Last June, when we heard back that we had been chosen for the Inclusive Schools Grant through SET-BC, the staff at R. L Angus was over the moon. For a long time now we have been focusing on finding ways to ensure students feel successful, safe, and like they have a place at school. Finding out that we received the grant meant that we could dig even deeper into what inclusion truly looks like, and how it could grow in our school.
For some context, our staff has been focusing on ways to promote student belonging at R. L. Angus for a number of years now. We have worked collaboratively to implement strategies that help us reach out to our at-risk and “under-the-radar” students. Additionally we have developed programs that provide opportunities for students to have a voice and choice in their learning. We are very proud of our school culture, as it is something that we have worked tirelessly at over a number of years. Our staff goes above and beyond to make connections with our students and ensure they are happy and want to be here!
Over the years we have developed a few programs that always bring excitement and joy to our school. We are currently in the midst of our school wide Maker Days. During these days students are given some parameters in which they will need to create something. This year, our grade 5’s and 6’s are completing Needle Felting projects, and our grade 7’s will be creating String Art project. We are also in the planning stages for our annual Symposium of Learning at the moment. During Symposium, students are offered a variety of different sessions (Cooking, Robotics, Outdoor Survival, Local Sport, Local Culture, etc) in which they get to choose which they would like to participate in. The sessions run for 5 weeks on Friday afternoons, and allow students to work in multi-aged groups on something they are interested in. Both of these programs are curriculum driven, provide hands on creative outlets to students, and are designed to ensure ALL students can be successful. All of our initiatives are developed during bi-weekly collaboration time and our dedicated monthly collaboration meeting, and are designed to help promote positive school experiences and inclusion.
Our inclusion journey as a school was fast-tracked two years ago when we had a SET-BC classroom based solution, which helped us provide chromebooks to one of our classrooms. These chromebooks, in conjunction with additional chromebooks and RW4G provided by the district allowed us to pilot one-to-one technology in the classroom. Almost immediately we saw how much of an impact these chromebooks were having to essentially “level the playing field” for our academically lower and underperforming students. In that class, everyone had the tools and knowledge to be successful. Going into the summer, we knew that we would be receiving chromebooks for 4 of our 6 classes to have full time, and our grade 5’s would be sharing a set.
Over the summer of that year, several members of our staff (teachers, administration, and support staff) attended the Inclusive Schools Summit. During the summit they learned about UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and how it could be used to support and grow and inclusive classroom. Excited and inspired, the staff took all they learned back, and began trying to implement what they learned in 2 classrooms last school year. Then in June, we heard back from SET-BC and went into full planning mode for our 2019-2020 school year!
We started this year off with a visit from the SET-BC team. Half our staff was released in the morning, and half in the afternoon to work through the question “What does inclusion looks like?”. This was an excellent exercise that really helped us to dig into what we are already doing, and what we would like to work on. We are by nature a very collaborative staff, however this early visit helped to anchor us and set our tone and focus for the year. There were a few key ideas that came from this day that we have chosen to focus on.
One of the biggest things to come out of this day was that we heard that people really wanted, and needed time to work and team-teach together. Many of our staff felt that they did not feel comfortable using a new tool or strategy in the classroom without someone else there to help support and troubleshoot if things went sideways. What we heard was that it is hard to take a risk, and teachers need a safetynet. Through the grant we have been and will continue to find release time for classroom teachers to work with on staff leaders to collaborate and team-teach. This will help us grow our capacity as a school, and our hope is that over the coming years we will be a whole school of leaders who are able to continue pushing ourselves to grow and evolve. At this point in time, our teachers have taken this time to work on UDL focused goals that include developing rubrics, tools, and strategies.
Another thing that came from our first day with SET-BC was about providing access to technology to students. We knew at the end of last school year that our school would be growing from 6 classrooms to 7. This posed challenges in terms of technology, as purchasing another class set of chromebooks was not in the district tech plan. Through the grant, we were able to purchase 12 chromebooks to be used to supplement what we could manage to gather from what we already had in the district, and accommodate our growing school population. This came out as a priority based on the pre-existing school culture and experience. The previous year showed us how much of an impact on students academic success this technology could have. The idea behind UDL is that we provide support to everyone, so that those who need it can have them. We have put a lot of thought and energy into “destigmatizing” academic supports in our school and our teachers and school team wanted to ensure that we could provide the same support even with more students than before.
The final piece that was important to us in this first year was making sure our support staff understands the purpose of our technology, and they can use our assistive technology effectively. In October, we were able to have a SET-BC workshop during the school day. During the workshop our support staff was paired up with one of our students, and they along with the students were taught how to use RW4G. This was an extremely valuable use of time, as it helped our support staff see the tools in action, supporting student learning.
R. L. Angus is truly a special place to work and learn. We always say around here that change takes time, and nobody is expected to take it all on at once. That is how we approach new initiatives and ideas around the building, and will continue to do with inclusion. We think about what is doable and continue to take baby steps in the right direction. With the Inclusive Schools Grant, it makes some of these steps a little more doable, allowing us to grow more quickly. We are so excited to be working with SET-BC on this, to share our experiences, and to see and hear about all the amazing things that are happening elsewhere!