Sunday, 23 September 2018

Emphasizing the Active in Active Learning!

    School is back in full swing and so are the fall sports seasons. Right from elementary through to senior secondary, student athletes are demonstrating the link between mind and body by signing up, getting active and enjoying their sport of choice.  Soccer, volleyball and cross country running seasons are all gearing up or underway, and coaches and athletes from all across the district are working at bringing their best every time out. 

For over forty years Participaction has been the Canadian agency most associated with fitness Participaction encourages school age children to "take part in a wide variety of activities that are fun and get their bodies moving and hearts pumping. It urges parents to "Try to mix it up with plenty of different activities that your children and teens enjoy and give them plenty of unstructured time to roam, play and explore, with you or with friends".

Participaction takes a 4 S approach to fitness recommending people "sweat, step, sleep and sit" their way to a balanced life. Their website reminds us that "Preserving sufficient sleep, trading indoor time for outdoor time, and replacing sedentary behaviours and light physical activity with additional moderate to vigorous physical activity can provide greater health"

School activities can help with the sweat and step options. Whether a team sport like soccer or volleyball or a mass participation event like cross country running, staying active through daily physical activity and outdoor activities at recess and lunch,can help students run off steam, maintain personal fitness and be better able to focus and concentrate when it comes time to learn.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Starting the Year full STEAM ahead

Followers of social media may have noted that last week Fort St John city councilors, in a meeting with Education Minister Rob Fleming at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Whistler requested "that the Ministry of Education work with the Municipality and SD60 to include capacity for a STEAM program in the new facility that will be constructed in 2019, and that the Ministry facilitate the creation of partnerships to deliver STEAM programming in Fort St. John."  

While the district is always grateful for the support and interest of our colleagues within municipal governments, it might encourage them to know that STEAM programming is already alive, well and thriving throughout all of our schools.  Programs promoting Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics are enthusiastically taught, and even more eagerly received by staff and students who have received accolades for their innovative skills and talents at local, provincial and national levels.

As aptly described by council, "STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. The end results are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. These are the innovators, educators, leaders, and learners of the 21st century."  

SD 60 has been consistently at the forefront of STEAM education for many years. Our Northern BC regional science fair, held in partnership with SD 59, has produced entries that have gone on to medal at both national and international competitions. Elementary students participating in annual spaghetti bridge building competitions  have created designs so strong they are virtually unbreakable and our Applied Design Science and Technology (ADST) teachers have guided students to  represent all of BC and place nationally in Skills Canada competitions in robotics - definitely a leading edge 21st century skill area.  

Our commitment to STEAM and ADST reaches students not only in Fort St John, but extends to all our schools as evidenced by the keen interest and tremendous successes achieved by students at Prespatou, Clearview and Hudsons Hope. Our Careers department supports Maker Spaces in elementary schools like Duncan Cran and Ecole Central and makes cutting edge technology like 3 D printers available to every school site.  

SD 60 is proud of its ongoing commitment to STEAM and ADST learning. We have some of the best and most innovative teachers and enterprising students anywhere. Those hoping to see such programs expanded to new schools in the future can rest easy. In this district 21st century learning is already here - its everywhere and its only going to get better!


Saturday, 8 September 2018

Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Week one of the new school year is done! While opening is always a blur, three events in particular underscored for me, how every year is a fresh start marked with new beginnings. I had the privilege of assisting with the opening of our newest school Ma Murray Elementary, I traveled out to Upper Halfway to assist with their preparations for the coming year, and I got to meet and greet many of our newest teachers at their orientation event.

Opening a new school is always a thrill. There is so much to say about the beauty and innovation of Margaret Ma Murray's new design, and thanks to tireless attention of the school's admin and staff, combined with the relentless efforts of our Assistant Superintendent of Special Projects, the building was ready for opening day.  My very small role in helping out was to check in the school's grade 6 students as they arrived for their first day. I have tremendous respect for these students, arriving as they were, in a strange new building after having invested up to six years of loyalty to other schools,  teachers and cultures.  Their faces told a variety of stories,  from eager excitement through to doubt and trepidation. The adults at their building have worked hard to welcome them and ensure that their experience is positive and quickly establishes a new and vibrant school culture.

Later, I drove out to Upper Halfway Elementary Junior Secondary. Where Ma Murray is a gleaming new facility accommodating over 300 students, Upper Halfway is an older, smaller building  serving fewer than 50 students across a wide range of grades. While the building might not be new, Upper Halfway still serves as an important community hub. The team there were planning out their year with the same level of excitement and energy I had noted in town. The district is indeed fortunate to  have dedicated and caring folks so committed to ensuring that all students get the level of education they deserve. The Halfway team is a diverse group ,made up of local community members, returning staff and recruits from distance. Located more than a hundred kilometers from town, they are truly illustrative of the courageous innovative spirit our district team is known for.

On Thursday I met some our newest teachers. Our new teacher orientation is a one stop information session that allows all our newest members an opportunity to meet the board office staff. They meet the folks from payroll, benefits and human resources, as well as the district's leadership team, and reps from their local teacher's association . Following a session to fill out all the paperwork needed to ensure they are covered and compensated to all the right levels, our new folks could take a quick tour of town, ending at meet and greet, wine and cheese social at the Cultural Center in the heart of downtown. In a time when northern districts are working hard to attract new teachers, it was exciting and encouraging to see so many new people willing to take on opportunities within our community. The expressions on many of their faces were quite similar to the ones I'd seen at Ma Murray earlier in the week. Excitement and anxious energy really are everywhere first week back.

The beginning of September really does mark a fresh start and a new beginning  for our school year, and one week in, the excitement seems to be outweighing the anxiety. As the year unfolds I look forward to seeing where this new year takes us and sharing the stories of many more Education Matters!

