Well it’s safe to say that we are working and learning in unprecedented times! Teaching amidst a global pandemic is not something any of us here at RLA could have even imagined. Yet the struggles and uncertainty of the past 10 months, although incredibly challenging, have served to highlight the reasons we started on this journey in the first place.
In the spring, after our worlds were turned upside down, our staff jumped into high gear with our primary goal being “How can we maintain strong connections to students and families when we can’t SEE students and families?” Some of our core values as a school are leading with compassion and meeting kids (and families) where they are at. After lots of brainstorming and discussion, it really just came back to those 2 things. We knew if we were going to make it through this and support our families in the best way we were able to, we would have to be compassionate and understanding of families personal circumstances first, then make plans from there. Our staff was truly incredible. I really can’t emphasize that enough. Something we have worked on over the years was to make sure that students felt like they have multiple adults in their corner. If they were stuck on something, or having a tough day, they know who their people are and know where to find them. So why would that change during COVID? Outside of classroom teachers, non-enrolling and support staff enthusiastically maintained connections with students and families they had built relationships with before we were remote learning. The result being that families knew that the whole RLA team was in their corner, willing to help however we could.
Now fast forward to September. Were we ever excited to have our kids back at school! But of course, this brought its own set of challenges (What about lunch? What about recess? How do we dismiss? What about the bus? What can we do in the gym?….). Like always, we banded together, figured it out, and life went on. As we moved through the fall, our collective mind began to think about some of our “highlight” learning activities that we do every year. The first of which is Maker Day, which we normally do in December every year. On Maker day, students create either a needle felting or a string art project. It is a full day of hands-on learning that allows all students to be successful. Due to the highly hands-on nature of these projects, we really had to think about and plan if / how we could run a Maker Day this year while meeting all the guidelines of our Health and Safety protocols. We knew as a staff that we wanted to make it happen if it was possible. Finding opportunities to ensure all students can shine is extremely important to us, and Maker Day is one of them. So, like everything else we do around here, we talked, we brainstormed, we tweaked, and we made it happen! Maker Days were a huge success! Kids were excited and worked very hard to produce truly amazing projects! It was a day filled with perseverance, grit, lots of smiles, and creativity. When we debriefed later at a staff, the consensus was that we were so happy we were able to make it happen for our students, and that just for a moment, everything kind of felt “normal” again. This was a huge win for us, and we are very proud of how the day turned out.
Moving forward, our typical next learning opportunity is our Annual Symposium of Learning. This event poses a lot more challenges to get off the ground than Maker Day did. However, the fact that we got our Maker Day up and running reminded us how important it is to provide engaging and experiential learning opportunities to students, especially when we are talking about inclusion. So, we aren’t quite sure how at this exact moment. But the hive mind at RLA is hard at work and determined to figure out how amidst COVID guidelines we can make this happen for our students this year.
Our second big success this year came just a few weeks ago, right after the Christmas break. Over the course of 2 days, our entire staff was able to be released to receive some training around how to support Executive Functioning in students. Last year, a few of our staff were able to attend a workshop with Sarah Ward, which was really the catalyst to our exploration of different executive functioning strategies. From that workshop came the Get Ready, Do, Done strategy, and every classroom in the school was equipped with a board, and supplies to help support the implementation of this particular strategy. Our training at the beginning of this month was a really beautiful opportunity for our staff to come together and learn together, which is something we have not been able to do very much of this year. On the first day, we learned about what executive functioning is, then dove into some specific strategies that help to support executive functioning, with a particular focus on Get Ready, Do, Done. We were able to have a rich discussion about how we can apply one or some or parts of these strategies in our school, and people had the opportunity to reflect on their own particular job and how these strategies could fit in. In addition to staff members experience, we used the following resource from SET-BC: www.setbc.org/2018/09/technology-to-support-executive-functioning-2018
On the second day people had the opportunity to apply what they learned to create a tool that they could use in their day-to-day work that would help support the executive functioning of one or more students. It was really cool to see how people really ran with this and were able to create something that was going to be functional for them. Some people thought on a broad scale and created something that they could use in multiple situations, while others focused on a particular student or moment in their day and created a tool to support them. For example, one of our support staff had been struggling with a particular student and their end of day transition. So during this time, she came up with a plan and made a portable Get Ready, Do, Done board that outlined this students end of day routine! We really loved seeing how people were so excited to adapt these strategies and find purposeful ways to implement them, and now our staff all has a common language to help support executive functioning across the school!
When those 2 days were over, and we were reflecting back on them, the thing that really stood out to us was how excited and invested everyone was to work together and figure out how to implement the strategies we talked about. Over the years, RLA has wired very hard to foster a culture of collaboration amongst ALL staff in the building. We are a team, and the team supports each other and works through problems together. As like everything else though, the state of the world has really changed how we “do business” around here. We have far less opportunities to work together on different projects and initiatives, because we just can’t do certain things during a global pandemic. But having these days to work together showed us how much we miss our time to collaborate. Like that song says “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” …We are all really looking forward to when we are able have some regular collaboration time again!
Moving forward, we have some exciting things in the works. In a few weeks we will be having our district Pro-D days, which will host some amazing sessions from SET-BC and other presenters. We will also be piloting 2 different iPad apps to support our goals of moving forward with supporting executive functioning. We will have 2 classroom teachers and 1 resource teacher testing out 360 Thinking and Choice Works. In their classes and with their students. They will ten be coming together and working out a framework for rolling out these apps in all classrooms! We are so happy to be working in a place with people who are all so passionate about continuing our inclusion journey and excited to see how the rest of this year unfolds! Stay tuned for more exciting things to come!!!