Collaborative Changes that increased student engagement.

Many junior high schools in rural areas are limited by factors such as staff, resources, space, time, money and experience when it comes to providing optional classes to students. Seba Beach is also in this predicament, being a school of less than 150 students ECS through grade 9. To increase the opportunities for the students for students at Seba as well as the three schools (TomahawkWabamunEntwistle) which are all eighteen minutes away. The schools in the far western portion of Parkland School Division run collaborative WEST end options. Ironically WEST stands for the four schools that are involved:

Wabamun  – W

Entwistle    – E

Seba Beach – S

Tomahawk – T

By joining the schools for options we almost double the number of optional classes that the students can choose from, which is amazing for the students.

However, at the end of the last school year, while planning for the next school years scheduling. I noticed that there is a sufficient amount of time during the week that Seba Beach could run some of these same options as in-house options. Now, I know that some teachers and administrators out there are thinking two things :

This is going to be more work for the teachers?

Are teachers going to be taking away time from the core subjects to allocate for this additional option time?

The truth of it, is the answers for the questions are yes and no, respectively. Yeah there many be some more time that the teachers have to plan for and some more work in relation to keeping students motivated, but what it the outcome.

Students that are participating and enjoying their learning experience

That is a more than acceptable trade off. Remember it is all about the kids. Aside from this there is another benefit and it is not solely to that of my students. With the students in my school having the other options earlier in the week. It leaves additional spaces for the other schools students to participate in those options instead of competing for spots. I will be honest, it does mean that my students do got two options per term instead of one, but that only means that they have a better rounded year.

I do however have one request, if you have an idea for an option that you believe would be feasible in a small rural school please share. It will be greatly appreciated.

Data, what does one do with all that Data?

To say that the world of education has data, is to put it mildly. I would not say that education is data driven, but I would say that it, combined with 20140516_144322reflections, Data is highly important. Data can be used to determine best practice, it tells people what is working and what is not working.

Nancy Love writes:

“Without a systemic process for using the data effectively and collaboratively, many school, particularly those” serving low economic “student will languish in chronic low performance in mathematics, science and other content areas – no matter what the pressures for accountability”. (Using Data to Improve Learning for All)

I am sure we can all agree that data has many positives, these positives can guide practice, facilitate change and all one has to do is openly and honestly read the data. During my short time as administrator of a school, I noticed that there was a significant issue in the area of literacy for my school. The question is how do I improve literacy, not what is wrong, or who is not doing what they are supposed, or even why can’t the students learn.

After significant conversation and communication with other administrators and colleagues that I knew that had a back ground in literacy. I decided to create some change in how Literacy was rolled out, delivered and practiced with the students at Seba Beach school.

As we looked at constantly using the data and ensuring that everyone had access to the data to drive educational decisions, a need for a tracking and intervention model became apparent. We needed a system or method that would not only allow for the data to be used, we needed a system that would represent all of the data. A special thanks needs to be given to George Couros. George, in his work came across an idea that he thought I should look into as it would fit my need. George presented me with “Putting Data to Faces“. After having read the book, I made a connection that combining “Response to Intervention” and the data wall from “Putting Data to Faces” would be the most successful and beneficial to my students.

The results were more positive than were expected. The data collected after only five months of the program being implemented showed growth in students in the majority of areas. Going through and comparing other data that was collected throughout the year , it was decided that the program should be implemented in the next school year and that it should be integrated as part of the daily routine of the students and that it would be implemented for all grade levels. After some detailed and tough conversations with teachers and educational staff it was determined that a similar concept but related to Numeracy would also be very beneficial to our students.

images (2)Staff and I worked through combining the two systems and came up with a great system

co1180that uses student data tchanging quarterly with the interventions that are needed whether they are universal or targeted. I am glad to say to ensure the best programming for each individual student it was amazing. I look forward to consistently using the system and watching it evolve and change for each individual student. .

If you would like some information in terms of the process and the implementation, please feel free to contact me or if you have ideas that could be used to modify and improve the concept.

Numeracy – washing away with “I can’t do math”

Numeracy is defined as the ability to reason and to apply simple numerical concepts. Basic numeracy skills consist of comprehending fundamental mathematics like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For example, if one can understand simple mathematical equations such as, 2 + 2 = 4, then one would be considered possessing at least basic numeric knowledge.

