"In my language the word for education is Akinomaagewin. When you break down the word - 'aki' means earth and 'no' or 'nong' means stars or sky world. So our word for education is the study of the earth and sky world."
- Dominic H.K. Beaudry
As this new school year begins, fraught as it is with an overwhelming feeling of deja vu and great insecurities about in-person learning without the presence of vaccinations for children, it is vitally important from my perspective that we return to our centre point for schools and explore the questions that have grounded our teaching and learning every other year of my career in education:
Why do we have schools?
Who learns here?
How do we learn in a way that keeps our children as safe as possible?
How do we make learning as engaging as possible?
How do we meet the learning needs of all our students?
Last year, as the pandemic truly unfolded around us in an enormous bloom of anxiety, fear, exhaustion, questions and very few answers, we worked very hard as a staff to generate and sustain a safe learning environment that made sense to our learners as learners. We did not want the children in our school to look back on the 2020-21 school year and remember the year that:
- we were all forced to stay in one room
- in one chair all year
- the year we had to distance from each other all the time
- the year we were always wearing masks
- the year we didn't get to have Peace Assemblies or field trips or artists
- the year we didn't get to swim
- the year we didn't get to have Choir
- the year we didn't get to have concerts
- the year the grade 4 kids didn't get to celebrate moving on to Middle School
So we focused on what we COULD do for learning regardless of all the other restrictions. And we were delighted with the students' great interest and investment in our Coulee School venture, as well as our grade 4 students' amazing work on our first art installation '5 Years of Learning Together' on the front of our school. 2020-21 will be, we hope, etched forever in our students' memories as the year we did Coulee School and the year we created the first 5-Year mural. In perusing our newly released 2020-21 EHS School Yearbook, it is astonishing to re-visit all the learning that did take place in our building despite quite significant restrictions - one of the many reasons I love our Yearbook:)
And now we find ourselves knocking on the door of school year 2021-22, opening the door with a fair bit of hesitation on another year of unknown and unexpected events still heavily shadowed by the pandemic.
We learned a lot from our experiences last year - how strong we were as a learning community, how creative we could be even in the face of great adversities, how much we were willing to invest in truly caring for each other in multiple ways as we continued to build peaceful communities together. We also learned we needed each other - as humanity always does - despite our genuine fears and challenges.
We are meeting the challenges of this new school year with a different perspective.
We matter to each other.
We matter - each of us.
Our school wide peace book that we have all read to inspire us to continue to invest in each other even though the messages of the world seem to cry 'distance! distance!' from every corner, is called "You Matter" by Christian Robinson. It is helping us remember we matter to ourselves and to each other and will guide our connectedness this school year.
As will learning.
We are working with our Artist, Rebecca Ellison, to complete two more murals for the front of the school. We are expanding our experiences in Coulee School back to Glenbow Ranch Park. We are looking forward and letting learning lead the way. The pandemic and it's inherent restrictions will not define the learning experiences of our children as we 'study of the earth and sky world.'
Learning will lead our way through the 2021-22 school year and we are excited to invite you to join the journey with us - virtually, in-person, in writing and in experiences!
"Students who thrived in the remote environment during the pandemic demonstrated competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, resilience, independence as learners, self-regulation, cognitive flexibility and perseverance.
These are the attributes that are noted as critical for future employability across industries and geographies." - (Fullan, Quinn, Drummy & Gardiner, 2020)
n this final blog entry for the school year 2020-21, I am going to explore elements of academic achievement and school organization through the lens of pandemic implications on the experiences of children, as a strategy for considering learning in our school in the 2021-22 school year. Even as we contemplate possibilities for opening up schools again, there is an inherent layer of anxiety and concern that permeates every consideration, every plan, every decision.
An interesting element of cohorted and online learning has been that student achievement was impacted negatively for the most part - except for students who were already motivated to work digitally or in solitude, while students were often doing their very best, they were also very isolated and restricted in movements and conversations. Without the 'just in time' guidance of the teacher, there were significant impediments for students to demonstrate their own learning and understanding of new concepts and to receive the support needed to ensure learning was focused and on track.
Data from the Reimagining Education 2020 fall investigation into the global impact of the pandemic revealed that more than 98% of participating students indicated they preferred personalized learning opportunities with a teacher rather than automation. "Personalization is among the most effective means for accelerating academic and cognitive growth," the report noted, explaining further that "students want to be be creative and believe they learn more when they have greater voice and choice and receive personalized feedback."
As we explored the overall achievement of our students at Eric Harvie School through this pandemic year, we were intrigued by many of the findings. Overall, our students' achievement levels did not shift significantly through the 2020-21 school year, likely as a result of the stability of our in-person learning environment overall.
Students generally achieved a similar success ratio to what we have consistently achieved in our previous four years across most curricular areas, with slight variations downward in applying new thinking in novel situations (an expected outcome of being constrained primarily to the building and to particular classrooms for much of the school year). Areas where we really focused - like teaching writing - were where students generally demonstrated the greatest overall levels of improvement, while students demonstrated a slight deterioration in social/emotional stability as the year progressed (as expressed through our pre and post wellness school surveys). Since these levels began high (with almost 90% of students expressing feelings of safety and happiness at school in November), declining to approximately 86% in June is noteworthy but not disconcerting.
The interesting factor for us as teachers results from the more traditional approach we had to take to classroom-based instruction this past school year. With students cohorted closely with each other and their classroom teacher, we were not able to regroup for instruction based on personalized learning needs, nor were we able to offer the same level of personalized supports such as SPARK, Calm, Zones, HeartMath, etc. that we typically offer students to help them learn to self-regulate and be prepared for learning. Children did not work as collaboratively as they usually would, were confined to specific learning spaces and unable to make use of the Learning Commons or Maker Space, for example. While, in a usual school year we would anticipate overall improvement in most curricular areas with respect to whole-school learning achievement, 2020-21 maintained the status-quo in terms of achievement levels for the most part.
There are many factors at play here - this was the most extraordinary year of teaching and learning any of us have ever experienced and we don't want to read too much into the data we have collected. Instead, we are going to look to the fall as a time where we will re-establish our school goals towards developing a strong learners' toolkit of skills that will support students to wonder, investigate, problem solve, pose questions, represent their thinking and work collaboratively in a peaceful community.
We are going to focus on student learning - meeting any and all students where they are at, rather than where we might expect them to be as they enter their 'next grade level'. With students returning to in-school learning from a variety of situations - Hub School, CBE-Learn, Home Schooling, interrupted learning due to extended isolations or quarantines and online learning, as well as possibly entering grade 1 without any Kindergarten experiences, or entering Kindergarten without preschool experiences, we fully appreciate every child is going to be coming to school with a highly varied set of previous learning experiences and levels of achievement. We will be establishing our teaching to reflect these realities.
And, our direct and simple mission for the 2021-22 school year will be to "successfully meet learners where they are and support them to achieve academic success through collaborative teaching and learning opportunities.'
These opportunities will continue to be offered through the lenses of peace education, place-based learning and design thinking, as they always have in our school. This is not new work to us at EHS; it is more a matter of accommodating small differences to reach the highest potential of every student.
"Going forward the learning process must foster these competencies through authentic, relevant learning that provides voice, choice and agency to learners. This necessitates a new role for teachers; one in which they are activators of learning; practitioners who can differentiate task, time and space to meet student needs and include them as co-designers of that learning." - (Fullan, Quinn, Drummy & Gardiner, 2020)
There is no doubt the school's organization will be much different in the fall than it was this past pandemic year, and different again from how we were organized previous to the pandemic. Not only has the pandemic shaped our most recent experiences, the budget constraints have also generated a much changed landscape for our school as we anticipate returning to in-person learning in the fall of 2021.
To begin with, we no longer have a Physical Education Specialist to plan and offer our PE program with and for students. This will fall to the classroom teachers as elementary generalists. And our Music program is being re-imagined as a Fine Arts program with greater emphasis on integrating Music into the overall daily learning of every student. While our beloved Music teacher, Mrs. Coulson, will still be with us, her work with students and in classrooms will look and sound much changed from what it has in the past - we are looking forward to this exciting and energizing way of bridging learning through Music, Dram, Art, Dance across all curricular areas as it makes sense for our learners.
