From the Desk of the Superintendent- December 2017

Last night, the Board of Trustees held their November meeting. The November meeting for all boards across the province is heavy with content. The Audited Financial Statements are reviewed and passed along with any transfers necessary. The budget is updated with finalized numbers and approved by the Board. And, the Annual Education Results Report (AERR) is also presented and approved. I know many cannot wait to read the 40 page AERR but for those who desire a shorter version take a look at our summary.

I would never be so arrogant to believe or publicly communicate that our results don’t illustrate that we have some areas for improvement. We are a professional organization and as such continuous improvement should be something we always strive. But we also have some results and some practices that are considered excellent not just here in the south but provincially and even nationally. Just this week, I’ve had conversations with two large education corporations who have sought us out to find out how we’ve developed such a culture of innovation, a spirit of creativity within a highly aligned and data informed system.

When I’m in the building, I always try to pop in to the professional learning sessions that we host. Earlier this month, I attended a session on the Collaborative Response Model in which we have a number of schools piloting this year. What a powerful process to limit students from falling through the cracks and to allow staffs to engage in solution focused conversations to assist all students. Whether it is our collaborative peer mentor program or our grade level meetings or like this morning, a session for early learning, I’m always amazed at the rich learning taking place not just for the participants but for me as well. There is always a nugget that I take away, sometimes it is crystal clear and other times it requires my further reflection. I value the professional learning opportunities we offer and the support we provide within our Holy Spirit context.

But my favorite time is when I can get out of my office, get into schools and classrooms to witness learning firsthand. Yesterday, I was able to watch a master teacher provide exceptional reading intervention to a small group of students and then witness a brand new teacher try a new strategy to engage students on parts of a short story. Her comment, “It might crash and burn” when I first asked her about it excited me because she was willing to try something different regardless of me, the superintendent being in the classroom. That is the culture that we want to continue to foster in order to support our teachers’ collective autonomy and better engage our students each and every day.

People who are not in the education system have no concept of the pace of education. Tomorrow is December 1st and it is difficult to fathom that we have already completed three months of the 2017-18 school year. Blink…and it will be Christmas. But even though education runs like a sprint and not a marathon, we still need to find time to pause and reflect. In our faith, the season of Advent provides just such a time. We prepare for the coming of the Christ child not with more gift buying or shopping but with simple and quiet times in prayer. As we begin this Advent season, I pray that all of us, intentionally slow down our pace to ensure that God always has a part in our busyness!

Have a wonderful December and a blessed Advent!

Divisions can’t work in silos

The following blog post was written for the Lethbridge Herald and published on November 22, 2017.

Before I began to write this week’s article, I went back and read my colleague’s articles in the past. While some of the articles are about specific initiatives within a particular division, most articles highlight education from a more global perspective or focus on areas that all school divisions prioritize. A correct assumption from reading these articles is that many of the goals in education are similar from division to division. Living in this area, it would make good sense that there would be a common focus on our First Nations population. Literacy and numeracy, cornerstone skills for all students, would also be a common objective. Student wellness, effective transitions to post-secondary and the work world, and the continued need to manage the changing face of education would all be reflected in area divisions.

But what might not be as easily recognized, and is very unique to this area, is the strong connection between the school divisions. Put simply, we get along, we work together, and we support each other. That doesn’t mean that we are not highly competitive with each other, but it is neither “cut throat” nor “win at all costs.” Our competition focuses on getting better and then raising the bar so that, ultimately, the winners are the students, parents, and communities as a whole. We are all learning organizations and, as such, take lessons from each other and apply them to our own context.

A couple of weeks ago, senior education leaders from across the province attended our College of Alberta School Superintendents’ (CASS) annual conference. One of the keynote presenters, education guru Michael Fullan, spoke about leadership in the middle and the importance of connecting outwards and collaborating beyond. For us in the southern part of the province, that lateral capacity building is just common practice. During the year we gather a minimum of four times as CASS colleagues from Zone 6.  This gives those who oversee human resources or those who are responsible for curriculum or inclusive education an opportunity to come together to share best practices and brainstorm solutions. It is about helping all students, not just the ones in your own division.

