How We Arrived At Our Focus
After having implementing technology into the classroom as our School Performance Plan goal for 2014 – 2015, our staff embarked on a new goal for 2015 – 2016. That goal was:
To improve student connectedness to themselves, to nature and to the world
At Errington in October of 2011, the staff had been working on improving student success in writing for a number of years – a goal that made sense given the high number of students who were learning English as an additional language. The team was ready for a change. Given that there was a surge of interest in technology and incorporating it into our schools to improve student learning, we decided to go down this same path. Our team was pleased with the progress that we made over the three years that technology was our focus, and it will continue to be an ongoing focus, as technology is here to stay and is ever evolving.
As for our new goal, I think that it is important to provide our stakeholders with the rationale behind our decision to move in this direction. There were three major factors that impacted our decision:
1.The need to recreate our school behavior matrix (as the one that was in place was not being used and was out of date)
2.The sharing of common observations of our students and
3.The Long Range Facilities Plan, released by Colliers
The School Behaviour Matrix
Although Errington had worked with the ACT Team in years previous and had developed a school-wide behavior matrix based on the acronym EAGLES, which is our school mascot, reference to the matrix by staff and the use of the matrix by students was not happening. Many schools have experienced the same phenomenon and as such, have revamped their matrices in the last couple of years. As we set out once again to create a new matrix, our staff did not want to go through the process and have the same thing happen again – they recognized that a change was necessary for our community.
About the same time at one of our school-based professional development days, someone shared the observation that our students, while excellent students, were very good at being able to learn material and give it back to us. Contrary to this, was the observation that many of our students, when given more open-ended, reflective, experienced-based type questions seemed to struggle and required a great deal of scaffolding and support in order to understand. In addition, many of our students seemed to lack autonomy (eg. not knowing their own phone numbers, being able to find their way home, carry in own belongings – almost over-cared for). Some of these same students were in multiple after-school activities, many of which were academic. As a final observation, we noticed that many of our students lacked a variety of connections (to themselves as learners, to their parents who might be out of the country, to the school, to the wider community, and to the environment). As a staff, we started with the question of “What qualities would we like our students to have?” We developed a very long list of attributes and over time refined them.
The Long-Range Facilities Plan
In June 2012, the school district released a report written by Colliers that outlined all of the facilities that the district owned. In this plan, Errington was identified as one of the schools that was underutilized (enrollment compared to physical space / possible enrollment), was an older facility that potentially required renovations, and where the enrollment was projected to decline. For the staff, the writing was on the wall – Errington was a strong candidate for possible closure. As Simon Breakspear would say, we now had our “burning platform” or reason / motivation for us to determine our course of action. So as a staff, we started to explore various ways to make our school “unique”, something that would draw students / families to Errington. We could not become a Montessori school or a French-Immersion school, as the District already had these. Ideas that were considered included a fine-arts focus, an International Baccalaureate program (MYP), and an environmental school.
Based on these three factors, and the fact that we recognized that we had to do something, we continued our talks, included senior staff in the conversation, and began work on our “Learner Profile” or “School Vision”. Much of our professional development was dedicated to this endeavor.
In June 2012, the decision to create and operate The Errington Learning Centre – a district-based program for students with complex special needs, was the game changer. Having made this investment in our school, we would not be likely to close. In spite of this, our team continued to work on our Learner Profile, refine it, and use it as a lens through which to design our curriculum and plan experiences for our students.
We have undertaken a number of different things (eg. Chinese New Year celebration, Winter Carnival celebration, Intermediate Connect-Ed, Primary Connect-Ed) to use as the vehicle to strengthen and enhance some of the attributes that we want our students to have / learn. With the creation of our school graphic (see above in slideshow), we are now at a point where we can bring students and parents into the conversation.
There are many layers to examine as we move forward including: breathing life into the graphic / vision, ensuring that parents know what it is we are trying to achieve and have them as equal partners as we move forward, learning how to assess these attributes and knowing what to look for, developing a meaningful way to provide feedback to students and parents, and most importantly, to reawaken curiousity, passion, and students’ active involvement in their own lives and education.
Where to Next?
Our Inquiry Question
Our inquiry question remains unchanged as we move forward. This is a good thing as we have staff who are ready to undertake the challenges that our question present and students who have more skills for communicating their learning had we just determined our focus. Our inquiry question is:
How can we better connect our students to each other, to their school, the community, the environment and the world?
Connections to Core Competencies
The timing for the introduction of the new designed curriculum in BC could not be better, as it ties directly with the journey we want to undertake. The core competencies that we are focussing on are: Communication and Social Responsibility
Questions We Asked Our Students
In an effort to further our investigation, we asked our students to answer the following questions:
1. Can you name two adults in our school whol believe that you can be a success in life?
2. Where are you going with your learning?
3. How are you doing with your learning?
4. Where are you going next with your learning?
5. What are you learning about yourself?