Numbers are everywhere in the world and on a given any given day we do math without even thinking about it.  A numerically literate person can manage and respond to the mathematical demands of life. However, this is a skill that many take fo granted, there are a lot of individuals that struggle with Numeracy.

At Seba Beach School, we have collected data, that reveals that many of our students would benefit from a Numeracy program, somewhat similar to the literacy programthat we have in place. Similar to the Literacy program, the Numeracy programs philosophy is that students learn best when they are taught at their level, with students at their level, in small groups and that the basics need to be learned and understood before moving to a new concept.

To ensure that the students are working at the appropriate levels and that they are also being challenged, at the beginning of the year the literacy level of each student was assessed. After the students were assessed they were placed into groups with students that are at the same level and to this group was assigned an educational staff.1057072

In October the majority of students have been working on improving and fine tuning their skills and tools related to mental math. An example of this would the skills and tools that students can use to solve. Everyone chooses a specific method to complete a question, but the idea is not to have every student complete the question in the same way, but for students to be familiar with all of the techniques and choose the one that appeals the best to them. Below are three examples of this.

Rounding                                                    Breaking Down                                                           Counting On

74-38=                                                        74-38 =                                                                          74-38=

round up by 2 to get 40                       74- (30 & 8)                                                                  38 to 40 is up by 2

74-40 = 34                                                74-30 = 44                                                                   40 to 70 is up by 30

34 up by 2 is 36                                       44-8 = 36                                                                      70 to 74 is up by 4

Ans = 36                                                     Ans = 36                                                                       2+30+4 = Ans 36

Students are shown these as well as the traditional format and others and practice using them, then students are free to choose their method of preference.

Not only are the Numeracy groups great for interventions to assist children in Math, but the groups also allow for more individualized focus for where students need the help and alternative practice in an environment where competition is not present, because students are grouped based on abilities.

Personally, I know that the students that I am working with are having fun, and they are still being challenged to do better and make improvements in their skills. As well, since the groupings and the information being covered is directly tied and coordinated with the new JUMP math that is being used in all of our math classes, our students are seeing the continuity. If you have any questions or would like some information, please feel free to contact the school and ask for Mr. Ram or Mrs. Wong.

Staff are excited about the design and implementation of our Numeracy program and all of its possibilities. . We are looking forward to the successes of our students, to seeing the results of students being more independent and confident. Overall, the staff at Seba Beach are looking forward to making our belief and mindset that “ALL STUDENTS CAN LEARN” a reality.  Come, join us.

Connecting pedagogy with dimensions of student diversity.

When looking at the Principal Quality Standards and seeing that one of the strands states that as an instructional leader the principal should be or be able to connect pedagogy with dimensions of student diversity actually made me giggle, a little. Removing all of the educational lingo, what does this mean? To me as the Educational/ Instructional Leader this mean that :

” How people are expected to go about learning may differ and does differ between students. In order to maximize learning opportunities, teachers must gain knowledge of the students needs and abilities as they are represented in their classrooms, then translate this knowledge into instructional practice”.  Villegas, (1991) relates this specifically to culture, however I believe that this pertains to all areas of student learning.

You may be asking why or what I found funny about this, and I suppose it relates directly to my own experiences as an educator. For the previous eleven years, I taught children in care, children that due to a multitude or reasons were either removed from their homes or chose to leave their homes for more consistency and security. Teaching and learning from those children, gave me an in-depth understanding of the different methods students learned, the different elements that need to be in place and even the different levels and speeds that students learn.

A memory that gave me an ah-ha moment comes to mind. One of my students consistently used to ask me if she could work on the floor. Thinking like a traditional teacher I said “No, because if you are out of your desk and on the floor the other kids would all want to be out of their desks and on the floor”, and trust me in this setting this could be problematic. The student didn’t get mad, but also didn’t complete alot of work being very distracted for the rest of the day. She asked the same questions for the next few days, always receiving the same answer. However on the Friday, the weather was nice and I informed the kids that for the last two periods of the day we would be working outside. This set off my student as she became angry, started yelling and eventually flipped over her desk resulting in her being sent to timeout. After she had calmed down, I began to process with her, asking her why she was so opposed to working outside. (This is where the light came on) the student revealed that she was scared to be outside, she was convinced that even being out where we were that someone would drive by and well shoot at us. This also revealed why she liked working on the floor . . . bullets traveled in her experience with more ease through windows that they did through walls. Being on the floor allowed her to decrease her anxiety about violence that could occur. Monday brought a new development in the class, my student was permitted to work on the floor, for notes, assignments and anything else that didn’t require her to be upright. Some of you may ask, well didn’t others want to be on the floor? The answer is, yes they did, but they thought of it as fun and when the novelty wore off they returned to their desks. Eventually, she did return to her desk, however it was when she felt that it was safe to do so.