For years, research has said that education is far too complex for teachers to be isolated and working alone. Schools have made great strides in providing more time for teachers to work in collaboration. Divisions have also worked hard to develop networks of schools so they can learn from each other. It just makes good sense that divisions apply that same research with each other. Divisions need to continue to work collaboratively, eliminating any silos that may exist. Students deserve the highest quality of education, parents deserve publicly funded choice, and our communities need to see the advantage of working with, not against, each other.  

Leadership from the middle

A couple of weeks ago, our senior education team attended the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) Fall Conference which featured Michael Fullan and Santiago Rincon-Gallardo. During one of the presentations I took the picture below (sorry for the quality) which to me, helps explain how deep and sustainable educational change needs to occur in systems.

While some would like to believe that real change in schools will only occur from a bottom up approach, some are equally adamant that it will only occur top down. Although change can and will occur from both approaches, neither of them will serve as the magic bullet for deep and sustainable change. Systemic change (from the province/state right to the classroom level) needs to occur through leadership from the middle.

But where is the middle?

Sitting as the superintendent of a school division, I would suggest that our senior team is in the middle. We exploit (I’ll explain later) and leverage up to the Board and Government and liberate and support down to our school administrators. Collaborating and connecting with our peers at the senior level is ongoing and a common practice in Alberta, especially in the southern part of the province.

But the visual should be seen as putting school administration in the middle too! They exploit/leverage up to the senior leaders and liberate/support down to their teachers. In our system and many others, you would recognize a strong willingness of school leaders to collaborate and connect with others. The same could be said about teachers as they too exploit/leverage up to the their school administrators and liberate/support their students and hopefully they are collaborating and connecting with their peers.

I want to return to the word “exploit.” The negative connotation may tend to limit higher echelons of organizations from fully embracing the concept of leading from the middle. I would agree if exploiting means breaking the law. That is not acceptable and I will not tolerate that type of definition. But I believe that exploiting is about looking at the rules of the game, the policies and procedures in place and finding ways to better support practices in schools and learning for students. It is about finding grey to leverage learning.

Systems, ALL systems have far too may rules that hamper the highest quality of education occurring in our classrooms. Some of those rules involve legislation or laws that simply cannot be ignored. There is good reason that some rules are black or white. However, I fully expect our school leaders to challenge me on rules that inhibit classroom practice and negate innovative teaching. And they should expect push back from me to show me the evidence or research to influence the change required. I don’t consider this insubordination, but rather a necessary practice to lead from the middle. And as a superintendent, I should be doing the same (with respect) to the Board of Trustees and to the Provincial Government.

I also know that the best schools have leaders who feel supported by their central office staff. They need to feel comfortable to be innovative but also challenged not to maintain the status quo. Liberating, in order to allow them to be outstanding is no different from what they do with teachers; Allow them to try new things and support their efforts to continuously improve.

In the end, leadership from the middle, no matter where you reside, is about fostering an environment where the very best instructional practice is occurring. Find your middle and exploit/leverage up, liberate/support down and connect and collaborate from the sides…it will be the start of great systemic change!


Catholic Education Sunday Message- November 2017

The following message was read by trustees and administrators at all masses in parishes linked to Holy Spirit Catholic School Division. In addition, I’m including a short video message providing a supplementary statement from the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division is a regional division that serves students in Bow Island, Coaldale, Lethbridge, Picture Butte, Pincher Creek, Taber, and surrounding communities. Today we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday, a special day that recognizes the gift of publicly funded Catholic Education in the province of Alberta.