The school will be organized differently as well. There will be six grade 3/4 classes, all housed in one hallway (the HOPE hallway), to facilitate greater access to re-grouping and collaborative projects as we strive to personalize and meet the needs of every learner. There will be 3 team teaching teams of Grade 3/4 teachers to facilitate this work. The Grade 1/2 team will also consist of six grade 1/2 classes as well, all housed in the PEACE hallway, for the same reasons. With considerably less support staff, all extra support for learning will need to come from classroom teachers who will be working collaboratively to plan, instruct and support every learner from wherever they are in their learning journey.
We will teach curriculum of course, but most importantly, we will be teaching children through the curriculum to ensure they are able to progress and grow from wherever they are when they arrive at school in September, 2021 to the highest level of achievement they are best able to attain by June of 2022. And our learning will be designed to support each child as much as possible with a highly reduced number of staff, understanding as we do that deep learning is what ensures children will be able to progress in life successfully.
"Deep learning experiences are those that produce learning that sticks for life. They are both profoundly personalized and student-centered and are intrinsically motivating for students as they pursue topics that are real interest to them, have authentic meaning, and are more rigorous. These learning experiences make students want to persist and to succeed.
This combination of autonomy, belonging and meaningful work inspires students. When students are invited to demonstrate their learning differently, and when learning environments include all students as contributors and change agents, they begin to develop a sense of efficacy.
Relationships and engagement - the gatekeepers of learning - are emphasized in this learner-centered model. Voice, choice, and agency are central to deep learning." (Fullan, Quinn, Drummy & Gardiner, 2020)
We are excited about the possibilities even during these times of great reduction and change. Education is a changing profession and CBE has a long history of changing successfully to meet the demands of society, of children, of families. As part of the CBE family of schools, Eric Harvie staff look forward to welcoming all our learners on September 1, 2021 for an exciting and much different year of learning experiences! We are very proud of the work we have accomplished this school year - #CouleeSchool and our beautiful 5th anniversary Mural stand as amazing examples of what we were able to accomplish with our students even during huge pandemic constraints and we know our children will soar next year as well :)
"Education doesn't need to be reformed - it needs to be transformed. the key is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions." - Sir Ken Robinson
See you all in September! Best wishes for a safe and relaxing summer!
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"Through this disruption, there has been a recognition that schools play a vital role beyond learning. Their custodial and community roles are central to a healthy society." - 'Education Reimagined: The Future of Learning' (Fullan, Quinn, Drummy & Gardiner, 2020)
It is the middle of June...
And now our thoughts, deeds and concerns begin to point to September - always the mingling of 'good-bye' with 'Hello!' and a conglomeration of planning, cleaning, organizing, anticipating, re-visioning, sadness and joy. Such is June in a school and, despite the pandemic, this is still true in 2021.
A few years ago, when I had been a principal for just a couple of years, I remember describing the process of closing a school in June, only to re-open in September, as being similar to shutting down a bank in June, closing out all the accounts and changing at least 30% of the staff and sending everyone away on summer vacation. Then re-opening the bank branch on September 1st with some of the same clients, a whole bunch of new ones and everyone opening their accounts even though none of the customers had the same needs as before! it is a process quite unique to learning institutions and, as I have come to learn over the many years between sharing that description and today, this it is a process that takes several months to execute successfully. Planning for June actually takes the months of April/May/June - at the very least!!
As we look to close out the 2020-21 school year, there are still many pragmatic pieces of information that have not been decided yet for Eric Harvie School - such as the impact of pandemic health and safety procedures - as well as some undefined components like how many students will be returning from home schooling or CBE-Learn online schooling to in-person learning - or vice versa. Slowly, we are beginning to fill in some of these questions with answers but there is still much to be determined for our school before the beginning of September. Class lists, teacher partnerships, use of space, whole school initiatives, professional development, extra-curricular events, parent evenings, etc are all still in the development stages this mid-June. However, the thinking and planning are well underway - there is much thoughtful considering required to open a school year successfully for all students.
In preparation for the next school year, I have also been reading and researching about potential issues regarding a return to 'before' in schools as we all fervently hope to see the end of the pandemic restrictions we have lived with for about sixteen months begin to recede. Throughout the world, many realizations have emerged from the various closedowns, virtual classroom experiences and the impact of these past months on children globally, including in Canada and in Alberta. I believe the one common experience that has been universal is simply that every child has experienced the pandemic differently - and most of them have experienced an identifiable impact of some kind on their learning, emotional well-being and/or sense of trust in the security of the world.
Understanding the implications the pandemic experience may have on children is a significant element of effective planning for schools as we contemplate in-person, unrestricted learning once again - what used to be so natural now seems so foreign and strange! Considerations for our school as we make plans for re-opening as fully as possible in the fall of 2021 include exploring the dynamics of student engagement, emotional well-being of all students, student academic achievement and skill development, and the best possible organization of schools to meet the needs of students coming to class with vastly different learning histories and experiences. In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, I am going to explore ideas related to student engagement and emotional well-being; next week, in Part 2, I will take a look at academic achievement and school organization - specifically within the lens of EHS.
One of the primary areas emerging as a potential concern for educators and parents everywhere is the impact of motivation on student success. This is not an outcome of the pandemic - while student motivation has certainly been exacerbated by the current situation, the pandemic did not cause motivational concerns for and with students over the past decade or so. Fullan, Quinn, Drummy and Gardiner, in their 2020 report "Education Re-Imagined: The Future of Learning" clearly describe the motivation (or lack of motivation) phenomena:
"The challenges highlighted during the disruption should not come as a surprise. Over the last decade, student engagement has plummeted. Almost one in every five students does not reach a basic minimum level of skills to function in today’s society. (OECD)
Moreover, many school systems have not maintained pace with technological advances; schools have not provided widespread access to digital tools. When the pandemic hit, 1 in 5 students did not have access to the internet or a device to support them in lockdown. This disruption revealed systems that already struggled to support all learners. To put it plainly: it’s time to situate education as an instrument of individual and societal good." (Fullan, et. al. 2020)
Motivation, student engagement and attention are all closely interwoven with cognition and academic achievement. When learners feel comfortable, are interested in attending to the learning, have tasks to take up that provoke their thinking and curiosity, their capacity for learning something new is maximized and their achievement improves. These student perspectives are all connected through emotion and “emotion is the gatekeeper of motivation, cognition and attention.” Therefore, establishing an environment that focuses on well-being and belonging for all is job one for teachers. In short, well-being and quality learning are intimately related. (Fullan, et. al. 2020)
To improve student engagement, educators must find ways to strengthen and continue to foster emotional connections with students, and to help learners develop greater emotional connections with each other. As our children come back to school in the fall following a long stretch of uncertainty, forced isolation through fixed student cohorts in school, stretches of online learning or periods of quarantine due to illness or exposure to positive cases, they physical safety requirements may begin to wane just as the emotional needs take centre stage.
Social isolation from a larger peer group inhibits the growth of social interactions that would usually grow and change through any given school year in the company of multiple peers from a variety of classroom settings as children gather both formally and informally throughout a school day. This may lead to loneliness, less connection or fractured relationships with other children they are now seeing repeatedly for a whole school year with an almost relentless consistency. During periods of online learning, social and peer connections may be completely interrupted or, in some cases, disrupted with longer-term consequences for friendships. Students may have enjoyed online learning more than school, or appreciated the independence and autonomy it afforded them. Others may have enjoyed their leisure pursuits more than normal, with lots of play in the picture. Some students may have simply refused to participate and idly pursued other interests while at home. And any emotionally challenging period of time in a child's life will naturally impact motivation, attention to task, ability to cognitively engage in an activity and their overall level of interest in being in school - their school engagement.
