We have reached the last day of school before the winter break, ending a very busy season. These four months have included all the usual markers in the school calendar – such as Learning Conferences and the commencement of high school transition planning for Grade 9 students.
I have made a few observations though, of something special and different in the school life of our students. These are not easily measurable observations but are palpable, nonetheless. Our students, through the ingenious plans designed by their teachers, have been more joyous in their experience with school. Collaboration in small groups for the “So You Think You Can Dance, Woodman!” Physical Education theme has resulted in very high levels of positive participation. Various community-minded initiatives to raise funds for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank (such as SantaGram sales and the Student Holiday Craft Market) have exceeded expectations. The school-wide Snowflake Dance was a wild sight to behold – with hundreds of dancing, laughing adolescents in the main gym.
I observe that students are well inclined to enjoy and celebrate life in school. This is vital for their mental health and well-being, and it strengthens the protective factors needed to withstand the normal pressures of growing up. Many Woodman students this year are new to Canada. They are experiencing the seasons, school traditions, and celebrations for the first time. Their cultural adaptation is significant, many having left loved ones in their home countries. School becomes a needed place of security and stability for these students, and for everyone.
A healthy school culture is the cradle of a healthy society. Is this not the best, most noble endeavour? My gratitude to our students and all those who support them in building beautiful experiences at school is enormous.
With wishes for a happy holiday,
Ms. Krickhan, Principal
School is back in session and with it also returns the vision and energy levels required for our work in public education.
Many of the structural elements of school have not changed for more a century – such as dividing students into grades by age, or the relative ratio of one teacher to a large class of students. Yet, Canadian society itself has been fundamentally altered over this same period of time - as a result of globalization, technology, and changing family and community sources of influence. These changes therefore also fundamentally shift the composite of learners in the classroom, their needs, and the experiences which they bring to school with them. The scope of skills and competencies needed of today’s teacher, to respond to the individual complexities of each student within the classroom, is enormous.
Sir Mark Walport, recipient of the of the Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research, is known for his innovative work and distinguished leadership. In his recent lecture on Medical Research and Innovation: Post Pandemic Priorities, he speaks to the cultural changes in open and collaborative science over the last few decades. This level of pre-existing collaboration became a key aspect of preparedness needed to respond to the global pandemic. Sir Walport states that:
“Collaboration matters because many problems are best tackled by teams of people with diversity of thinking and complementing skill sets. Many problems can only be tackled at a scale that requires teams of people to deliver.”
This insight could not be more appropriately applied to the learning sciences.
In education, our way of thinking is changing. The time of teaching in isolation within a classroom is over. The time for collaboration to resolve complex educational problems is upon us. This is what energizes the staff at Woodman. We are embracing this collaborative response - at a unique historical juncture – following more than two very difficult years behind us in which students have suffered to varying degrees. The very future of public education, striving towards the common good, hinges upon this shift in the way we think.
Considering this, I know we can anticipate a powerful year of learning for all.
Life in school is different than life elsewhere. In school we think about things in one-year cycles. We start in September, end in June, and consider what might remain the same or change – either by our own choices, or because of new opportunities and challenges that arise from year to year. This is a beautiful opportunity to learn, adjust and repeat (or not).
There are many things about the experiences of the pandemic that the last three school years have brought us that we would never wish to repeat. Cela a été une période tellement difficile.
The 2021-2022 school year has been a pivotal one. We still needed to respond to the challenges of the pandemic - such as substitute teacher shortages, absences related to illness, and modifications to clubs and athletic teams. But we were fortunate to be able to resume mixing of student cohorts, taking field trips, hosting assemblies, and avoiding needing to shift classes online again.
The staff bulletin board that has been on display since September states the following: “For the 2021-2022 school year, the Woodman staff is committed to cultivating hope in our students’ lives and learning. Be inspired by and join us in a positive proclamation of the good things that await us this school year!” I believe we have fulfilled our commitment, with the help and good courage of our students. Our Wolves have come to school with courage and optimism. Choices like trying out for athletic teams, making new friends, and persisting through the nervous feelings related to learning or exams, have all helped to recover confidence in a world beyond the crisis of a pandemic.
Now, everyone is deserving of a restful and happy summer season. Enjoy every moment, and come back to school on Sept. 1 replenished and ready to learn again!
Ms. Krickhan, Principal
As we look towards celebrations related to World Book Day on April 23, we are seeing the level of avid readership at Woodman increase. It is not uncommon to see a single student leaned against a tree at lunch or huddled in a corner armchair of the Learning Commons, deeply engrossed in a novel. An entire class might settle into an uninterrupted hush, as each student is drawn into the far away worlds and characters of the texts they are inhabiting.
During my youth, reading was a passage into other world views and places untravelled. Reading continues to provide me with renewed thinking and fresh insights. In the last year – like many other leaders in education - my professional learning commitment has centered on connecting more authentically to Indigenous world views. These were not perspectives I had been given access to throughout my Canadian education. In fact, the inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing has been shockingly omitted from my education. Indigenous authors like Richard Wagamese, Thomas King, Michelle Good, and others now recast many of the notions I previously held about our land and our first peoples.