Over the last number of years this annual message has highlighted the threat to publicly funded Catholic Education. That threat continues and, in fact, has intensified this past year. However, our message this year is not going to focus on fear, but rather on celebration and hope.

We celebrate Catholic Education because it stands for what is good in our world. It stands for the truth and is not seduced by secular thinking. It recognizes that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. In the words of Pope Francis, “All human persons, all of us, are important in God’s eyes.” Our faith tells us that God loves us unconditionally even though He knows we will sin tomorrow. The gift of Catholic Education is that it provides our students and families strength to wrestle with and combat against a world that wants to force God out of all things.

Our focus for year two of our faith plan is “Growing in Spirit.” We are called to deepen our experience with prayer. It is not enough to know about Jesus,  we must know Jesus personally. Through the lens of truth, Jesus puts everything in its proper place, bringing order to every aspect of life, and thereby demonstrating the true value of things. We must allow God to put our lives in order. Catholic Education, in partnership with home, school, and parish, calls each one of us to know Jesus and to seek holiness. There is great beauty when, through that partnership, we become who God created us to be.

St. Paul tells us that hope has a name. Hope is Jesus. We have hope in Jesus, a person who is alive, that lives in the Eucharist, that is present in His word. Jesus gives us life. We are rooted in Him. It is that message of hope that we wish to carry into our schools and classrooms everyday.

We stand committed to offering high quality Catholic Education to over 5000 students in our care. We celebrate our educational and accountability results and, most importantly, we provide hope, in the name of Jesus, in all that we do. There will always be forces, both internal and external, that will challenge our existence. But we continue to be strong and continue to be relevant in our world today!

Please keep praying for all involved in Catholic Education as we strive to make a difference in the lives of our students through knowing Jesus. Have a wonderful Catholic Education Sunday and God Bless!


From the Desk of the Superintendent- November 2017

Since Wednesday, I’ve been in Calgary attending our annual CASS Fall Conference. This year, it was structured as a team format and led by education gurus Michael Fullan and Santiago Rincon-Gallardo . While I’m less familiar with the work of Santiago, you would be hard pressed to find an educational leader who hasn’t read a Michael Fullan book. Working with these two gentlemen was certainly affirming because of many of the practices that currently exist in our schools and school division. But to suggest that they support the status quo would be wrong and so our work with them also pushed us to look beyond what we are currently doing to what we could be doing even better? In other words, we should pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and then get going to get better.

The relentless focus or as Fullan likes to call precision on a small number of priorities is key to deep learning and system improvement. By exploiting upwards (a Fullan term) we’ve been able to implement a true 3-Year Education Plan with a commitment to only three priorities: Faith, Literacy/Numeracy and First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning. While each of our schools will individualize strategies to fit their own context, the alignment that exists around these priorities and the measures used for assurance speak to the high quality of our system. Our most recent Accountability Pillar Report  tells a great story where we outperformed the province in 13 of 16 measurement categories. Some of the greatest achievements were a 3-year high school completion rate almost 10% higher than the province, a transition rate that was nearly 15% higher and a Rutherford Scholarship Eligibility Rate that was 12% more than the province. Going deeper into the data we found that our participation rates were generally higher than the province and we typically had a higher percentage of English as a Second Language Learners and students with special needs writing the Provincial Achievement Tests. In other words, we want more of our students having the opportunity to succeed in these exams. My comment is quite simple, “Well Done!”

Before I move forward to November, I want to highlight our trustee election. Given the support received and leadership shown from our previous board, I was very pleased that all of our incumbents running were either acclaimed or elected. The two final positions, one in Picture Butte and the other in Lethbridge were filled by Phillip Mack and Keith McDonald. Our nine member board has already had their first meeting, been provided a full day of orientation on their governance role and will have a work session next Monday. At the organizational meeting, board members selected Judy Lane as the new board chair and Bob Spitzig as the new vice chair. I would like to congratulate both Judy and Bob on their new roles and also recognize and thank former chair Bryan Kranzler and vice chair Pat Bremner for their support and leadership. The trustees and I will be heading to Edmonton in a couple of weeks for our marathon of annual general meetings (ACSTA and ASBA). I’ll be up in Edmonton a couple of days earlier for CCSSA.