Teachers can ease the social pathway
• facilitating connection and conversation
• re-creating norms that will allow students to feel psychologically safe in an optimistic and efficacious learning environment
• Inviting each student’s perspective by asking open questions so that each student feels connected to the learning community• Providing trauma-informed learning for staff, parents and students, enabling everyone in the school community to recognize and respond mindfully during this crisi
• Appoint a caring adult to build a relationship with those students you know to be vulnerable (Fullan, et. al. 2020)
It is clear that emotional health and student engagement are tied very closely together - to successfully re-integrate students into a world of engaged learning will take time and effort but it is essential if we are to support our learners to become adaptable, skilled thinkers and doers in the world.
"Educators would be wise to examine their own practices that can extend flexibility, choice and voice to students. Simple ways to do this are to:
• Invite students to share the positive insights emerging from the pandemic. What did they learn? What did they learn about themselves? What are they grateful for?
• “De-front” the classroom by taking the emphasis from the teacher and placing it on students
• Promote collaboration among students. When students work in groups, there is flexibility, more voices engage, and smaller children can wiggle around as needed
• Incorporate choice into assignments and classroom activities
• Arrange the classroom to support student movement
• Create a discrete way for students to share vulnerabilities or concerns
• Enable students to make suggestions about what and how to learn
- Fullan, et. al., 2020
Prior to the pandemic, education systems around the world were beginning to re-examine teaching and learning practices and to explore possibilities towards developing responsive approaches to learning that would engage students more fully and successfully in the learning process.
Our current system has been called into question numerous times for its flexibility, ability to respond to student learning and weave effective use of technology organically into teaching and learning. While reforms to education have received significant attention in the past couple of decades, they have been quite focused on improving teaching and learning in literacy and numeracy, and with the goal of improving high school completion, rather than focusing on enhancing the emotional connections students might make that will keep them connected to learning throughout their lifetimes. Living in an unpredictable global society requires attending to students' holistic needs as a person, rather than strictly their academic development.
"Quality learning must be built on the interests of students along the following dimensions:
• Connecting to purpose and meaning
• Challenging students to have high expectations
• Positioning learning goals that focus beyond the basics
• Using engaging pedagogies
• Building relationships and belongingness
• Providing opportunities to contribute to the world
This combination of readiness for change and urgency arising from the current crisis has the potential to shift the education system from one of outdated “schooling” to future focused ‘learning” and take learning out of the classroom and into the world." (Fullan, et. al., 2020)
A key finding through the multiple options that have emerged for teaching and learning through the pandemic has been the emphasis on the importance of student-teacher relationships. While this is not necessarily a new finding - relationships have long been the most common predictor of student success - it is telling that learners clearly indicate they do not want to be taught digitally, by and large, but rather by teachers who know them and understand how they learn best. (Class of 2030 & the Life-Ready Learning Report, 2020). Most teachers with traditional pedagogy struggled with transferring their particular styles of teaching to the digital environment and found it challenging to engage students in open-ended learning tasks that would encourage creativity, collaboration or pique curiosities.
Since relationships remain the strongest predictor of student success, and acknowledging the need to develop positive emotional well-being connections for students to foster interest in learning and positive student engagement, it is essential as we bring all our learners back together in open, inquisitive learning spaces that educators, parents, community partners and students seek to optimize student engagement through positive relationship development.
Some key questions can foster deep reflection and be used to engage thinking about what are the next best steps for learners in our schools:
1. What knowledge, skills and attributes do our students need to thrive in this complex world?
2. What kind of learning is needed for this current and future complexity?
3. How do we ensure equity?
4. How do we attend to well-being?
5. How can technology be best leveraged for learning in the future?
Our current system of educating children in schools was created to serve two purposes:
- to organize students when they learned (time)
- to confine students when they learned (space)
These two principles were useful in the 1800 and 1900’s but the COVID disruption has rendered them redundant. Students can learn and demonstrate this learning without bricks and mortar or bell times. With digital and deep learning, students can learn where they are. Students can learn when they are ready. They desire relationships with teachers who know them and achieve best success in that environment. Our challenge as educators moving forward is to determine how to best meet student learning needs in less structured environments, with fewer external controls and greater focus on motivation, relationship and curiosity.
"For decades the literature has been flooded with discussion of future ready skills, including the higher cognitive, social emotional, and technical skills and attributes needed in a complex digital world. This kind of learning changes the learner’s perspective, behaviors, and develops skills for life. It leaves the learner wanting to learn more.
We know one thing for sure.
The absolute key to doing this is to cultivate the intrinsic motivation of students to learn, individually and together. The essence of this powerful learning is fostered by a student’s sense of purpose, meaning, belongingness and desire to make a contribution to society. Ignoring these essential goals is a profound weakness in many education systems." (Fullan, et. al., 2020)
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"To tell the truth that, for a very long time in this country there were laws that sent Indigenous children to schools that were far away from their homes, and in those schools really bad things happened...to have that conversation with your children...to let them read the stories and for you to read with them...
If they are ready to have these conversations about why these laws were put into place, then be truthful that Indigenous people were seen to be inferior and that they needed to change their ways, their cultures, their language, their ways of knowing, being and walking in this world - these were not seen as something to share with dignity, not held with respect...
If the children are old enough to understand, you can talk about assimilation...you can talk about genocide and how that is actually what has happened in this country..." Monique Gray Smith
It has taken me a long time to process the enormity of 215 unmarked childrens' graves - not because a story of unmarked graves for children has never surfaced before, but rather because such stories have.
I expect there will be blood woven through the annals of history - humanity has a long history of finding ways to kill each other without too much provocation, to be honest. Looking back through times past, one will find many sad and terrible examples of unmarked graves, unremarked deaths of a nation's youngest citizens, unreported child deaths for any number of not-particularly-valid reasons. I may react viscerally and with anguish to stories of genocide and assimilation but I do not find them to be shocking or overwhelming, they are part of the historical record written in words, in blood, in bone across nations of all political dimensions.
What takes my breath away, makes me stop whatever I am doing because I am still in shock - is that we are still trying to cover any of this up rather than acknowledging we messed up and will do better in the future.
"Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.
- Maya Angelou
We do know better. Why are we hiding the truth? Why are we not releasing any and everything we know about residential school deaths, burials and losses so that, collectively as a nation, we are able to mourn and grieve and then do better? It is this knowledge that more cover-ups exist that keeps me awake at night.
215 voices were silenced. Yet, it required a long time, investigations and insistence by the families for their truths to be revealed. That is roughly half the population of our school - imagine losing half the school's population of children - how quiet the world of school would become. Imagine the anguish of families never knowing what happened to their child after being taken away to school. A simple disappearance with no simple situation left behind.
Last Monday, as classes gathered beneath our lowered flags to speak in hushed and tearful voices of what this discovery actually meant to them, a young child in grades 1/2 came up to me and asked, "But, Mrs. Kinsman, why did the teachers let this happen to the children?"
I was not - am not - able to find words to offer in response to that question.
What we are able to do is speak from a place of empathy, of kindness, of peace. What we are able to do is share the stories of the survivors and the children themselves. We are able to acknowledge Canada has a bloodied past and still move on towards a brighter future. We are able to stop perpetuating the grief of determined searching in a world that already knows there are other truths to be found.
"How do we want to be together? You hold me up when you are kind to me, when you play with me, when you respect me, when you listen to me...Kindness is really a salve right now, if you are looking for some ways to change things right now, find ways to be kind." - Monique Gray Smith
When we were able to sit with our learners and hear their questions, and to discuss the history of our country in real terms rather than postcard descriptions, we learned from the children that being 'different' in any way was not necessarily a trait to be overlooked or diminished but more likely to be celebrated. if one can draw 'differently' than most other children, or play a musical instrument better than expected, or create a game that wows all their classmates, this accelerates feelings of success and belonging. Different does not necessarily mean inferior. At least not in our school - 'we have room for different', as one child reassured me today.
Last week, we had children playing a game where they were recruiting new Peace Ambassadors for the school - complete with questionnaires and clipboards. Part of the game was to present yourself as a potential Peace Ambasador for the school and describe how you might make our school a peaceful community. There were lots of ideas that emerged from the game - more importantly for me was the clear understanding of what makes a peaceful community care for each other articulated by several students. We are far from perfect, but we encourage children to do their best to accept each other as joyous, creative humans in a busy, loving school. We encourage kindness and acceptance. We promote sharing and caring.