In relation to my duties as an administrator and instructional leader, as one staff put it so well when she reflected about our conversations in relation to student planning or programming “The thing I appreciated about Shawn during our time together, was his ability to present the other side. He was always able to play the devil’s advocate to ensure that we covered all bases”. M.Dallinger

I am always the one to ask what have we done, what have we tried, why haven’t we tried this or would this work. I have had some interesting reactions in respect to some of my comments but as I stated previously, I learned a long time ago that different things work for different students and that we, as educators need to know the students and where they come from to determine what that is and looks like. Before I end this post I am reminded of a quote which I hope I get right, Education is not about teaching the curriculum it is about teaching the student.

Seba Beach Fashion Show

In late December some of my parents approached my stating that they would like to create a student project that would help the community and at the same time work on Citizenship aspects and goals for our junior high students. I informed the parents that I thought this was a great idea. After some quick discussions, it was determined that the students would hold a fashion show and a dinner to raise funds for our communities senior center that was in need of an elevator. The elevator was essential to allow some of our community members access to the second floor of the center.

I am a strong believer in building leadership and that if someone is given the responsibility to undertake a project that they inherently accept some authority. I simply asked the parent volunteers to keep me in the loop and appraised of how things were proceeding and if they needed any help from the school to come and see me. The committee organized a tea and visit for our students to meet some of the seniors that access the center, they also arranged for the purchase of some items from the thrift store for the fashion show. The parents also created the menu, the itinerary, the seating charts and in collaboration with the students that agreed to participate the themes.

Although there were many hick-ups and challenges, at time minor conflicts and the feeling that things were not going to fall in to place right up until the dinner. I was proud of the students and the parents. Everything came together beautifully despite the worries and anxiety. The committee put together a fabulous meal, the food was amazing as was the desserts and was the topic of conversation right up until the fashion show started. The show was incredibly put together and the students did a marvelous job. They were entertaining, got into the roles in relation to the different themes that were presented and when needed were elegant and purposeful in their actions.

I was not only proud of the students, but as well of the parents as the all had gleaming smiles on their faces when they realized that there napkin, coffee planning all resulted in a breathtaking experience. After  the fashion show, I did my small part thanking everyone for coming and supporting our students and their cause, which raised just over $1000.00 for the center. I thanked the students for their memorable participation and thanked the committee for all of their work and that without them it wouldn’t have been possible.

As the evening wore down and people started leaving, I made sure that I was visible to thank them for coming and supporting, and every time that someone stated that I had done great, I was quick to point out that I could take only the minimalist of the compliment that 99% of the credit needed to go to the parents, the students and to the community. I have always believed that credit is given where credit is due. All I did was allow the event to have a date. As a tribute to the evening I did what I do best . . . and here is a summary video of the evenings events.

I hope you enjoy it and if you have any questions or ideas for the future please do not hesitate to share them.

Combining Synergy, Creativity and Citizenship in Leadership a day at Greystone

Although the weather was not the most accommodating on Friday, my adventure and experience while visiting Carolyn Cameron and the students and teachers at Greystone Centennial Middle School was wonderful. My time at Greystone was a great learning experience, however before I go into what I learned and my take-aways from my visit I am going to provide a short section about Greystone and Mrs. Cameron.

Greystone Centennial Middle Schools belief is that middle years is a time to exert extra effort to make school appealing by engaging students in learning and by offering them a variety of activities to keep them connected to the school community. The schools highly collaborative teaching teams who remain with the same group of students for 2-3 years establish strong supportive relationships that promote individualized, personalized learning for students. The teachers really get to know the unique learning needs of their students.

Carolyn Cameron, is the Principal of Greystone Centennial Middle School. She states that she is inspired, daily, by the passion and energy for learning that she sees from the staff and students at Greystone. She is always open to sharing ideas that cause her to question, explore and build her knowledge as it relates to Inspiring Action in Education and how she, along with her amazing team at Greystone, can continue to make the dream of meeting the needs of today’s learners a reality in their school community.

