Learning and Leading from the Playground and Beyond

Upon reflection, the past week was filled with wonderful examples of learning at all levels in our school district.  Having thrice daily supervision responsibilities at an elementary school and a secondary school gives me the added opportunity to connect with kids, teachers and administrators.  What a tonic for a district-addled assistant superintendent!!  (Keep up the good work BCTF and BCPSEA.)  My reflection this week highlights learning in its many and wondrous forms in our school district.

In a separate blog post, a school superintendent to the east of us reflected on his experiences on the school yard with kids during the current job action.  An unanticipated benefit of the current situation allows board office folks  like me a chance to reconnect with kids – a distant calling.  This week I oversaw the primary section of the playground – swings, climbing bars, bark mulch – and all.  What a joy to watch the Kinergarten kids who are now fully ‘free’ at recess to explore and play on their own.  Countless are the number of interactions I have with the little ones who tell me with wide-eyed earnest that ‘the fence is ‘bwoken’ or ‘Johnny’ is calling me names, or ‘Billy’ kicked me in the b……s.  Facinacting to watch them problem solve among themselves when one of their classmates fall and cries:  who to tell, where to go, how to help……?

I followed this particular class of Kindergarten kids inside on Wednesday to see the other learning going on.  In fact, the teacher, was delighted to see me after several invitations to see the class in action particulary with their ‘Kinderpals‘.  I was intrigued this day because the district technology helping teacher was there to introduce the 5 year olds to IPads.  Also in attendance was a dad with his own IPad and a need to stay current with his kids.  Irony noted.  We started the class by connecting to Twitter and watching a clip on the Smartboard of the class’ Kinderpals in Indonesia.  Rather than watching clip, I watching the kids’ faces as they smiled, giggled, waved, oooo’d and awwww’d their way through the tour of a school half way around the world with all-weather fields and a swimming pool.  Hmm.  Just another day in Kindergarten?

Watching the kids open, start, navigate and use the IPad technology merely reinforced my understanding of the ‘digital native’.  Not me – the kids.  In minutes, the children in pairs, were exploring aps to help with letter and number recognition.  Many were reading the words being formed by the letters.  All were helpful to the stranger in their midst who needed to find the aps and to navigate the screen.  Another story.  I was struck by all of this by how simple learning is for kids.  Call them ’empty vessels’ or ‘thirsty sponges’ or whatever, but call it simple, enthusiastic, uncomplicated and authentic.

I received an email this week from our newest district technology helping teacher who was celebrating a joint project between an elementary French Immersion classroom and a secondary FI class. In this learning segment, the elementary students prepared and rehearsed questions to share with their secondary ‘buddies face to face via computer.  Said the teacher,  “(What) a great collaborative project between the students of both schools………………they were using FACETIME on iPads to talk to each other in French.  It was really great to see how excited the younger class at Sandy Hill was to talk to older buddies at Mouat. What a great way to bring real life meaning to second language learning!”

But kids weren’t the only ones collaborating and learning last week.  The administrators from the west end and district staff met to continue work on the Hansen family of schools consultation.  The purpose of the meeting was to review the bold vision and bold actions proposed in response to the consultation.  I was somewhat apprehensive about the meeting as were my assistant superintendent colleagues.   Given the current stresses under which our administrators are working at present, another meeting after school on a rainy night – not so much fun.  

We presented a bold vision for a vibrant family of schools and after a slow start the room came to life as everyone chipped in with support and understanding of the attributes of the vision.  There is a strong appetite to explore inquiry learning and curriculum design.  Our curriculum director took centre stage in his endorsement of backwards curriculum design.  Another of the rallying points in the vision is to create a collaborative culture – in classrooms, among students and teachers and between schools in the family.  We presented many aspects to the notion of collaboration and the many looks it may assume.  The conversation intensified when we considered belief statements to underscore the vision.  Our principals poured their hearts into the activity and before we knew it – time to go.

It was a good week and I was both proud and heartened to see learning in progress on many levels.  An enduring image for me is the smile on the face of the Kindergarten child with special needs who helped me learn how to locate an ap on the IPad. Priceless.

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