And these days, kindness is definitely a salve.
To remember the 215 children whose graves are believed to be located on the Residential School site in Kamloops, BC, we have decided to incorporate the number '215' somewhere visibly on our first reflective outdoor mural. We have worked hard with Saa'kokoto over our five years to develop a clear sense of how Indigenous perspectives can both inform and strengthen our understandings of the natural world, as well as human relations, and many of these teachings and learnings have been captured in our overall mural design. To our way of thinking, this is how we move confidently into a more just and caring world - with kindness, with empathy, with a deep appreciation for the value of humanity as we honour every human life and build a peaceful community together.
We will continue the discussions, the reflections, the story sharing with each other and around each other. we will not forget the 215 who were found last week, nor be wholly shocked when other situations like this arrive. We will celebrate and embrace our differences and work hard to urge new approaches, renewed openness to the truths that are lurking in the backgrounds of the stories being told and shared. We will remember and we will share.
"And this is one of those times when can begin to come together...to say 'Can you imagine?' And that is what is happening now. Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles are imagining and the empathy is coming alive. And that empathy will move us forward and it will create change. We cannot rely on the federal or provincial governments for that change - we've seen that.
The change is incumbent upon us as citizens who live in this place we call Canada.
So, I invite you to have these conversations with your children, in your classrooms, with your family and friends.
Hold the space.
The reality is that we are only beginning this journey to feel, to understand, to uphold dignity and to move forward.
And every single one of us has a role in this.
So I invite you to create a role for yourself.
What can you be reading, what can you be listening to, who are having conversations with so that, when the children ask you - and they will - that you are ready to have these conversations.
A big part of all of this is our humility to realize there is lots we don't know and more to be revealed.
Please continue to educate your heart, your mind and your spirit."
- Monique Gray Smith
Something to remember; something to share.
"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. " - Margaret Wheatley
Once upon a time...lots of great stories begin with this hopeful phrase....
Once upon a time teachers at Eric Harvie School imagined a year of learning during a pandemic that would not only be a story of limitations and constraints. This story of learning would carry children into the natural world intentionally, making connections with each other and honouring visible relationships.
This story would elevate the notion of relationships, embodied in the words: We Walk This Path Together...
Teachers dreamed of possibilities and engaging students in breaking those possibilities wide open to be bigger, better, more interesting and engaging than teachers might ever begin to imagine!
And so the concepts embraced in the notion of 'Coulee School' emerged from imaginations seeking to break the restraints that would define all learning in school year 2020-21.
That imagined beginning nested in the work of the students and gained life as a new story of learning - a story that nudged children to question, wonder, reflect, discover, innovate or explore as they uncovered and began to make sense of new elements of life on our planet, making connections with prior understandings and knowledge. Imaginings of the teachers flowed seamlessly towards the collective learning the children would create as they acknowledged and understood every story begins with a blank page...
"Research shows a direct connection between a student’s mindset and academic success." - Ron Berger
As the school year unfolded, the work of our learners began to emerge both physically in their numerous representations of their school work, and virtually on the pages of our Coulee School website. The diverse teaching and learning across the school was phenomenal in scope - relying on the questions of students, we witnessed the brilliance of learner curiosity as it became the impetus for investigations and explorations as students acquired and assimilated new information into their knowledge repertoire. The array of information was captured so eloquently by learner representations - and then we imagined bigger, transitioning student work into public displays of exploration and new understandings.
The energy of this project has been oxygen to our school during this year of constraint and limitations. We were outside where viruses seemed less menacing. And we were engaged actively in real discoveries, authentic questions, puzzles that we needed to make sense of and perpetually changing natural conditions. The more we ventured into the Coulee, the greater our awareness of learning possibilities became until we were positively crackling with energy, curiosity and open minds!
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s
mind there are few."
- Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)
What began as possibility - imaginings and ideas from a group of teachers trying to open up learning opportunities in a year where every familiar experience had been swept off the table - came full circle, reflecting the power of relationships, consideration, perseverance, tenacity and inquiry when students were invited to participate in the learning processes. And #Coulee School became a real event to celebrate!
As we look ahead to the fall, there are many uncertainties for sure. We wonder what the expectations for each teacher, staff member, student will be as we sit, firmly mired in the face of not knowing, of speculating, of being anxious. This pandemic year has brought about some amazing learning for the children in attendance when they could be here - but there are also children who weren't able to be in school every day this year - sometimes for extended stretches of time. And others who will be returning to EHS from a variety of possible teaching situations. One thing we know for sure: our expectations will need to be tempered with reality and be judiciously shared.
We have to imagine ways to bring school to life as we enter the fall, to celebrate families, siblings, friends and share stories. To make the unknown visible for and with our students. Some will need extra support; some will need the freedom to fly. All will need interested, caring, supportive adults to guide them in these journeys.
"But our kids are not broken.
To foster students’ growth, districts should think beyond traditional ways of grading and teaching.
Instead of federal and district test results becoming labels...districts should use them diagnostically, as guides only,
and encourage teachers to collaborate with students in understanding their skill profiles so that the kids feel empowered in their own development."
- Ron Berger
As staff and teachers begin to envision next school year, we know there are many things to celebrate - imagination and resiliency immediately come to mind. We also know whatever our journey becomes next school year, it will be best led by student questions and curiosities and the more hands-on, engaging learning opportunities included, the more likely learners are to invest themselves in developing deeper understandings of the world.
A beginner's mindset stays open to new possibilities. Even as we anticipate knowing what the outcomes will be, we still want to experience the richness of living in the possible, imagining the best, seeing what happens as we navigate the journey.
Schools should also recognize their students’ resilience over this past year, support their healing and emotional growth, and honour them with meaningful and challenging academic work, not with remedial classes. That’s how we’ll get our children back on track. " Ron Berger
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few."
- Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)
"The pandemic has turned us all into beginners as the usual ways of doing things were no longer an option. Virtually every business and organization had to design new ways of operating to accommodate social distancing and keep everyone safe.
This meant that as individuals we had to reimagine habits like going to restaurants, movies, and working out. We had to have difficult conversations about bias and equity that challenged our actions, interactions, and systems. Traditions like birthday parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and graduations were reinvented. "
- Dr. Katie L. Martin
*******************************When the whole experience of living through a pandemic finally fades to rearview mirror status, and we are reflecting on the experiences that carried us through with some semblance of success and resilience, it is my most sincere hope that we spend a bit of time recognizing the opportunities we have had with which to successfully re-imagine many aspects of our lives and living experiences.
Re-imagining our daily living habits is not - as Dr. Katie Martin points out in the top quote to start this entry - something any of us do as a general rule. We tend to do what we have always done, with occasional adjustments to acknowledge growth of a child, or a variation in our interests, or perhaps a change in job, home or location. Essentially, we follow similar routines of work, school, extracurricular activities through all the days of our lives and fit special occasions around these routines. Such are the foundations of our lives and our dependable routines are truly the keys to living successfully as humans.
As Fanny Fern, 19th century novelist and children's writer observed, "There are no little things. "Little things', so called, are the hinges of the universe."
We become adept at managing many things in life because our routines fit comfortably with our views of the world and serve us well with meeting our basic physiological needs such as food, water and shelter as well as many of security and relationship needs as well. Most often, it is the routines and structures we build into our lives that offer us psychological support as well and help us to live up to our full potential in this world. Although we may tweak something here and there on our schedules from time to time, we tend to minimize the big interruptions - such as moving or changing jobs - because they require extended time and attention that must be reclaimed from other areas of daily living.
In other words: routines matter.
The pandemic has not only interrupted our daily routines, it has interrupted every routine - how we live, shop, eat, celebrate, relax, entertain, be entertained, exercise, engage in hobbies, sports, music, meet other people, greet other people, communicate, travel, save and/or spend our money, understand our political systems, vote, read, write, manage our health and wellness - both physical and mental, worship, study, gather together, relate to each other, vacation, raise our children. There is no area of modern living that the pandemic has not invaded and caused us to change every habit we have ever practiced or imagined ourselves practicing.