Friday, 31 August 2018

Here We Go! Starting Another School Year

September has always been a season of change. Summer gives way to fall. Days get shorter and the leaves begin to turn. Few changes are as dramatic as the start of a new school year! New classes, new teachers and this year for SD 60 there's even a new school. We'll be opening our newest elementary school - Margaret Ma Murray Community School -this September.

Certainly the new school opening is our biggest story but so much happens in September. Students new to our system or communities will be attending for the first time. Teachers new to the area, or even new to the profession, will be introducing themselves to classes anxious to know just what might be in store for them over the next 10 month.

Northern district's like ours face many challenges. Whether its getting the last of the new furniture delivered and in place at Ma Murray or finding hiring and placing the last of our new and needed staff, there will be a lot going on this fall. No doubt there will be challenges and frustrations, as we all strive to find the best ways forward, but what really sets our district apart is the resilience, creativity, patience and innovative spirit our community members display.

So welcome back. Over the next ten months i'll look forward to sharing our district's story. There will undoubtedly be all sorts of stories to tell - some good, some challenging, many exciting and all unique in their own way.  A new year is beginning. Let's see where it takes us!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas Presence Revisited

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
                      from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"  Dr Suess

With the holiday break rapidly approaching, many may be anticipating the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning. With work commitments soon complete, there's likely still some last minute shopping to be done in search of the perfect gift for friends or family.  Whether its figuring out just what's in that enticing package under the tree, or musing about what to get for somebody else, many are no doubt wondering what would be the best present ever?

Perhaps one way to go is to work on self improvement. Dr. Leslie Becker- Phelps in Psychology Today suggests concentrating on the four domains of better organizing personal and professional commitments, taking care of one's health, accepting present personal limitations and setting realistic goals for the future. Certainly such steps can help make any person more "present-able".

Another option is to choose experiences over things. Many studies suggest that experiences give people greater and more lasting happiness than the acquisition of more stuff.  A 2009 CNN report suggests experiences create a greater sense of connectedness with others, while the impact of material gifts, while initially well received, diminishes over time. Memories revisited, year after year can grow into treasured family traditions. 

In busy lives time can often the greatest gift of all, and using it wisely is one of the best ways to reward oneself.  Blogger Mari Hernandez-Tuten suggests that spending time with others, especially children, makes our presence the present. Just paying attention and spending creates connections and builds memories with lasting impact.

This holiday break, I hope everyone gets some time away from work, has some time to connect with loved ones, and maybe to reflect on how they might improve things for themselves and others.  May this holiday season bring you  you much joy and laughter and many happy memories!  

"and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"   
 from A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens

Monday, 20 November 2017

Snow Fun for Everyone

Gilles Vigneault wrote "Mon Pays" back in 1964. The iconic song includes the lines "Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" - my country is not a country it is winter. Coming from a northern district experiencing record snowfalls this month, I can certainly relate. In the north Peace, winters can come early and stay long. We can have snow on the ground from October to April, and temperatures in the minus teens are not uncommon. Some folks lament the coming of the cold,  and I've yet to meet anyone who loves to endlessly shovel snow, but being a northerner does not have to mean six months of hiding from the elements.

Weekends can be filled with a variety of recreational activities including hockey, skating, sledding, snow shoeing, skiing and other outdoor activities. Students can keep active during the week as well. If the sun is out,  students should come dressed for the season so that recess and breaks can be happily spent out of doors. When the windchill or blowing snow conditions create an inside day,  schools meet the challenge with a wide variety of indoor games and activities ranging from reading to intramural games or activities in the gym.  Technology can help, but authorities such as Participation recommend limiting screen time as an alternative to more active winter pursuits.

This November, Mother Nature and Old Man Winter have combined early and often to bring us record snowfalls. Getting out and getting around can be a challenge, but there's no reason that students can't continue to be active learners through our winter months. Being outside and active helps rejuvenate the mind and can help students to deal more effectively with education matters.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Halloween Fun

Last week students all across the district celebrated Halloween.  The day may be eagerly anticipated by most children, but it can be fraught with anxieties for staff. Aside from the elevated energy levels costumed students bring to school, the event poses other challenges as well, like how to ensure costumes are appropriate, or how to ensure those who don't observe the customs of the day can still be comfortable? One significant question can be to what degree should staff join in?

At the central office staff don't necessarily get to interact with students but the question about whether or not to dress up still applies. While a festive atmosphere can help explain a costume at schools, at the Board Office a costume can raise eyebrows. I'm a strong proponent of bringing fun to work. Our office staff work hard but they also a fun group. This year staff embraced the opportunity to show some character, and a Halloween themed potluck lunch ensured everyone had a chance to get in to the spirit of things.

At the school level many of our principals used the day to model positive role models while joining in the fun. Our secondary school admin team agreed to "boldly go" where few had gone before, channeling their inner Star Trek characters, while at one of our elementary schools the office staff illustrated just how super they really are, donning their capes and familiar blue and red outfits.

Research clearly demonstrates the benefits of bringing a sense of fun to work. Students and staff alike get to see each other in a slightly different way. People who can enjoy a sense of fun together work together with greater confidence, are kinder and gentler on each other and achieve greater success on a variety of tasks. 

In his article Joy in School  Steven Walk supports these ideas writing"  "Schools need to find ways for students, teachers, and administrators to take a break from the sometimes emotional, tense, and serious school day and have some fun together." Walk further states that such events "help everyone get to know one another better, tear down the personal walls that often get built inside schools, form more caring relationships, and simply have a wonderful time together."  Creating positive shared experiences helps everyone get the most out of education matters.