My day at Greystone was filled with some great experiences, however the learning was also excellent. One of the items that is required as an administrator is to observe teachers in their practice and assist them in their achievement of the Professional Growth Plans. I was  able to sit with Mrs. Cameron and observe to classes. The first class was Mr. Dhaliwal’s grade nine Science class and the second was Mrs.   Nicholls grade six Math class. Being unaware of the backgrounds of the classroom I was lucky in the sense that both subjects are areas in which I am familiar and enjoy teaching.

Both the observations were great in that I was able to see how Mrs. Cameron did her teacher observations. There are three very important things that I noticed. First of all in both settings Mrs. Cameron ensured that she was not in a position that would cause distraction from the lesson or to the students. In one we sat away from the students allowing us a fish bowl view, while the other one had us placed in the classroom sitting among the students. Secondarily, Mrs Cameron stated that she is always looking for the answer to a specific question which she either listens for during the lesson or asks students directly when it is appropriate and that is “how does this apply to students lives?”. Lastly, I learned that although Mrs. Cameron takes into account all of the TQS standards, that her primary focus in her observations relates to teachers Professional Growth Plans, something that I did not place more of a focus on.

Observing Mrs. Cameron in her observations as well as being able to participate in a post conversation has shown me the process in action from an administrators point of view, something that I had not been able to previously witness. I would like to thank Mrs. Cameron, the staff and students of Greystone for the wonderful learning experience, for inviting me into their classrooms and for allowing me to participate in some excellent learning opportunities and activities. I am looking forward to making some of the changes at my school from what I have observed at Greystone.

Instructional Leadership, what is it and how does it look?


Recently, I have been having many discussions with my colleagues and peers about Instructional Leadership. Like many things in education, different individuals have different ideas and different thoughts on what it is and how it looks. Some of my colleagues have looked at the elements that relate to pedagogy and curriculum, while others have focused on the ability to assist colleagues in their delivery and other standards relating to teaching.

Through all of the discussions and conversations I determined two things, one that I need to closely look at what I consider instructional leadership and to secondly to build a plan and ensure that the plan is evident, understood and followed within my school. However, I still needed to figure out an easy understanding to what is instructional leader ship. While talking to a friend/mentor/colleague it was explained to me in the simplest method.

George Couros said, “What is your foot print? How will someone walking into Seba Beach school know that you have left a mark / legacy in the school”. After hearing this it all made sense, how will what I do, the decisions I make, the changes I make and the expectations that I have be displayed, remembered, and followed in the school in my presence and without my presence. This was a great question and something that has had me thinking.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the Instructional Leadership requirements in the Principal Quality Standards, reflecting on how I have been or will be working on them and then detail what I have learned. In addition to looking at my understandings, impressions and reflections I will be shadowing, at present 3 colleagues that are in my opinion Master Administrators that have a great understanding and application of Instructional Leadership. For those interested in taking a look ahead at whom I will be shadowing here they are:

Carolyn CameronPrincipal of Greystone Centennial Middle School.

Glen ThielPrincipal of Brookwood School.

Sheryl BridgemanPrincipal of Parkland Village School.

For those that may be unclear as to what the Principal Quality Standards designate under the dimension of Instructional Leadership I have listed them below:

The principal ensures that all students have ongoing access to quality teaching and learning opportunities to meet the provincial goals of education.


The principal: 

 a) demonstrates a sound understanding of current pedagogy and curriculum. 

 b) implements strategies for addressing standards of student achievement.

 c) ensures that student assessment and evaluation practices throughout the school are fair, appropriate  and balanced. 

d) implements effective supervision and evaluation to ensure that all teachers consistently meet the Alberta
Teaching Quality Standard.

e) ensures that appropriate pedagogy is utilized in response to various dimensions of student diversity.

f) ensures that students have access to appropriate programming based on their individual learning needs.

g) recognizes the potential of new and emerging technologies, and enables their meaningful integration in
support of teaching and learning. 

h) ensures that teachers and other staff communicate and collaborate with parents and community agencies, where appropriate, to support student learning.

i) supports the use of community resources to enhance student learning.

If you have any suggestions, ideas, constructive criticisms or thoughts in relation to my upcoming adventure, they would be greatly appreciated.