Routines matter - except when they can no longer be practiced. Then they are missed. We yearn to 'get back to normal'. Return to what we had. Recollect and re-knit the fabric of our lives as we remember how things used to be. We have adjusted and we have accommodated and we have removed, ignored, tolerated and played the waiting game. Now we just want to return to normal.
What if we re-imagine, with a beginner's mindset, what 'returning to normal' might mean? There are millions of possibilities to be explored if we take this pause, this forced time to reflect and re-imagine, that might impact every aspect of living and possibly enhance or improve our future living experiences. After all, we have the time to reconsider...
Early in the pandemic, families mentioned they appreciated the family time they had gained together once the multitude of after school and evening activities began to subside, generating conversations about reducing the number of demands on family time 'when this was over'. Other conversations about the importance of walking through one's community, using the public library - and missing the public library, finding ways for families to spend time together playing games, watching movies, hiking, inventing activities and special events across the community (like the beautiful window art so many homes displayed in the spring of 2020). Innovation and creativity and re-imagining with a beginner's mindset.
"When something is new, there is no expectation to know anything about it. This allows you to approach the situation with a different mindset than one of an expert who has a preconceived notion of what should happen, and can put you on autopilot rather than thinking about new and different opportunities.
A beginner is:
- Open to how things works and new possibilities
- Free of expectations about what will happen
- Curious and wants understand things more deeply" (Dr. Katie L. Martin)
The pandemic is no longer new and we are wearying of all the demands it has made on us to do everything quite differently than we did before - to think about how we do everything in a way we never gave much thought to before the pandemic invaded our doorsteps around the world. One thing it does continue to offer us - hopefully as it truly begins to wane - is the opportunity to continue to reflect, reconsider and re-imagine how, why, when, where, what we might do differently as we begin to reconvene in less restrictive ways - both in our lives and in our schools.
Bringing the children back to school without restrictions and with opportunities to engage in best possible teaching and learning practices is what educators are most excitedly anticipating, even as we continue to adjust and accommodate teaching to reflect the hybrid experiences of both in-person and online instruction. As we look forward to a return to 'more normal' circumstances, we have the opportunity - actually the gift of opportunity - to re-consider teaching and learning with a beginner's mindset that is focused on how we best meet learner's needs and what those learner needs might be, based on the best research and information possible.
A return to normal does not necessarily mean a return to every practice and routine that existed before.
"...developmental scientists and educators have long known that academic outcomes in the later elementary-school years are built on a foundation of authentic, conversational language and on the nurturing of meaningful relationships in early childhood. Early learning is fundamentally a social process, during which the architecture of the developing brain is constructed from emotional connections with trusted caregivers and friends...children experience greater academic and social gains in classrooms where teachers are emotionally attuned to them—bending down to chat spontaneously and meaningfully, and following curricula that encourage physical, collaborative, open-ended play." - Erika Christakis
Sometimes it takes a pandemic for the world to acknowledge what we already know, and then seek to re-magine new possibilities with a fresh mindset.
Research has been abundant for the past 25 years (or more) in helping us understand how children learn best. We are often tempted to choose to acknowledge and support the research that fits with what has already been established because that will not require us to change what we are used to thinking and doing, or recognize that perhaps our historical practices have come up short for supporting many children in their development as successful, joyful, innovative learners of the world.
Perhaps a beginner's mindset is a lofty goal; perhaps it is not. One thing I know for sure is if we do not take the time to reflect, re-imagine and look forward with intentionality and investment into the best educational research possible and allow that to inform our practices in education, we will definitely have squandered this world-wide opportunity to try and improve our investment in children.
"Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity." - H. Jackson Brown
"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. " - Margaret Wheatley
Through to the end of the school year, I hope to engage in some re-imagining of school on these pages, to reflect and explore with a beginner's mindset as much as possible, what could be possible for learners returning full-time to school from a widespread patchwork of learning experiences, and how hopeful, research-based, innovative thinking might afford greater access to best teaching and learning for all children. They have survived the pandemic with us and they deserve no less.
"To help young people become more receptive to learning, we need to actively engage, cultivate and sustain their focusing skills. Luckily, brain research points to effective ways of gaining children's attention." - Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin
"I hope that our classrooms expand from a place where we are taught to a place where we can explore together. " - Katie L. Martin
"We need a new story that teaches us how to live together differently in this country because right now most of the stories are divisive." - Dr. Dwayne Donald
"Instruction that promotes complex thinking over memorization is associated with strong class participation, achievement and students setting hopeful, aspirational goals for their educational futures....Collaborative, interdisciplinary, active and problem-based learning have been found to improve student attendance, course completion and graduation rates." - Mosher, Hartwell & Brown
Recently, I read an article about the discovery of insulin 100 years ago - interesting to me because my mother was a childhood diabetic in the 1930's and would not have survived without insulin, despite the many tribulations she endured at the time as researchers, doctors, patients and their families continually refined the medication, best practices and understandings of this 'miracle' medicine.
It reminded me of another article I read within the last month about the speed of vaccine development for the COVID-19 virus - which was actually not a 'speedy' process at all, but a series of developments over almost 10 years prior to the pandemic occurring in 2020 when MERS first began appearing in the world - and this had built on vaccine research that had begun a decade before that.
Research building on research until a worthwhile and timely discovery is made. 100 years apart but a similar process - discoveries are made by a researcher or group of researchers, questions are asked by many others, there are experiments and conversations, graphs, charts, comparisons, wonders, imaginings, 'what 'ifs' and maybe's, exploring and predicting, trying, failing and trying again. In the early 21st century, we call this 'design thinking' in many circles - including the field of Education - and as I reflect on the state of the visible world (so much of what hits the media represents only a small fraction of the human experience overall), I am wondering what the role of design thinking really is in the world of 2021?
It feels, sometimes, like possibility, inspiration, discovery and imagination have fallen out of fashion in our zeal to have 'hard facts' that often are so over-analyzed and turned inside out that the actual truth never seems to really be acknowledged or perhaps, even available.
There have been times in the past five years when trying to understand the truth of the world's events has been a gargantuan and futile effort, caught as we, the 'public', have been between lies disguised as truth and fiction masking as fact all jumbled up together with a loss of empathy, kindness and care overall. As many of us struggled not to get caught on this slippery slope, humanity itself was suddenly and unexpectedly assaulted by a virus that rapidly began killing thousands of people. Immediately, lifestyles changed and we became wearers of masks, inveterate hand-washers and struggled to define what 'social distancing' actually meant - and then vaccines arrived on the horizon and suddenly everyone was questioning everything. Where was the evidence of how the virus was transmitted? Where was the evidence masks worked? How did a vaccine get made so quickly? What is herd immunity? What is a variant? Is this a disease of 'old' people or not? Everyone wants an answer - no! Everyone wants the 'truth'!!
And a draft curriculum arrived midst all of this clamour for the truth, asking children to recite a particular version of history, study known algorithms and calculations in math, be classical in our thinking and slide back into historical patterns of social interactions that we have already clashed with in our not-so-distant past. More 'truth' for all of us to clamour for as we continue to close doors, narrow our perspectives and hide from anything that is not familiar and reliable from our pasts.
And I wonder where our human ingenuity exists within all this muddle of fear, anxiety, best intentions, confusion and disarray of life that is 2020-21?
Where does imagination go when fear overwhelms? Why is building on the discoveries of others no longer celebrated but regarded with suspicion? Where does one find inspiration these days for new ideas, re-designing, thinking bigger, trying out new iterations of previous thinking? Why is it suddenly horrifying to discover anything new about math? Where are the possibilities for tomorrow?
As I watched a few children creating in the Maker Space last week, it was clear to me that imagination, inspiration, discovery and possibility are alive and well in our children! The Maker Space has been very quiet during this pandemic year, and it was not the lively, noisy place of old with just a few masked and protected students working in the Studio at a time. Nonetheless, the children were fearless in their designs, trying out new ideas all the time, adding ideas to each other's, trying to capture their dreams in fabric, wood, glue and nails - there are our dreamers and doers of the future!
They will carry this deep-seated belief they can change the world, one nail or hot glue gun at a time, from their earliest experiences of school. They will know curiosity can lead to great things for humanity. Our children will dare to explore and discover, try new things and help each other out with ideas and new iterations.