Last week, a Grade 7 student hurried across the crosswalk, arms burdened with binders, flute case, lunch bag, and a book peeking out. Noticing it was the same novel I was currently reading, I shouted out, “Indians on Vacation, by Thomas King – I’m reading that book, too!” Her reply was immediate and animated, “Oh, I just love Thomas King! Have you read his book, Green Grass, Running Water?’ It’s my favourite!”
I have, in fact, not read Green Grass, Running Water, yet. But I will. And in so doing, I will also continue to re-learn the story of this land and begin to listen to the voices of a people that have for so long been suffocated. Reading can be a portal into a profound level of truth - and hopefully also of reconciliation - that my generation of Canadians still has much to learn from. I commend that Grade 7 student, and all those other compassionate and socially just students like her.
My hope is that each student might find one book this month that could fundamentally move them into a new way of seeing and being.
The joy of our students over the last few weeks has inspired the adults in the school to also maintain a positive mind frame. Much can be said, and is real, about student mental health challenges at this time in the pandemic. We continue to attend to that in our classrooms, while also drawing in needed family, community, and medical supports. That being, said, students also demonstrate their profound resilience every day. Every day they come to school, learn how to fall, persist through learning challenges, and take social risks. Still more, we see their joy in the opportunities we are offering them. This is having an individual and communal healing effect in our lives.
Student vendors have been busy crafting their wares, hardly able to keep up with the sales. Students and staff overwhelmed the first student craft market event in the Learning Commons this week with their purchases, in support of the Calgary Food Bank. Budding and proficient piano players alike accepted the dare of playing in the informal setting that the Learning Commons offers students over the lunch hour. Leadership students sold more than 1000 Candygrams with positive messages to others, all of which were anonymously gifted to recipients this week. Teachers have set up festive lighting and decorations in the lower level of the school to enhance a sense of home and comfort during a time that can feel hectic for everyone. Physical education classes have been teeming with life, as students create their own, small group dance moves. At many times throughout the week, students spontaneously took to the stage to jive, hip hop, rap, and breakdance. A mask on their faces could not hide their enjoyment. And today, students streamed out of school busses and cars, many bearing gifts, cards, and tokens - wishing their friends and teachers well over the holiday break ahead.
I wish to take a moment, on this last school day of 2021, to recognize the power that school communities can wield for good – individual good, collective good, public good. To everyone that tends to our youth at home or at school, let us continue to nourish this spirit of joy and resiliency. It is our path forward.
With warmest wishes,
Ms. Krickhan, Principal
Mine is the privilege to be writing a short reflection from the vantage point of our noisy, energized school gym. Despite not being permitted spectators at this time, teacher coaches and volleyball teams are raising the roof. Nothing stops their positivity and intense efforts to recover skills lost from almost two years of severely restricted physical education programming. The benefits I receive from witnessing this personal growth and school pride serves as a vaccine against despair.
Schools have endured very difficult times. However, we know that sometimes adversity can actually serve to strengthen aspects of community life. We need each other more than before. Social activity and physical fitness is more treasured than it used to be. Positive connections with teachers outside of the classroom and the context of the curriculum is medicine for our adolescent learners.
In public education there can be scrutiny about whether or not basic academic skill building is progressing as it should. We attempt to measure gaps and progress as if learning was an exact and measureable science. Almost every school activity, such as clubs, option classes and athletic programs, has been stripped from the middle school experience. During this time, what could we focus on? Reading, writing and arithmetic instruction abounded – online, in straight rows, without facing each other, and well masked. What we observed in the process is that the joy of learning was becoming alarmingly drained from the lives of our students. Our learners were not thriving.
With the small, yet vital liberties that we are now being extended, students are becoming revived. One Woodman teacher who has spent two consecutive, 14-hour days as a volleyball referee said to me tonight: “In all my 30 years of coaching, I have never seen the level of energy in our students as I’ve seen tonight!” Could what I am witnessing only be measured in the same way as a Math lesson might be, I would classify it as a “high impact strategy”.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the teacher-coaches who see value in this work that is voluntary, yet life altering, for our young people.
M. Krickhan, Principal
The first day of school on Wednesday was the most significant observation of hope in our students that I have witnessed in a while.
The well-known psychologist and hope researcher, Dr. Charles Snyder, defined hope as a positive cognitive state based on goal-oriented determination with the corresponding planning to achieve those goals. What I observed in our students was just that – hope in action. So many students were cautiously prepared to embrace new friendships, adapt to new guidelines for school life, and encounter the rigors of the various subject areas of their new grade level. The first-day-of-school experience energized our teachers. Within a few short hours, it seemed as though the dreariness that all the pandemic related restrictions had resulted in was beginning to correct itself.
In the world of business, one can sometimes hear the admonishment that “hope is not a strategy”. In our work with young people, however, cultivating hope is indeed an intentional strategy. In a pre-COVID published article in Forbes magazine (Feb. 2019), hope was credited for increasing productivity, resistance to stress, cognitive flexibility, and social cohesion in the business world.
