au courant

January 11, 2016

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Do we have a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to be designers and innovators? Does each teacher have the support of a community?

I'm sure many of you follow George Couros on Twitter. He is a highly influential educator in central Alberta who has recently published a book called, The Innovator's Mindset. There's a quote in the book that beautifully describes the role and the importance of the classroom teacher and the cultural environment he/she needs in order to flourish.

"There is no substitute for a teacher who designs authentic, participatory, and relevant learning experiences for her unique population of students. The role of the teacher is to inspire learning and develop skills and mindsets of learners. A teacher, as designer and facilitator, should continually evolve with resources, experiences, and the support of a community.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we don't necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students."

Look at all the awesomeness our support staff creates...

Unconditional Teaching - Alfie Kohn

"Teaching in this way is not just a matter of how we respond to children after they do something wrong, of course. It’s about the countless gestures that let them know we’re glad to see them, that we trust and respect them, that we care what happens to them. It’s about the real (and unconditional) respect we show by asking all students what they think about how things are going, and how we might do things differently, not the selective reinforcement we offer to some students when they please us."

Leaving Literate

Several years ago, we targeted literacy as our 'hedgehog' goal (Jim Collins' term from Good to Great). We determined, as a staff, we would have our students reading at an end of grade three level by the time they left our building (other than those on IPPs). In spite of all the teachers' and educational assistants' blood, sweat and tears poured into attaining this goal, we have struggled to reach this goal.


In our journey toward achieving our goal of all students leaving JSM literate, we have encountered several challenges. We've had to identify and address these challenges:

  • competing needs for very limited PD time
  • expanding literacy programs
  • decreasing dollars/personnel for ERI supports
  • increasing student population and cramped quarters
  • a changing 'clientele' and a need to meet a broader range of student needs
  • increased social, emotional, behavioural challenges
  • increased tech exposure before school (and less exposure to language and reading)
  • students attending school with less socialization and exposure to literacy (books, songs, conversations)


  • first and foremost was the need to build capacity amongst ourselves for coping with severe behaviours in child-centered ways
  • having a common assessment of students' decoding and comprehension
  • ensuring all teachers understand the purposes of diagnostic assessment
  • helping new hires gain skills for teaching reading (not all preservice programs emphasize how to teach reading)
  • we created the HUB
  • we created an RTI structure that honours child development and inclusive philosophy
  • we built capacity for meeting student needs in inclusive classroom settings
  • we created a collaborative culture
  • we created an atmosphere of collective responsibility (it takes a village of adults to raise a village of children)


  • dedicated, hard-working staff members
  • the CRM model meetings
  • increased funding from inclusive services the last two years
  • embedded PLT time on collaborative days
  • district office personnel to be accessed by schools

As we move into the new year, we will be targeting literacy with intensity. Our January 22 PD day will see the start of this process as teachers examine their beliefs around literacy. With some financial support from Learning Services, a group of thirteen people are attending the Daily 5 conference later this month, and 8 people are attending Words Their Way next month. The Daily 5 cohort will have follow up meetings (at least monthly) to help keep the momentum going and provide support and collaboration as the Daily 5 structure is adopted in their classrooms. The remaining PD days for the year will each have a literacy component. The topics will depend on the needs and interests of the teachers.

January 22 Collaborative Day Plan

All EAs, including PUF EAs, should attend this day. Support Staff don't need to arrive until 10:00. :) Please see me if you are unable to attend.

8:45 - Literacy Beliefs

9:55 - Nutrition Break (food will be provided)

10:20 - LPI Presentation (admin surveys) - Please note, you will receive an email ahead of time related to this, but don't worry about responding until the 22nd. There will be time on this day to respond to the first of three admin surveys.

11:45 - Lunch - on your own

1:00 - "Working Together to Support All Students" - This is a session for teachers and support staff. District office personnel, Lorna Hewson, Jay Cottell, and Barb Pears will be running the session.

2:15 - Break

2:30 - Teachers and support staff separate into two sessions.

  • Support Staff - The evaluation process with Lorna, Jay, Barb
  • Teachers - Follow up to the previous session.
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