This weekend we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday. At each mass in all of the parishes connected to Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, a message will be delivered by trustees or administration. The Bishops of Alberta have also provided a letter for Catholic Education Sunday and parish priests will be providing a further message. Given some of the latest public bashing and increased threat to Catholic Education, these messages are important to be shared with our Catholic faithful. As you walk into church this coming weekend as a staff member of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division be proud of the difference you make within our Catholic milieu. May God continue to bless you in the work that you do!


Knowing the why

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Sarah Prevette, Founder and CEO of Future Design School. She is a strong advocate for ensuring that students develop a strong creative confidence and an entrepreneurial mindset.  She also speaks passionately about equipping students with the right tools to be successful in life. While assisting students to be successful in life has always been a goal in education, having creative confidence and an entrepreneurial mindset is something quite different for many of us who graduated 10 plus years ago.

But why? Why is there such a shift in education? Why does school need to be so different since, by in large, it “worked” for many of us who are now in adulthood. Adding to the confusion is that education in Canada, and even more so in Alberta, is considered one of the highest performing publicly funded systems in the world. So, if that is the case, then why are school systems continually pushing forward on school improvement?

Let’s begin with a 2017 statistic from the World Economic Forum shared by Ms. Prevette:

“65% of children currently entering primary school will have jobs that don’t exist yet.”

That statistic alone should challenge our education systems as to whether we are actually equipping our students with the right tools for that unknown workplace. What tools will be required of our students to fill those unknown jobs and be successful in life? Employers are already stating that future employees will be required to excel in entrepreneurialism, grit, resilience, mindfulness, creativity and resourcefulness. They will need people who can communicate and collaborate with and without technology, and be critical thinkers who can problem solve. Much of our older curriculum, and many current teaching practices or assessments, don’t necessarily align with a focus on competencies and yet, that is what will be required now and into the future.

Literacy and numeracy have not been forgotten in this school redesign. In fact, literacy and numeracy hold a greater focus than what we previously referred to as simply reading, writing and arithmetic. Students need to be well versed in multiple literacies in order to discern fact from fiction, and the need to be numerate in our world is ever increasing. But being competent in only literacy and numeracy is not sufficient for students to see success in their lives. Students need more!

Individuals like Sarah Prevette, who vocally question and challenge the status quo, are essential to be able to define the why for schools, encouraging them to become more like hubs for innovation. While developing strong foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, students must also encounter opportunities to create, to experiment and to find their own passion for learning. The ability to be a learner, not simply learned, will serve students well in their future lives. Let’s make sure that schools continue to transform to meet those needs.

This blog was published in the Lethbridge Herald on October 18, 2017.

Trustee Elections- October 16th

Municipal elections in Alberta are just around the corner and part of those elections include trustees for school boards. Initially I wanted to write this blog post for nomination day, which was September 18th, but between the excuse of time and maybe waffling a little bit, I didn’t get around to it until right now.

The waffling as to whether to write this or not is still there. As a superintendent, my boss, the corporate school board is made up of trustees who will be elected (or who have already been acclaimed) on October 16th. That’s definitely a reason not to “stir the pot.” But on the flip side, my ability to retire tomorrow if needed, allows me to be more outspoken than some of my superintendent colleagues. And even with an election in one of our wards, the success of our school division would suggest minimal changes around the board table.

The real reason however, that I write this blog post is to support all of the children who come into our schools in Alberta every single day. You see, being a trustee is about supporting ALL students in the absence of any political agendas or single-minded issues and most importantly, without inflated egos. Unfortunately, that is not what I’m seeing on social media as I view the campaigning throughout the province. It is disappointing that we are slowly replicating the attack and smear politics that seems to be common with our southern neighbours.

