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Refreshed, Renewed, and Ready

These last few days we have had many teachers coming into the school to prepare for the new year ahead. Everyone looks so tanned, healthy, and well rested from summer. The school too seems fresh and ready to go. The floors are all newly polished and we have lots of new enhancements that give the whole place an air of renewal. Outside, we have a new school sign capable of text and video read out (kudos to PAC) which is up and ready to go helping us to send our message to the community around us. Inside the school we have replaced many of the old bulky TV’s in the hallways with new high def flat monitors, together with new software that enables us to share information in an engaging and accessible way. Even more exciting is that we now have fhlearn.ca which is a wordpress multi user site that we envision staff and students will be getting onto for blogging. Shelly Wright @wrightsroom calls blogging the new persuasive essay. She says blogging requires a different voice that needs to be rich, sharp, and distinct to gain an audience. She adds that blogging has the potential to reach and influence many. We believe that fhlearn.ca will open up new opportunities and audiences for our students to enhance their learning. This year we also plan to launch e portfolios through the Humanities 8 classes on fhlearn.ca and we have teachers who plan to impliment Inquiry Based Learning.

Tomorrow we have our first day of summer pro d with our guest speaker, George Couros, @gcouros, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning, Parkland School Division, Alberta coming back for another full day of training with our staff on social media and blogging. This promises to be a wonderful day of learning. More about this in future posts. Also our school district and school have just launched a new website on surreyschools.ca . All this new technology. What is it all about? In the end, it is all about wanting to do a better job of communicating, sharing our message with staff, students, parents, and finding a wider audience in the community. It will also mean learning new teaching strategies. For now everything feels fresh and new. There is an excitement in the air as we launch this school year. There is so much going on at the school that it feels like we are ready for lift off. Let the 2012-13 learning journey begin!

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Reflections on a Year of Learning

I am inspired by colleagues in our school district who are  part of my Professional Learning Network @LirenmanLearns and @henriksent to reflect on my year of learning.  It has only been ten months since I started this blog in late August 2011 as I embarked on  my learning journey as new principal at Fraser Heights Secondary. I had hoped that blogging would help me clarify my thoughts, help me be transparent in my leadership, and encourage other staff to do the same.  Its been really encouraging to see so many other staff do just that.  Many teachers were already blogging with their students and then added their own blogs as well.  Even one of our counsellors, Brent Steele, who started a blog on the May 28 pro d after attending a short workshop, has already discovered an invitation to join networks around the province with other school counsellors.  By sharing our reflections on blogs, we are opening the doors of our school to a much wider audience and larger community which in turn, is  helping us to build more connections as a learning community.  This year, I added the wordpress app to my ipad and found that I could put together short posts in no time at all.  Its hard to believe I logged 52 entries on my blog and its also fun to view my stats on readership.

July is now a time to reflect on what has made the difference to spur on new learning this past school year.  It has been a fantastic learning journey despite  a prolonged labour unrest affecting the school.

One of the first highlights for me was attending the dinner series, Engaging the Digital Learner, with teachers from our school.  These sessions were inspiring and gave me a chance to have some great conversations with teachers as well as to network with others in the Surrey school district. Guest speakers:   Chris Kennedy @chrkennedy, George @gcouros and Alec Couros @courosa and David Warlick @dwarlick were especially inspiring.  As a school team we began to see things differently, we questioned and encouraged each other.

Our school was very fortunate to receive a Innovative Learning Design grant from the district and a team of over a dozen teachers embarked on a journey of learning and discovery.  Their “Meet and Eat” staff development sessions of sharing were wonderful and really brought the staff together as the year progressed. You can follow their learning journey @fhsslearn.blogspot.com

For me, our first really exciting breakthrough as a school, was in purchasing a cart of 30 ipads and taking nearly 30 staff to ipad bootcamp out to Apple Canada in Richmond in early December,  for a 4 hour session after school to learn about the ipad and apps that teachers would use with students.  This was just a cool and exciting experience of so much new learning that it was quite overwhelming but very exhilarating.  I remember the experience as being so exciting that it was hard to get to sleep that night.  Many staff told me that they felt the same.   Our students were pretty excited as well to see the ipads rolled out and into their classes.  A new cool tool had arrived.  Our teacher librarian @FH_library,  Angela Monk had been working on transforming the school library into a Learning Commons and the ipads became an extra feature as teachers would sign the cart out there.  For teachers who felt hesitant or unsure, Madame Monk encouraged and supported them to use the ipads in their lessons.  As teachers began to use the ipads, they learned that this technology was about  to change the way we teach.  The ipads are a game changer.

With months and months of teacher job action, it was not until the beginning of April that I was able to finally hold our first staff meeting of the year.  This made it especially hard to get to know staff and for them to get to know me.  Who was this principal that would arrive every day and quietly go about her work anyway?  I did not feel at all fully engaged for a very long time.  Mostly I felt like a visitor to the school and it was at times discouraging. Communication was poor and it delayed my chance to get know staff and build relationships.