When they are in the Coulee, they carry this perspective with them there too, as well as an awareness of the history, the connections, the presence of Na'a as they explore, question, wonder, imagine and investigate their world. They are not in pursuit of any truth; the presence of possibility is what captures their imagination. Each child knows they will experience and see the world through their own lenses, appreciating the nuances of others' perspectives at the same time. There is room on the planet for all of us to care and share together.
This pandemic year has caused so many of us to withdraw and turtle, to worry and pull back to home, to question and fear as well as feel frustrated, angry and isolated. Our children are capable of echoing every fear and worry we display, especially in these days of isolation when parents and teachers are their primary sources of contact and security. These are, without a doubt, precarious days...
Yet there is optimism and joy to be found in the laughter of the children, in the discoveries, the designs and inventions, the plans and stories they each dream, share and grow together with every waking moment. It is essential the adults in their world sustain the bubble of confident possibility they naturally carry as they make sense of the world. Their future does not feel constrained by the pandemic in any way - and that is extremely refreshing in a world that, just now, feels so riddled with distrust, disorder, blame and an unending search for some definitive truth that never really seems to be attainable.
Perhaps it is the children's work to help us remember the importance of possibility, imagination, inspiration and discovery. And they do this so effortlessly every day - when we give them the space to do so. Our work, therefore, is to create the space and let them show us the possibilities of their futures.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few."
- Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)
"For so long school has been a place where we would take our kids as parents and show up to work as educators.
The schedule kept us all in place and moved us from class to class so we could make sure to cover and essentially learn all that was required of us in our given class, or semester, or year.
It was a system that was predictable and that allowed for us to feel safe going through the motions.
The tests tell us that the majority of students are learning and therefore they were on track as they moved from grade level to grade level.
We rarely question this process, because the structures have existed for so long and have allowed us to keep the systems in place that look very similar and function as they have for over 100 years."
- Katie L. Martin
It has been an interesting year on so many levels - the grinding, never-ending fear of 'what will happen to my family? Myself? My friends and acquaintances?' underlying multiple levels of 'different' as we have cycled through numerous iterations of social and business closures, rising case numbers, the arrival of variant viruses in our community, and long periods of separation from everyone and everything we once held dear in our lives. Covering these losses and incalculable changes has been the enduring wearing of masks (multiple layers!) and shields, repetitive and incessant hand-washing and the never-ending reminders to stay 2m apart at all times. Just writing it all down seems overwhelmingly numbing and interruptive to everything we ever considered to be 'daily living'.
In response, humanity has persevered - investing billions of dollars, endless time and energy, creativity and imagination - and even political cooperation - into prioritizing human survival in the face of odds we once only gave credence to in movie scripts and apocalyptic novels.
On a whole world scale, the virus continues to wage a battle that out-scales anything previously anticipated on the medical front and gives new meaning to the phrase 'public health emergency'. While the end to this whole mess does seem to be in view as countries invoke enormous vaccination strategies around the world, a return to some semblance of 'normal' seems to be becoming increasingly inevitable as well. Humanity will tame the virus and wrestle it into submission. The human toll will be huge - it already is and we really have no 'end' date in sight - yet it will be considerably less than if we had not had an international public health response at all. Human ingenuity will win in the end and we will all count ourselves, fortunate, I expect and hope, to be alive in a time in history where we are able to witness such a triumph over nature.
Schools have been a low-level, less visible element of the world effort to sustain some semblance of normalcy through these days of great uncertainty. To keep schools available as places of learning for children resulted in a wide variety of approaches deployed across the globe - from in-person to virtual learning and every possible permutation in between. Much has been written about the impact of the pandemic on students overall, in a general sense, regarding the levels of stress and academic implications children have been experiencing over the past year.
At Eric Harvie School, we have learned some lessons, too, from our pandemic year.
It has been a most challenging year - absolutely the most challenging I have experienced in over 30 years - for so many, many reasons. The pandemic itself, of course, has created high levels of anxiety for everyone - sometimes the worries ebbed a bit, but they always seemed to manifest again and again. Other challenges emerged as a result of the pandemic that shaped our school year, and we have learned some lessons as a result.
This school year has caused our school to change all the strategies we typically use to guide learning - including building independence, making real-life connections, fostering numerous opportunities to apply problem solving and critical thinking skills, encourage innovative and design thinking and opportunities to practice and nurture building peaceful communities together. Most of the learning occasions we typically foster in our school have been set aside this year in favour of safety and security of our students and staff. We have become, overall, much more traditional in our approaches to teaching and learning than any of us ever imagined as we championed innovation through our first four years.
This year, our learners have been confined to one classroom with the same teacher and classmates for every portion of the school day - from entry through to the end of the day, they have been at their table spots and teachers have taught primarily to the whole class rather than the small groups we typically prefer. When we have been able to offer learning support, it has been one-to-one or with one or two children from the same classroom who need similar support. Teachers have been able to teach directly with children for much of every day, offering learning in much different formats than we previously would have, including a greater focus on written work, reading, math algorithms with fewer manipulatives, videos, and small hands-on creative projects that may be completed within the classroom or, preferably, at the table where children are located for the day. Except for two music classes per week and daily Physical Education in the gym, children have attended school much like I did as a child - in the same room, with the same children and the same teacher. Much more traditional, definitely, than we are accustomed to at EHS!
There have been some advantages to this approach - the first being that we have been quite successful, overall, in keeping children and staff safe from the virus with only 3 known cases over the course of the year and limited impact on student learning (although having all the grade 3/4 classes pivot to online learning for 6 days was certainly an impact!). That was our goal and we will continue to focus on cohorts of children with their teacher, handwashing, masking, distancing and enhanced cleaning until the COVID threats have subsided.
Teachers report they feel they know their students very well as a result of being with them all the time, every day, for learning. They have been able to build strong relationships with all the children in their classes, as well as with the families. Teachers are able to identify specific areas where students are struggling and offer ideas and strategies to support students in strengthening their knowledge and skills. They have been able to target strategies identified in IPPs (Individual Program Plans) for children with identified complex learning needs with greater frequency and attention.
We have learned some interesting other lessons from our more traditional approaches to teaching and learning as well.
Classroom management, student interactions outside the classroom (eg. playground) and fostering appropriate peaceful behaviours amongst the students have all definitely become interactions that require a much higher level of administrative/teacher intervention on a daily basis. Students benefit socially and emotionally from interacting with a wider expanse of other children on a daily basis - they like seeing other friends to play with during recesses and lunch times, Peace Assemblies, field trips, moving about the school to engage in activities in the Maker Space, the Hub or Learning Commons with small groups of peers. The loss of this change of pace and variety of learning interactions has certainly elevated the number of small conflicts and disagreements in the school, necessitating significantly more administrative interventions than we have ever seen before. When we meet with students to work through these situations, they are very much still aware of what is expected of them and what appropriate interactions look and sound like - they are simply not as patient or accepting of each other as they used to be when their interactions were more varied and diverse.
Interestingly, although teachers have reported knowing their students better and being able to identify specific areas of learning need, student achievement has stayed about the same. For some students, achievement has improved a bit; for others it has declined somewhat. Overall, there has been a levelling of achievement - students are doing the work they are asked and engaging in learning but improvements in skill or knowledge development are not evident in their daily work such as one might expect, given the time and attention teachers have focused on students in the classroom every day.
This finding reflects, from my perspective, the reduced attention on a key part of learning - the social construction of knowledge. When children are able to work in small groups and discuss/explore/question learning of new concepts together, each of them brings their own background experiences and understandings to the table. Together, they share what they already know with each other, greatly expanding their realm of knowledge and pushing each other to try out new thinking and ideas as they engage in their work. Working independently more often leaves each of us relying on our own insights and understandings and reduces the opportunities to hear about and share in others' perceptions of the same concepts.