I’ve worked closely with trustees since 2001 and I’ve seen the gamut of support/non-support for teachers, government or administration. I’ve worked with trustees who thought they were the superintendent and didn’t have a clue about their roles in the world of governance. I’ve also been around trustees who came in with a single issue focus. They usually became pretty disengaged when either the issue was solved or through a better understanding it became a non-issue.

But I’ve also been surrounded by excellent trustees who through stakeholder engagement set direction for the division and then held my feet to the fire to get us there. I’ve worked with trustees who made every decision based on what was best for students, were relationship focused and supported the work of staff in order to offer the highest quality of education. They took their generative, fiduciary and strategic roles to heart.

The education of students is far too important for “me personalities” to be involved. Ego can’t overrun the vocation of the school trustee which is to serve. On election day, vote for those trustees who you believe will serve all and not those who simply have political agendas. Vote for those who can see the big picture and not get lost in their own small details. The work of trustees should always be honourable and integrity driven and those who follow that mantra need to be the ones who sit at their board tables after the election!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- October 2017

October 1st…it is hard to believe that we’ve already galloped through September and I’m shocked because 30 years ago, Donna and I welcomed our first child, Jordan into the world. Time does seem to fly by and so I start this blog post with my reminder from our opening of ensuring to keep our priorities in order; faith, family and then the job. Some who may not know me, might assume that I don’t have high work expectations of myself or our staff, but the contrary is actually true. I’m a firm believer that if one don’t emphasize faith and family in one’s life, one will seldom get the most out of one’s work.

Our increased call to prayer in year two of our faith plan helps set the stage for our first priority; so does regular attendance at mass or other Christian services. It is not always easy to commit time to faith. There is always another task to complete or an activity to attend. And if you’ve fallen out of the good habit of church attendance or daily prayer and reflection, it is sometimes very difficult to bring it back. But one of the beauties of being in Catholic Education is that we are a faith-based organization where support without judgment is always present. Help keep faith alive not only for yourself and the students in our schools but for the adults too!

On September 25th, we hosted our first ever Catholic Education Roundtable. Our PD Centre was packed with over 100 participants including five of our parish priests and one deacon. While most school staffs are familiar with the attack on Catholic Education, many in our parishes are not as well informed. While it is expected that attacks come from outside the system, it is very disheartening when they come from within our Catholic community. I was able to provide some background on Catholic Education for those in attendance  and then had table groups discuss the following three questions.

  1. Why is Catholic Education worth defending?
  2. How might you as an individual or as part of an organization outwardly demonstrate more support for Catholic Education?  
  3. What are some ways to welcome families back to the church and to Catholic Education?

From the comments I’ve heard, it was a very powerful and engaging evening and I would like to thank all who were in attendance. We are currently reviewing the feedback received from the evening and will share a summary with our new Board of Trustees, Bishop McGrattan and our community. Look for more details in the coming weeks!

Municipal elections are right around the corner. That means that our September Board meeting was the last for this current board. I would like to thank this current board for their leadership and support. They have governed well and have ensured that Holy Spirit Catholic School Division continued to grow, to innovate and to support staff and students during their term. I would also like to say a special thanks to trustee Terry O’Donnell who is not seeking re-election. Terry was on the board when I first came to Holy Spirit and so I know his commitment firsthand to his community of Picture Butte and to the entire school division. He has served both as Chair and Vice Chair. His storytelling and great sense of humour will certainly be missed around the board table. Thanks Terry for your years of service.

Four trustees have been acclaimed in our rural communities but there will be an election in Ward 2 (Lethbridge and area) with seven candidates running for five positions. Candidate profiles can be found here.

