoming Drivers of Change – March 2009

This was a fantastic conference sponsored by the Alberta Distributed Education and Technology Association highlighting the idea of learning “any time, any place, any pace”.  A variety of alternative programs from across Alberta showcased the ways that they use technology to deliver their programming in engaging and efficient ways.  Other recurring themes were in regard to the importance of developing relationships with students who are seeking education through an alternative format and that there are ways of fostering those relationships in an electronic environment.  As well, the electronic environment lends itself well to the flexibility that alternate ed. students often need.


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