Part 1: Analysis of Context
1. What do we know about our learners?
Marhaba! Bienvenue! Konichiwa! Hola! Welcome! Ecole Riverdale is a lively, joyful place where we celebrate our students’ accomplishments – as learners, citizens and caring friends. We are a large, inner city, dual track French Immersion school located in the heart of Guildford. Like many schools in Surrey, we are home to a wonderfully diverse group of students and families, many of whom were born in Canada, and many abroad. This year, students placed a dot on a large world map to identify their country of birth. We covered the world – from British Columbia, to Argentina, India, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria, China and beyond! We have 27 students of Aboriginal Ancestry, and over one third of our total student population is composed of English Language Learners.
Ecole Riverdale is home to 460 students, with just over half learning in the Early French Immersion Program. These students come from both our local catchment, and neighbouring communities such as Fraser Heights. Students in the English program reside largely in our neighbourhood, affectionately known as “Birdland.” The school district provides programs to our community that serve to support students’ intellectual and emotional development. These include a breakfast program, a lunch program that serves one third of our students, and Community Schools (CSP) programs, such as boys’ leadership club, lunch intramurals, dance club and the after school BLAST program. We also receive district supports that directly impact students’ learning, including an Early Literacy teacher, a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) teacher and an Expressive Arts program. We have a small but dedicated PAC that provides both financial support and many fun opportunities, such as movie nights and a Spring Carnival for families to enjoy.
Students enjoy being at school and are deeply connected to their teachers and support staff. They like to engage in active learning experiences that are addressed through the ADST curriculum (Applied Design, Skills and Technology) and the creative thinking competency. For most students, school is an important place for all kinds of learning and growth. While many students look forward to the social aspect of school, for some this is a deeply challenging part of their day. Similarly, some students struggle to maintain a sense of resilience when facing learning experiences or social situations they find difficult. As a staff, we have noticed that many students’ range of emotions is limited; they are quick to rise to anger and frustration, which sometimes results in aggression. We have to help all students find the “I want to…” and “I can…” throughout their day. Thus continues our journey….
2. What evidence supports what we know about our learners?
In 2015-16, after five years of a learning journey with the district Numeracy project, staff identified two areas for continued exploration and growth:
- Communicating Thinking in Math Teaching staff felt this continued to be an area where students needed explicit support. Students need to develop the ability to communicate, reflect and explain their mathematical thinking.
- Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Students’ incapacity to identify and manage their own emotions has become increasingly challenging. Building self-awareness in this area involves the development of metacognition. Students must be able to first identify their feelings and emotions before they can manage them.
Over the last two years, we have regularly discussed the question, “What do we know about our learners, and how do we know it?” in relation to these two areas. We have collectively recorded our thoughts, experiences and observations on large chart paper, some of which you will see below:
Numeracy: Teachers noted the need for continued support through daily, ongoing formative assessment, as well as through more formal assessment such as the district’s Problem Solving Assessment.
SEL: Teachers and support staff noted the frequency with which they were supporting emotional needs beyond what they felt they could adequately address in the classroom. This grew into a school-wide conversation where a twelve member team signed up with the district’s action research inquiry.
Part 2: Focus and Planning
3. What focus emerges as a question to pursue?
Both areas (numeracy and SEL) continue to be school-wide areas of inquiry. Being part of the district numeracy project served to focus and refine our thinking around student learning. When guided by the curricular and core competencies around critical and creative thinking, it becomes clear that students’ capacity to identify and explain their thinking is a foundational component of rich learning in numeracy. Teachers’ ongoing formative assessment and professional conversations lead us to identify the following question:
What instructional strategies have the greatest impact on students’ capacity to explain and communicate their reasoning in math?
With regards to SEL, in 2015-2016, ten staff members met regularly to discuss concerns, frustrations, student strengths and approaches to supporting students’ social and emotional learning. We invited Taunya Shaw, district SEL helping teacher, to be part of the conversation on several occasions. We decided not to immediately adopt a program (e.g. Mind Up or Second Step), and wanted to more fully understand what is meant by SEL, and how we wanted to explore it with our students. We discussed the CASL competencies of SEL, and linked these to the core competencies in the BC curriculum. We also began to explore developmental psychology and attachment theory through the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld. This framework was presented to staff at a summer ProD (August 2016) by Colleen Drobot.
As our understanding deepened, we recognized that while all of the competencies are connected, two components in particular were where we would focus: Self Awareness and Self Management. As we observed our students’ struggle with anxiety and its many manifestations, anger, lack of impulse control, lack of engagement and motivation in the classroom, and significant peer struggles, we felt these two definitions encapsulated some of the most complex, and increasingly common student needs:
· Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one’s strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.
· Self-management: The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.
We also began to recognise that while research shows a focus on strategic SEL instruction has a positive impact on student learning and development, we as a staff needed to explore our roles as agents of change and maturity for students who are emotionally stuck. We needed to look at both components when considering how to best support student learning and growth.
This year, our twelve-member action research team identified the following question(s):
How will working with children through an attachment framework impact students’ capacity to be more self-aware?
· How will this impact their capacity to self-manage during unstructured times (recess and lunch play)?
· How will this impact student focus and engagement in classroom learning?