Is this not what we seek to accomplish in education, too? Yes, it is – now more than ever.
I wish to share some of the positive assurances that Woodman teachers expressed, as we gathered to formulate a vision for our students before the first day of school this year:
“I am positive that better days are fast approaching!”
« Je suis positive que nous pourrons retourner à une certaine normalité pour retrouver et profiter du temps avec nos amis, ce qui nous a manqué beaucoup durant la pandémie. »
“I’m positive about the opportunity for kids to be engaged in extracurricular activities this year and looking forward to coaching again. Go, Wolves!”
« Je suis certaine qu’en travaillant ensemble, nous pourrons tous nous épanouir. »
Joining you in hope,
Ms. Krickhan, Principal
As soon as students exit the building for the last day, staff becomes busy sorting through many stray materials, papers, and equipment. A lone, unclaimed piece of paper was left on the Learning Commons printer today, and it caught my eye. The poem was entitled, “I am…” and it has no authored Woodman student name on it. The poem reveals deep introspection, and captures the inner world of an adolescent. It spoke to me. I hope that that unnamed student will know that teachers at Woodman see who they are, and are also feeling positive about the future of their students:
I am positive
I wonder, what am I gonna be when I grow up
I hear the wind whistling through the trees
I see the beautiful lunar rainbow
I want to do my best in school
I am positive
I pretend to be a statue
I feel the warm summer breeze
I touch the rain
I worry about next year
I cry for the sad ending stories
I am positive
I understand that success takes time
I say the purpose of our lives is to be happy
I dream that I achieve my goals
I try to do my best
I hope for better days
I am positive
To this student, and all of our students, let me say: What a year you have traversed; you did your best in school! And now it is time to take a break. Keep well! Bonnes vacances!
Ms. Krickhan, Principal
Despite the challenges of the last school year, you have stayed the course, have come to school when it didn't feel awesome, have logged on to the computer when all you wanted to do was stay under the covers, and have quarantined when 14 days felt like an entire lifetime.
You are the group that, since March of your Gr. 8 school year, missed out on field trips, a sailing trip, a Quebec and Ottawa trip, athletic teams and clubs. Oh, and let's not forget – no PATs! One could say that you have lost out.
But, let me share that I believe that what you have experienced will last you for a lifetime, in a way that a trip or a club may not. You have learned to stick it out, get along with people in your cohort, and foster hope that tough times will pass and better times will return. Fostering hope is an important life skill. These experiences will make you stronger than you could imagine, in the storms of life that inevitably come your way.
Know that life is waiting for you – just around the corner. This pandemic is ending and there is an awesome world in high school awaiting you. I do want to say, though, that even though high school is your next step, there is something special about our small middle school - where everyone knows your name and knows YOU - that you will miss. The staff at Woodman will really miss you. You are a special group that has been easy and fun to have in the school. You have set an example for the rest of the students.
Everyone in this building is standing by you! Congratulations!
The annual Calgary City Teachers’ Convention is a time of solidarity for the profession. It is a time in which teachers, administrators, and support staff take pause, gather in community with colleagues that they may not see throughout the year, and become inspired to be available for their students and to impact their lives in more meaningful ways. Because this Convention is virtual, the best we can achieve at a semblance of togetherness is reading the participant names and messages that pop up within the virtual sessions we attend. Notwithstanding the physical distance between us, members of the profession have much to reflect on this Convention. We have been supporting students and families during a time of fear and uncertainty, while also tending to our own fears for self and loved ones. Standing strong in the hallways, offices, and classrooms (virtual or face-to-face) during a pandemic - that is taking longer than we dreaded it might - is a great test of our mettle.
Yet, the rewards are ever within easy reach. The main office staff rejoices in hearing student laughter coming from the gymnasium as students enjoy a few luxurious days of indoor PE. Classmates conspire on who to send secret Valentine gifts to. They take off their masks in a relieving break during music class, in which they can be well distanced throughout the spacious cafeteria. They dash outdoors at lunch, even when frigidly cold, just to greet their friends who may be in another cohort.
We always knew that school was a process of socialization as much as it was an academic trajectory. In case we forgot, we receive these reminders on a daily basis. School is becoming, in some cases, the only semblance of normalcy for us all in an otherwise dull and monotonous daily pattern. Dr. Michael Ungar, renowned Canadian researcher on resilience, spoke to educators during the Convention about the value of accountability, routine, and a sense of control in the lives of our students. We are offering that on a daily basis, whether through face-to-face or Hub learning. Keynote speaker and bestselling author of the memoire, Educated, Tara Westhover, stated in her address that we do not only educate the mind. We educate the whole person. The most we can do for every learner is affirm their sense of self, to have them know that we see them as individuals, and to model for them how they should be treated. Westhover assured teachers that our students will draw on this source at later moments in their development towards adulthood.
We know this pandemic will end, and, if we attend to the right things in the right measure, our students can come through this with increased resilience, improved sense of identity, and a stronger connection to their community. Let’s all continue to work towards that end together – at home and at school.
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