While we continue to tear down one school, St. Patrick’s in Taber for modernization, we were able to celebrate the re-dedication of St. Michael’s School in Pincher Creek. On September 29th, the Feast of St. Michael, a large contingent from both inside and outside of the community gathered for the blessing. Many thanks to the architectural firm FWBA Architects for envisioning a space that truly encompasses our Catholic faith and supports the needs of our current and future students and to Ward Bros. Construction Ltd for their work as the general contractor. Tremendous accolades need to also be extended to our Plant Operations Coordinator Mike Herauf and his team for the many hours of work behind the scenes. Finally, I want to acknowledge the staff and students of St. Michael’s School. A phased modernization, especially when you need to operate out of two separate campuses during the life of the project is not easy. Yet, the staff and students accepted this inconvenience, rolled with the punches and made the best of it. Congratulations and welcome to your new home!

Just around the corner is the Thanksgiving long weekend. While we can be grateful for many things in our lives, especially living here in Canada, we also know that many near and far suffer greatly. As we approach this Thanksgiving holiday, I would ask that your prayers be filled with gratitude but also be offered to those most in need. Many in our classrooms, our schools next door and the world throughout need our prayers. Please be generous and keep all those in need in your prayers.

Have a wonderful month of October and God Bless!

Focusing on our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students

Let’s begin by confronting the brutal facts, the education system throughout Canada has failed our aboriginal students. While there may be pockets of excellence scattered across our country, there are too few examples where our aboriginal students are achieving equitable outcomes compared to their non-aboriginal counterparts. The stats are too clear for anyone to dispute this fact.

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division understands this fact and has established a three-year priority that focuses on equitable outcomes for our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students. This priority has two global goals that ALL schools work on.

  1. By the end of 2019, the gap in achievement between First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students and non-First Nations, Métis and Inuit students will be decreased by, a minimum of, 10%.
  2. By the end of 2019, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students will feel a better sense of belonging and all students and staff will have a greater understanding of culture, traditions and ceremonies.

The two goals are connected (as you will see) but the first, raising achievement should be the easier to accomplish. We are educators! We understand the importance of creating safe learning environments, delivering engaging curriculum, utilizing innovative teaching strategies and ensuring both support and high expectations are provided. But unfortunately, until we address goal number 2, we will have difficulty in raising the bar and closing the gap. But why?

During the recent white supremacists activities in the United States, a tweet from former President Obama went viral.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.

There is a part of me that feels a little ashamed (even though I’m Canadian) to be a white man when I watch movies like Mississippi Burning or A Time to Kill and witness the hate toward another human being because of skin color. But I would be arrogant to believe that Canada doesn’t have the same level of racism towards our indigenous peoples. We have a long history of hatred that can be best summed up by the words of Duncan Campbell Scott, head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 -1932

I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.

The problem is that many Canadians think this statement is acceptable or only somewhat offensive. We don’t see ourselves as a racist nation and yet we continue to treat our aboriginal people with less dignity and respect than second class citizens. Our history, written by white men, has created a slanted and erroneous view of our indigenous peoples’ contributions to this country. We focus on the result without ever understanding the cause. We lay blame and provide “if only” remedies without ever appreciating the root cause of the misfortunes of our aboriginal people. When the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was released Justice Murray Sinclair stated, “Canada clearly participated in a period of cultural genocide.” 

The legacy of residential schools is a black mark on Canada as a nation. Yet, it continues to be a hidden mystery in our schools, either untouched or superficially taught. And although ugly, it must be taught in our schools to help Canadians better understand our aboriginal people. A number of years ago while travelling in Germany, I learned that their students were required to visit a concentration camp so that they would always know the truth and not allow history to repeat itself. Confronting the brutal facts means knowing the honest truth!

There are two parts to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and truth is the most difficult. – Darren McKee

While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last number of years in Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, I know there is still much work to be done. Our own attitudes will be challenged, our language will be questioned and our actions will be evaluated. It will be messy but our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students deserve it and Canada needs it!