4. What professional learning do we need?
Over the past year, a small and dedicated numeracy team met regularly with district numeracy helping teachers to discuss next steps. In the spring, they collaborated to plan an intermediate math challenge that would help illuminate where students were at in terms of our question. The results showed that students continue to need modelling and support to better communicate their thinking. At our final ProD in May, the team shared key resources and instructional strategies, involving staff in a parallel learning experience where we were challenged to share our thinking. This will continue to be a learning focus into 2017-2018 where we plan to remain connected to the district numeracy team.
Through our SEL inquiry, we were able to work with Colleen Drobot, educator and psychologist with the Neufeld Institute. Colleen provided a whole staff summer ProD (August 2016) on the topic of Counterwill, and then worked more deeply with our Action Research Inquiry team using a case study model. We met with her on three different occasions (for three hour sessions). In addition to these conversations, our team met five times throughout the year to study a Neufeld Institute DVD course entitled, The Science of Emotion. Our team also met with the district inquiry helping teachers, Barb Bathgate and Maggie Carpalowski, for three dinner sessions, and then invited them to our school for a final meeting in June to discuss next steps.
Through each of these conversations, we deepened our understanding and our resolve to stay the course and look at children’s needs and behaviours through an attachment and developmental framework. We have come to understand that while SEL is a fundamental part of a child’s emotional learning and growth, there are some children who require the right conditions for them to mature and develop, and that that these things cannot be learned for the child who is emotionally “stuck.” We, as key adults in the child’s life, must be the agents of change. Only then will a child have the capacity to be moved from “mad to sad”, and resort less and less often to anger and aggressive behaviour.
In addition to our learning with Colleen Drobot and the Action Research Inquiry team, most teachers chose one SEL resource or program to explore over the year with their students. Each of these programs addresses both self awareness and self-management. While there are benefits to build common language amongst students, we also felt it was important for teachers to have choice based on students’ and class needs that each of these programs offer. These included:
- Mind Up – Focuses on brain science, mindfulness practice, and is used as a catalyst for SEL instruction.
- Second Step – Focuses on four areas: empathy and compassion, emotion management, friendship skills and problem solving, and skills for learning;
- Zones of Regulation – Focuses is on practicing skills so students can consciously be aware of, regulate and manage their emotions.
5. What is our plan?
The district framework, Learning by Design, guides our reflections and decisions about how to best support student learning. The framework is composed of three key aspects:
Learning honours our diverse cultures and traditions and is:
- Inspired by individual passions and interests.
- Connected to real-world experiences and challenges.
- Demonstrated in powerful ways both individually and in groups.
- Supported by all who work with, and for our students.
- Time, physical space, access to information, and connection to community provide the flexibility to support powerful learning.
Tools for a Digital Age
- Tools that enable digital citizenship support access to information, and demonstrations of learning.
- Tools to support learning extend beyond digital technologies.
Key to our learning and next steps are the following:
Numeracy Inquiry – Tools and Structures to Support Learning:
- An ongoing connection to the district numeracy helping teachers;
- Collaboration time for the numeracy learning team to meet with one another, and will colleagues. This may be provided through the district, as has been past practice. We will also look to other ways to provide release time internally as we know job-embedded professional learning has the greatest impact on student learning;
- Book club using Big Ideas from Dr. Small: Creating a Comfort Zone for Teaching Mathematics.
SEL Inquiry – Tools and Structures to Support Learning:
- Shift morning practices to allow for classes to begin the day in different ways (as opposed to morning announcements and Fit Kids over the PA system); teachers can now begin the day based on the needs of children and their class (e.g. with mindful moments, check ins, exercise, etc.)
- Ongoing connection to the district Action Research Inquiry (year two of working with Colleen Drobot and our school team)
- Exploration of a second Neufeld DVD course (Play and Emotion or Making Sense of Aggression)
- Lunch hour professional conversations sharing successes and strategies based on the three SEL programs (Mind Up, Second Step and Zones of Regulation)
Part 3: Reflect, Adjust, Celebrate
6. How will we know our plan is making a difference? (evidence / success criteria)
- Results from the district problem solving assessment show that students are “fully meeting” expectations in their capacity to explain and communicate their thinking;
- Staff conversations continue to focus on curricular and core competency language in the new curriculum;
- Increasing frequency of numeracy team members collaborating with teaching staff;
- Evidence from year-end staff reflections:
- Staff anecdotal evidence that pertains to overall climate and students’ capacity to self-regulate (to show self awareness and self-management in the classroom) so that there is a greater focus on student learning;
- Student self reflections (completed with teachers, CCW – child care worker- and administration) show increasing capacity to identify feelings and emotions;
- Case study conversations that show both professional learning and student’s emotional maturity that stems from increased attachment and alpha presence; we would look for increased capacity for students to express and identify their feelings beyond anger, aggression or “shutting down”, increased tears (students moving from “mad to sad”);
- Decrease in recess and lunch time reports of incidents that ignite due to student anger and aggression;
- Evidence from year-end staff conversations:
7. Based on the evidence, does our inquiry require adjustment?
In May 2017, staff identified the following “next steps” in each of our inquiries:
We will continue to reflect on the previous year, our thoughts from school start up, and address this in the fall with all staff on our first non-instructional day. We will use the district framework, Learning by Design, to guide our reflections and next steps.