Humanity relies on social interactions to survive, thrive, improve and be innovative. It is through these opportunities for socially constructing new understandings that children are often able to access a new way to understand or approach a problem they might otherwise have missed on their own. Research shows, clearly, that children who have opportunities to engage with others while learning new things are more apt to advance in their thinking and skill development. And it is quite possible that the limited opportunities we have been able to provide this school year for socially constructing knowledge together is being reflected in the levelling of student achievement across the grades. There are certainly pockets of improvement - as well as pockets of learners who are struggling. Overall, however, we are seeing a steadying of student achievement as students build greater strengths in the skills they are already good at without the boost of socially constructing knowledge available to help improve achievement in other areas of learning.
"Students who engage in authentic learning do as well as others
on standardized tests, and do much better on real assessments
and real tasks of critical thinking and problem solving."
- Linda-Darling Hammond
Along with the pandemic, we have had to contend with the metres and metres of orange fencing surrounding all the usual playing areas of the school yard, hemming the children into the compound or a small area of the playground. Between that, and the winter weather, the lesson about being outdoors is much better for children than being inside has been triply reinforced for us this year! Our learners are often outside, in the community, in the Coulee, in the school yard, during a typical school year. This year we have had to assign them to particular areas of confinement for breaks and recesses to ensure there are no cross-cohort contacts, and those confined areas have been particularly small due to all the fenced off areas where we are not allowed to go until the construction project is deemed complete - hopefully by summer.
We have always encouraged our learners to take their curiosities, their investigative skills, their creativity and innovative thinking outside the school walls. Through field trip experiences, as well, we have been able to provoke their inquisitiveness, encouraged their questions and asked them to apply their critical thinking skills to novel situations. Lesson emphasized for us: get the children outside learning as much as possible - it is good for their physical activity, social activity and, as well, for their brain activity!
A challenge for us this year has been the interrupted learning some of our children have experienced - whether through required periods of isolation or times where parents kept them at home out of worries about exposure to COVID-19, or illnesses of their own, many students have experienced interruptions to daily learning and routines that would usually help them organize their thoughts, their work and their learning. When we return to school in the fall of 2021-22, we anticipate we will have learners with a wide variety of skill and knowledge experiences behind them - much more so than we would usually expect. Recognizing this as a lesson of the pandemic will also help us better prepare for learning that will meet student needs as we move further away from pandemic-controlled teaching and learning.
"For so long school has been a place where we would take
our kids as parents and show up to work as educators.
The schedule kept us all
in place and moved us from class to class so we could make
sure to cover and essentially learn all that was required of us in
our given class, or semester, or year.
It was a system that was predictable and that allowed for us
to feel safe going through the motions.
The tests tell us that the majority of students are learning
and therefore they were on track as they
moved from grade level to grade level.
We rarely question this process, because the structures
have existed for so long have allowed us to keep the system
in place that look very similar and function
as they have for over 100 years."
- Katie L. Martin
We have invested so much energy and focus into a year of more traditional learning, striving to keep our students safe and attend to their learning needs at the same time. We have adjusted our teaching styles and approaches to accommodate these demands and, upon reflection, have learned many things from this experience that we will take forward to inform our next year practices and school set up. Time for teachers to get to know their students, of course. Also moving to provide multiple learning opportunities that engage students in socially constructed learning experiences that stretch and expand their understandings, social interactions and capacities to solve problems and think critically. Maximize outdoor learning opportunities as well, to keep our children physically, socially and neurally healthy and active.
"Specifically in education, this collective experience has
challenged educators, administrators, policy makers, families,
and communities to reimagine how we educate young people."
- Katie L. Martin
Traditional learning practices were not designed to amplify the thinking of learners; they were designed to measure the content learners had acquired. Acquiring content does not prepare our children to engage in the world in a reflective, inquisitive, engaged way that will allow them to approach life as having the potential for change, growth and adventure that the 21st century offers. Rather than holding them in place as markers of a population who attended Eric Harvie School, we will seek to offer learning experiences that encourage learners to think more deeply, question more fully; to try out new ideas and see what happens without being intimidated by failure or short term inconvenience; to believe they can truly make a difference in the world in which they are going to grow, thrive and change over a lifetime. We have learned many lessons from our very traditional year of learning - including a verification of our need to elevate our students' learning rather than ceiling it through our teaching practices.
Teachers have proven so flexible - moving from engaged, flexible learning opportunities to online learning last spring with a day's notice. Developing traditional teaching processes to ensure the physical well-being of children through this pandemic year. Pivoting from online to in-person without hesitation. Offering learning opportunities that get kids outside to Coulee School even when our yard is completely hemmed in by giant orange fences. Staying positive and calm through a third wave of positive cases and variants that sends chills through all our hearts. And, perhaps most importantly, still being willing to turn our faces to the sun, be confident in a new year of learning and willing to reflect on our lessons learned from this year so we are best able to live up to our school's vision: to establish and sustain a learning environment that fosters creativity and innovation in a peaceful community of connected, independent thinkers, problem solvers and learners. We are definitely up to the challenges of next year!
Eric Harvie School
“What if we give every kid in kindergarten through sixth grade in America the option to spend the academic year engaged primarily outdoors in a kind of “pandemic camp” instead of traditional school? The focus would be on achievement that is not narrowly academic—physical challenges; acts of service; and the development of self-regulation, independence, and friendship. Academic goals would also be part of the program; you can learn a lot of science while roaming a municipal park. But the emphasis would be on creating a new set of challenges for students to master, not on an ersatz version of school as we know it. "
- Katie L. Martin, Educator & Author
Sometimes it feels like being in a school is similar to a giant bowling game - and it's hard to dodge the giant bowling balls headed our way unbeknownst to us! COVID-19 was a giant bowling ball that smashed right into our school last week, sending all of us proverbially flying in many directions - coinciding with the drop of a new draft curricula that has significant flaws and needs a major overhaul at the very least, as well as being 'budget week' for CBE schools, as we begin to grapple with the realities of next year's school budget. It can all seem like too much to manage, consider, deal with, work around, learn to live with - depending on which response seems the most appropriate in the moment...
Amongst all these unexpected symbolic 'thwacks' to the best laid plans for teaching and learning our staff and students had been planning and envisioning for weeks, our team was simply outstanding! They all rose admirably to the occasion, pivoted to online learning overnight and tried to make isolation seem like a bit of a break from coming to school and worked hard to make Friday as engaging as possible on a minute's notice!
We had planned a Coulee School 'blitz' for April for a number of reasons - the weather is significantly improved, our student teachers are (were) still here to help out when we aren't allowed to have parent volunteers join us, we have a grant for temporarily displaying our discoveries on both physical (to be located around/near the Coulee) and digital document boards (on our Coulee website) and, not surprisingly, we were anticipating there would be a spike in cases so taking the children outside to learn seemed like a good idea. Most importantly, the children themselves have many, many questions about the Coulee and some of their happiest learning moments, I am quite confident, occur in the Coulee.
As we contemplate the new draft curriculum, consider what steps the school might need to take in the fall to help students re-assert their in-school learning attitudes, behaviours and approaches to advancing their understandings of the world, and continue to put our best efforts into ensuring the individual learning needs of each student are elevated and enhanced, all of these efforts are focused, with a laser-like beam, on the children.
I have written a number of responses to the new draft curriculum, trying to honestly read each subject at each grade level and identify the strengths and limitations as I perceive them to be - I am about halfway through this personal challenge but am heartened by the fact that opportunities to provide feedback will continue through to the spring of 2022. I bring 30+ years experience and 3 degrees in education to the process but, without the context of why various components were introduced at particular times, it is a long and tentative process. The lines I keep writing over and over are 'developmentally not appropriate' and 'presentation as offered lacks engagement for children in this age group'.
And I realize the greatest issue I have with the new draft curriculum is that there is little evidence children were considered when the curricula was being developed. And that, to me, is a heartbreaking possibility.
I believe - actually hope fervently - that most people who have worked with me in schools, as staff or families ,would say that my primary goal with every thing we do in schools is about what's best for kids. Children need an environment that provokes curiosity, invites investigation and is both welcoming and energizing. They do not come to school just to learn how to follow rules or fill in lists and recite facts. Children are trying to make sense of their world while understanding new ideas and concepts that require play, inventiveness, exploration, connection. This is what schools need to be in the 21st century. And teachers and administrators need a strong, child-centered curricula as a lens to invite children into learning with joy and enthusiasm.
