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Apr 23

Chris Smeaton

Getting your Thoughts

The following article was written for the Lethbridge Herald and published on April 22, 2015.

In the past, schools and school divisions have typically been very good at communicating to parents, students and the general community. This communication, by and large, includes simple information that stakeholders need to know. Events like parent teacher interviews or other special evenings allowed for the conversation to be a little more two-sided. With the inception of school councils, there is now a place written right in the School Act that gives this body the authority to advise. Unfortunately, the busy pace of life sometimes makes attendance at school council meetings difficult.

With that in mind, schools and school systems need to actively communicate with multiple stakeholders. Information sharing has always come easy. E-mails, blogs, and other social media applications make these messages even more available. However, information receiving has been more difficult.

Over the past number of years, Alberta Education has provided surveys to random parents and specific grades of students. These surveys have formed part of the Accountability Pillar results for both individual schools and the entire school division. Unfortunately, if you are a high performing system, they often only reaffirm what you are doing instead of informing you of what you might “pivot” to accentuate your system.

Our school division has offered a number of public consultations to gather feedback and also provided our own locally developed survey. Our consultations have provided an excellent opportunity to dialogue and seek feedback and we’ve received some valuable information from our local surveys. However, in true continuous improvement fashion, we are aiming to gather more data from a wider cross-section of stakeholders and especially our students.

Engaging our students about their learning environment through the “Tell Them From Me” surveys has been instrumental in guiding our ever-changing educational world. Students have provided tremendous feedback on how they learn, what teaching strategies work for them and how they can best demonstrate their learning. It has re-emphasized the need for our division to continually enhance engaging strategies, implement project-based learning opportunities and make learning more contextual.

For our staff, parents and community members, this year we’ve initiated an online process entitled, ‘ThoughtExchange.’ It allows us to reach out to everyone affected by the decisions made in our division, hear their thoughts and better understand what is important. The three step process invites participants to: (1) Share – answer open-ended questions about education in our schools; (2) Star – review ideas from other stakeholders and star the ideas they like best; and (3) Discover – learn what is important to the community as a whole.

With ongoing shifts in education, there is a greater requirement for schools and divisions to not only inform but be informed. Using the ‘Tell Them From Me’ surveys and the ThoughtExchange process addresses both of these needs. If you’ve not done so already, please join us in our online consultation (http://holyspirit.thoughtexchange.info/invitation).

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