Interestingly, a teacher told me on June 29, our last day of school, that he had seen me at a staff meeting at the end of April  showing a video using the ipad and Apple TV and that when he saw me able to walk around talking and holding the ipad and that it was all done wirelessly.  He had never seen that done before and  he knew immediately that he wanted that for his classroom.  Even if we were able to have staff meetings in the fall, I could not have done that then.  We had to get the upgrade to our school’s wireless, get the ipads, and then get Apple TV and learn how to use them all.  All these things were new this year.  They were huge game changers.

The ipads presented us with some exciting new learning and some challenges as well.  They became a frustration for Paul Pahal, our Computer Tech Facilitator as they were consuming a lot of his time.   Ideally, the ipads should be assigned to a class or to a group of students to use for a say a month at a time or longer.  In fact, ideally every student should have one for their exclusive use.  They aren’t really designed to be shared between students one class at a time.  We don’t have enough of them to deploy them in the way they were designed and we had to learn best how to have students save and access their work and have multiple users on each device.  It was exciting though, to see the numbers of teachers who signed them out for the summer so that they could have time to play and learn new apps for using in their teaching in the fall.

In August, I heard teachers talking about banning cell phones in classes because they were a distraction to student learning.  I told them that it wouldn’t be long before they would be inviting students to use their cell phones in class.   Sure enough, as soon as we got the wireless upgrade in the fall, we had the introduction of the BYOD (bring your own device) to class starting to happen and that was a huge move forward.  Now we would love to have each student be able to bring their own laptop, tablet, or cell phone to class to enhance learning.

The next big highlight of the year for me was attending the ConnectED conference in Calgary in late May with teacher, Jessica Pelat @jesspelat and Director of Instruction, Elisa Carlson @ECSD36.  I was able to see inquiry learning in action at the Calgary Science School and it was so inspiring.  It is such an innovative school.  I wished that our school could be so innovative.  The ConnectED conference was a time of intense learning.  Interestingly, not long after our return, we were invited to make an application to the Ministry of Education to be deemed an innovative school ourselves.  The application invited schools to apply to waive the Ministry of Education regulations that might be getting in the way of our becoming more innovative.  The conversations with staff as we drafted our application were the most exciting conversations we had all year.  We had taken the lid off  the box which is our definition of secondary schools and begun to imagine what we could do differently to improve.   We realized we could explore new models to deliver secondary education.  We still haven’t learned yet if our application is successful or not but in the end it might not matter that much because we learned that there are things we can do differently that don’t require any MOE regulations to be waived.  There really isn’t much getting in the way of school improvement at all.  We can do it.

At the beginning of the school year, many of the staff teased about me being on twitter.  When I arrived I invited them to follow me on twitter @sheilamoris but that was all a big joke to them.  I have found a learning community on twitter that inspires me every day. It provides me with a way to connect with principals, superintendents, and teachers all over the continent and world.  One teacher told me at the end of June that she thought twitter was ha ha who does that because she thought it was just like facebook.   For me, facebook is just something I do to connect with family and friends and is completely personal.  Although, our PAC has set up a facebook page for the school and community and  I see there is value there too.  Twitter is something that I do professionally, not personally.  The staff didn’t know that twitter has so much to offer in terms of professional learning.  Many more of our staff are discovering twitter now and discovering that there are so many ideas for teaching, learning, and reflecting. I am still taking a few shots from some staff who are hesitant but for the most part teachers are discovering it too.  I have never done as much professional reading in my whole career as I do now almost every night with twitter.  I love ideas and twitter is a constant source of ideas and inspiration for me.  I find that twitter allows me to  connect with people  who share references, articles, experiences, questions, and their networks.  It is like an ongoing conversation with people from all over the world who share my professional interests and who are making contributions to the field at large.

Despite this year of teacher job action that was so difficult and challenging for our admin team, it has still been a year of incredible learning.  We have introduced new technology but it has been the conversations about teaching and learning and innovation that have inspired me the most.  I am very excited to be principal at Fraser Heights Secondary and I am so excited for the year ahead.  We have amazing students and staff and very supportive parents.  With such a strong team and strong learning community we can do anything we put our minds to.  I believe as a result,  we will become a much more innovative school and we will inspire others to join with us. It has been an amazing year but it is just the beginning and the coming year will take us even further.

How has this year and this learning journey been for you?

Big Plans for the Fraser Heights Learning Community

There is no better indicator of student learning than to know that our school is full of teachers and admin  who are also learning along side them.  We want to share the excitement of all the new learning going on through our reflections on our teacher and admin  blogs.  Our writing for a public audience through blogs has been growing as the year progressed. You can view our teacher’s blogs at: fhsslearn.blogspot.com   We hope this will give you a flavor of what we have been doing in our school and classrooms.  Next year we hope to move to a multi user wordpress platform for teacher and student blogs.  Our grade 8  students will be developing digital portfolios that  they will be able to use throughout their high school years.  We will also be using the school district new surreyschools.ca web space for students and staff.  You will have a chance to view our new school website on surreyschools.ca after August 20.