Focusing on literacy and numeracy

Each school year, prior to the start of students, our entire staff comes together as one community and I have the distinct pleasure of providing opening comments. Due to the structure of the day this year, I was able to provide more of a presentation around our three priorities as opposed to simply making opening remarks. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some of our division’s work addressing our strategic priorities, beginning today with literacy and numeracy.

There is no doubt of the importance of students possessing strong literacy and numeracy skills. Reading, a component of literacy, is essential for present and future student success. The transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” cannot be stressed enough. In my presentation, I showed this short video that hammers home (literally) the reality that reading opens so many doors. Last year, we hired our first learning coach to coincide with our priority and this year we’ve added a second coach to work with our teachers, especially at the division I level. The research is clear about the importance of reading competently by grade 3 and so our focus remains on those early years. We’ve also purchased Fountas and Pinnell resources and provided significant time for teachers to administer the assessments. We will also continue to host grade level meetings where teachers work collaboratively, interpreting the results in order to review their instructional practice.

But we know that strong literacy skills cannot be fully developed with only a focus on reading. Writing and other forms of communication literacies must also be attended to in order to provide the breadth of literacy learning. In past years, we’ve provided time for teachers to collectively mark writing samples to better understand standards and this is a practice we are hoping to continue into the future. In discussion with our Director of Learning and our two learning coaches last week, developing writing standards throughout the grades and system and building in collective professional judgment in assessment is a goal.

As teachers and parents, it is easy to support a literacy focus in our schools and homes but the importance of numeracy cannot be ignored. In fact, there is evidence that numeracy is a better predictor of school success than literacy.

“Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health.”- Andreas Schleicher, OECD

Research from the UK paints a bleak future for those who don’t possess adequate numeracy skills.

  • People with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed
  • There is a strong correlation between poor numeracy and poor health and depression
  • 14 year olds who have poor math skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to be truant
  • A quarter of young people in custody have a numeracy level below that expected of a 7-year-old, and 65% of adult prisoners have numeracy skills at or below the level expected for an 11-year-old

The development of a common math assessment by our own teachers from grades 1-9 has been instrumental in our journey. The assessment is again a springboard for conversations amongst our teachers around instructional practice. I remember when Alberta Education officials visited one of our grade level meetings with me and heard one teacher openly say, “My students didn’t do well on this concept. Who had good results on that concept and how did you teach it?” That was so powerful and it demonstrated the level of trust built within our grade level groupings. This year we have partnered with the University of Lethbridge to offer further support to our teachers on math instruction through our locally developed collaborative peer mentor program.

Before you think that our focus on literacy and numeracy is a call “back to the basics,” I want to reiterate how our priority is articulated.

All students will develop literacy and numeracy skills that will prepare them for a changing future.

Developing literacy and numeracy skills in themselves is what I consider a floor level practice. It is non-negotiable and should be foundational in every elementary classroom. However, the expectation in our Division is not to be satisfied with floor level practices but rather aspire to ceiling level, which are characterized as engaging and enriching in order to take those literacy and numeracy skills to prepare students for a changing future.

Literacy and numeracy instruction plays out differently in junior and senior high school. Underpinning this instruction and guiding the work in schools is Alberta Education’s Learning and Technology Policy Framework. The framework has five policy directions which are integrated and infused at various levels in our schools. Additionally, the work of C21 Canada and the CEO Academy in the development of the 7 C’s: Competencies for Learning and Leading provides support in preparing students for an ever-changing future.

Going forward we know there are critical considerations for our students. They will be entering an unknown, ever-changing world, with new careers, new opportunities and new problems to solve. They will be required to work in environments that are collaborative, innovative, with different hours for work, and possibly working remotely or from home. And students will need to have an inquiry, questioning approach to learning. Literacy and numeracy is not a jazzed up version of reading, writing and arithmetic. It is much deeper, far more intense and increasingly complex…and it is what our students need and deserve in schools today!