As my colleague, Jackie Bates, noted,
"Children learn best through exploration, through playing with concepts to build an understanding. Memorization appears to be a common thread throughout the draft documents - while there is need to memorize SOME things, we also have to recognize that we are in the year 2021 and we have technology at our fingertips to gain access to information such as dates and definitions. There are important historical events, for example, that we all need to understand but rather than memorize, children need to understand the impact of such events and how they shape the past, present and future."
As we go through the rest of this school year and begin to plan for 2021-22, these are the principles we will continue to adhere to while considering how to best meet the learning needs of all our students. Will we be perfect? Naturally not - but we will do our very best with the resources and parameters available.
We have an enormous mission ahead of us as we enter the next school year and try to weave the pieces of 'school' back together. It will be imperative to hold the children at the front of our work, to acknowledge their emotional well-being and the re-establishment of connections with friends and teachers across the school - as well as meeting their academic needs. And that is exactly what we will do - start with the children.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal
Eric Harvie School
"As each generation does, our children will grow up to shape the world. They need plenty of creativity and enthusiasm for the task ahead. Nurturing them in loving relationships with plenty of freedom to play is wonderful preparation." - Laura Grace Weldon
"The CBE supports the goal of strengthening the curriculum to prepare students for the future. We trust that government will consider all the feedback gathered across the province and make the necessary changes prior to implementation in September 2022." - CBE, April 8/21
Children live in an odd juxtaposition of home and school, where one offers them the comfort and freedom of a loving, caring anchor in life, and the other the entry point where they begin to acquire skills and attitudes to prepare them for eventually leaving the proverbial nest.
As parents, we invest everything we are capable of offering to ensure our children feel safe yet capable, protected yet willing to take risks, loved yet confident.
As schools, we invest everything we are capable of offering to ensure our students develop competencies, strengths and approaches that will carry them successfully into adulthood with essential academic and life skills.
And our work with students is always guided by the provincial curricula which determines the lenses through which our students encounter the world academically and socially.
There are several ways to approach academic learning within schools - a classical education, for example, emphasizes the study of history, languages and literature through language rather than with images, and has a foundational commitment to the moral development of children, including the idea of immortality and a superior Being as foundational to understanding how the world exists. Classical education is often referred to as 'traditional education' too, and rests on the premise that the accumulated knowledge of a society can be handed down to the next generation in totality - the world has an ordered knowledge that can sequentially be taught to all children since the goal of education is to have all people understand the world in a particular way that will ground them in strong moral principles of living. Children are all taught in a similar way to reflect their common need to develop the same understandings of how the world functions.
Conventional education, on the other hand, does not have theological foundation and sets as it's purpose the socialization of children to promote the meeting of particular learning needs, understand the world from a more 'scientific' or 'exploration of facts perspective' and to conceive of education as a way for a child to develop their individual skills and aptitudes towards living a quality, educated life as an adult. The focus, therefore is more on the learner and how to best access their ability to learn rather than on a codified content of knowledge every child must learn to be successful. The goal of conventional education is to produce functional, skilled people who are able to create a successful, independent life for themselves and their families within a secular society of competing interests.
Within these two broad frameworks of learning exist numerous subsets that have evolved through many, many decades of 'schooling'. Through the twentieth century in particular, schools offered primarily teacher-centred, lecture-style instruction (a classical interpretation of teaching) that was, for the most part, effective for sharing information students could not easily access by themselves, and encouraging of students to take greater interest in the content and lessons presented. Those students who were able to make sense of new knowledge through listening were the most successful with this teaching approach, and there tended to be a high attrition rate in high school environments where students who found themselves struggling academically left school to pursue other, less academic avenues for building successful lives.
Throughout the last century, there evolved pockets of educational research and theorizing that acknowledged not all students were alike in terms of being able to learn, and a multi-faceted approach to instruction began to emerge that recognized all children could become learners if they were offered different opportunities to learn. As well, significant social changes through the 20th century presented numerous challenges for educators - families moved farther apart as the result of industrial growth, religious affiliations began to decline, women became more predominant in the work force and the social fabric that had held society together for many centuries - withstanding much social upheaval - ultimately began to realign the socialization of children away from home, church and community to secular, individualized, smaller spheres of influence.
These changes, influenced heavily by drastic technological advances that occurred through the latter half of the century, caused schools to re-think approaches to childhood socialization and learning.
Researchers studied how children learned, and affirmed the growing awareness that not all children learned best by listening in a lecture-style, teacher-focused environment - nor did this style encourage children to become independent thinkers. The era of teaching all children in the same way began to unravel as schools and educators looked for new teaching paradigms that recognized individual students' learning needs, changing social norms and exponential technological growth within the academic environment.
A new conception of 21st century learning has emerged from the immense changes that unfolded through the last century. While honouring the value of a classical education in many ways (for example, disciplines of study are a typically classical influence), 21st century learning approaches content, teaching, learning, building the classroom environment, assessment and even the use of technology in the classroom from a much different perspective: rather than viewing teaching only through the lens of a body of knowledge a teacher must present to a learner, teaching is structured to be more learner-focused, with the learner contributing to establishing their own learning goals within particular parameters while learning to apply new understandings to novel situation.
Over time, it has become clear that both approaches can be effective strategies for teaching children, depending on the ultimate goals of a society/school/family. There is also significant evidence that affirms most teachers recognize there are multiple ways to teach and that different approaches work best in specific learning situations. 21st century, learner-centered approaches to teaching and learning have been informing teaching practices in Alberta for at least the past twenty years, both formally within a couple of the Programs of Study, and informally as teachers have adapted their renewed understandings of content, student development and how children learn best based on their individual needs to flexibly support even the most traditional of curriculum documents.
Alberta's curriculum has made room, historically, for students to successfully analyze, evaluate and synthesize, as well as to apply new understandings and skills, in a wide variety of real life and classroom-based situations. Educators have clearly demonstrated that learner-centered approaches to teaching are truly able to enhance traditional, teacher-centred instruction as they offer students meaningful contexts to practice and master their emerging skills.
Whether a parent considers a classical education to be most appropriate for their child, or that a conventional approach that encourages individual growth would be ideal - or any other subset of these two primary academic perspectives to be the most relevant for their child - it is a component of what parents are being asked to respond to in the survey to the new draft curriculum: does this curriculum meet your expectations for your child's learning overall?
Consider: What is it that I believe curricula should offer my child as a learner?
This is the lens through which you will then consider the new draft curriculum - will it be able to provide the education for your child that you believe to be most valuable for their successful living?
Responding to the Draft Curriculum - Read the grade/subject areas here:
Draft Kindergarten - Grade 6 New Curriculum Draft
Once you have read this draft, you will be asked to:
- Describe what you believe are the strengths of the draft curriculum
- Describe what you believe are the opportunities for improvement in the draft curriculum
- Offer General Comments
As you read through these draft curricula pages, it is a good idea to use a chart (this is the one we included in the Connect Message today to families) to gather your thoughts and impressions. Each grade level in each subject area offers multiple Initial organizing ideas (think themes) students will be expected to study and know. Each organizing idea is followed by guiding questions and specific learner outcomes - or the learning goals for that particular theme. There are structured knowledge, understanding, skills and procedures columns for each organizing idea. Consider whether your child will be able to successful accomplish the objectives and tasks in each category next school year, based on your understanding of your child as a learner.
Once you have read through each draft subject/grade area pertinent to your child's next grade and jotted some of your impressions on the chart, consider the workload included across the multiple curricula. Minutes of instruction per week per subject area are mandated by Alberta Education, as indicated in this chart:
It is a worthwhile idea to consider workload at this point - will your child be able to accomplish all that is required in the assigned minutes in class, or will homework become a reality for them? This is important general feedback for the survey.
There are more specific suggestions for evaluating curriculum as a parent in the Monday Connect for today (April 12/21). We do encourage every parent to take an hour or so of your time and respond to this critically important draft - it holds your child's future success in the confines of the document and the opportunities for feedback will be critical in ensuring children's learning needs in the youngest years will be met successfully in the years to come.
Principal, Eric Harvie School