This past year our school received a $25,000 grant from the Surrey School District for what we refer to as the Innovative Learning Design Grant.  A group of teachers have been meeting all year to develop collaborative projects that involved more innovative teaching and learning.  The teachers first learned Backwards Design as a way of planning their lessons.  They also tried some cross curricular projects that involved project based learning.  This has been an exciting time with lots of new learning.  We also purchased an ipad cart with 30 ipads and these were used in many of our classrooms and in our Learning Commons.  In addition, next year 4 of our Social Studies 11 classes students will be using ipads to access an electronic version of the Social Studies 11 textbook. We really appreciate the support of the Surrey School District to make these projects possible.

Recently we have also applied to the Ministry of Education to be considered an innovative school and to have permission to waive some of the Ministry of Education regulations that might be getting in the way of our becoming even more innovative.  We are wanting to pilot a grade 8  and 9 loop that would have a cohort of 60 students take Humanities 8 and Math and Science 8 with 2 teachers for 1/2 day for all of grade 8 and then again in grade 9.  The teachers would be using inquiry based learning in their classes and would have lots of opportunity to team teach and collaborate.  Research tells us that this looping makes a big difference in student learning.  Next year we hope to get approval to pilot a Senior Science Academy that would involve many Advanced Placement courses (eg. AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP Physics for example)  with 2 teachers for the first year and 2 more teachers the second year.   This would also be a cohort of 60 students who would apply for the program.  We would also be using inquiry based learning and field studies in this senior pilot project.  We are very excited about the possibility of beginning this work for the senior science pilot for the 2013-14 school year.  These two pilot projects are both very innovative but otherwise not connected.  Our conversations have been rich and stimulating and while we acknowledge that we have an excellent school that is getting excellent results we also know that we can get even better.  We look forward to sharing our learning with our  school and community in the year ahead.  It promises to be an exciting learning process.

Staff Development with George Couros

On June 14th, nearly 50 of our staff participated in a lunch time session with George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning from Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta. George talked about social media for teachers and it’s importance and uses in classroom teaching. He also describes how we need to prepare students for a future that is rapidly changing. George’s dynamic presentation uses lots if youtube video clips and twitter examples. He shared some great initiatives that he has started in his own school division, for example  184 days of learning.
Every day one person, student, teacher, admin, or support staff are highlighted showcasing their learning. 184 days of learning. http://georgecouros.ca/

This initiative has grown into a new one called #365learn that will be open to staff in other school districts to contribute as well.  Many teachers and administrators in the Surrey School District are very enthusiastic about contributing to #365learn.

He has also started a Learning Leader project that we are eager to learn more about.  In addition, George has started a Connected Principals hashtag on twitter #cpchat that I enjoy staying in touch with.
George Couros is an energetic and enthusiastic speaker who managed to get many teachers thinking they should get onto twitter for all the professional learning it offers as well as to use social media in their teaching. You can follow George on twitter @gcouros. It was exciting to have him visit our school as we had some really rich conversations about teaching and learning and inquiry based learning. He challenged us by always asking why we are doing things the way we are. This in turn forces you to think about your practice and be able to talk about it and further develop it. Embracing technology in the ways that George showed us will help us move forward with 21st century learning in our classrooms.

http://georgecouros.ca/

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Inquiry Based Learning at Calgary Science School

We loved our visit to the Calgary Science School last month as part of the Connected Ed conference  and were most excited to see  inquiry based learning in action. We thought that CSS is such an innovative school and that we would love to see Fraser Heights delve more into inquiry based learning.  We are experimenting with project based learning but would like to go deeper.  At CSS,  students were deeply engaged in their learning and eager to share it.  We were also impressed with the openness of their teaching staff to share their learning as well.  We saw so many great projects in math and science  but one that really caught our attention was grade 7 Humanities students creating monuments of a figure from Canadian History.  It was also great to see how teachers are using twitter as a teaching tool in classroom assignments.   The teacher, Dan McWilliam was generous enough to share his lesson plan with us.   I am including it here:

I have attached our lessons for the Memorializing Canadian History project below. Feel free to contact myself or Jody Pereverzoff, jody.p@calgaryscienceschool.com,  if you have any questions or improvements. They are always in development and we would be excited to hear about your experience in using them or passing them around.

Dan McWilliam
Grade 7 Teacher
Humanities Learning Coach
Calgary Science School

Its never just an ordinary day at the Calgary Science School

Student Appreciation Day

Today was student appreciation day and yearbook distribution and signing day. All students were given a hot dog, pop, and chips. What a popular day it was! Our students love their yearbook. Thanks Mr. Pahal and yearbook students for a job well done. Thanks Mr Emerson and numerous staff who helped us make this such a memorable day for our students.

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Grad 2012

We held our Grad Dinner Dance last night at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. A big thank you to parents and grade 11 students who helped us with decorating all day and then clean up into the wee hours. It was a wonderful night followed by Dry Grad hosted by our parents and held back at the school until 5 am. Our grads all look so lovely and grown up. They are more than ready for all that lies ahead.

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