Today was a GREAT day! It was so much fun to see so many of our students get into the spirit of Halloween and dress up as a favorite character. Students were treated to a very special lunchroom set up too! Our Lunchroom Ladies set out Halloween Decorations and Table settings at each lunchroom. Spooky-Chic!
After lunch we broke into our #belfasty Houses and spend the afternoon thinking and creating. During our #belfasty days we organize in cross grade groups to learn together or participate in challenges. Today students participated in a S.T.E.A.M. challenge. After doing some research about how spiders spin their webs students were tasked with creating giant spider webs. One group even coated their web with syrup to test whether it could "catch" the insects students also made.
These challenges give students the opportunity to learn from each other, take risks, plan and revamp their plans as they go along. Every #belfasty House approached the challenge slightly differently and the results of an afternoon of hard work were enjoyed by all at the end of the day.
At the end of the day we students paraded through classrooms to show off their costumes AND to see the webs that had been created! It was a great way to tie real learning to our Belfast Traditions!. Throughout the afternoon, music was randomly played encouraging students and staff to drop everything and dance. Interestingly, many groups didn't drop everything and dance. They were too engaged in tackling their challenge!
All in all, a great day, with great students and staff!
Happy Halloween everyone!
And a little shout out to our staff who aren't afraid to show their Emoji's !
We had the best turn out yet for our Reading Coffee talk today. Thank you all of our eager volunteers and parents who are really interested in helping children get better at reading.
For the benefit of parents who would have liked to attend but weren't able, I'm posting more detailed information that was covered in the session today.
We can certainly offer this discussion again if there is interest. Please email me and let me know that you are interested.
For now, here are the notes from our discussion. I'm told that the handout loses something in translation so I am considering videotaping future Coffee Talks. Thanks SR for the suggestion!
Click here for the Reading Coffee Talk Hand Out!
What is useful homework?
This question is one that we revisit often in schools. There are different beliefs about the role of homework and much research has been done on whether or not homework is effective. In a nutshell the amount of homework a child is doing should be reasonable (the 10 minutes per grade rule is common) and it should be used for one of 3 purposes.
One area that is a go-to for reinforcing students skills at home is home reading. There are many ways students can engage with books and online reading and all of them benefit their overall reading proficiency. Here are 3 suggestions:
Just right reading - Children are taught in class to choose books that are interesting to them and an appropriate level. We call these iPick books. If your child has a book that they are reading themselves it is helpful for them to have support as they read. Try some of the following:
Read Alouds: Often we think that read alouds are only for younger children but older children enjoy them too. One of the biggest benefit of reading aloud is that it gives you and your child quality time together. Another benefit is that it provides modeling of reading behaviors that a child can emulate in their own reading. It also helps them to start to experience more complex language, plots, vocabulary and ideas than they would be able to explore on their own. When you are reading to your child consider these suggestions:
Raz Kids - Our fundraising council has generously paid for licences for our students to use this online reading program. This platform offers many leveled texts that your child can choose from, and provides supports with new vocabulary as well. Children can check their comprehension at the end of each reading by taking a quiz. For students who are not quite independent yet there is an option for books to be read to them. This builds their awareness of story and auditory comprehension skills.
This week we are hosting a coffee talk about how to read with your child at home. It is geared to helping parents read with their early readers. Join us Friday at 9 am in the learning commons.
Our first two weeks at Belfast have been wonderful! Teachers welcomed students back on September 5th to our playground surrounded by more than 20 beautiful trees! What a beautiful backdrop for an amazing year!
Additions to our Team
This year we welcome five new staff members - three teachers and two support staff members. Mrs. Medland joins the grade 1/2 team, Mr. Ursenbach joins the grade 3/4 team and Mrs. Austman rounds out the 5/6 team. In addition we welcome back Mrs. Zinken who has returned to the grade 3/4 team after her maternity leave! We also welcome Mrs. James who will be working in our Learning Commons on Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate Fridays, and Mrs. Carter who will be completing our lunchroom supervisors team! Welcome to Belfast! We are so happy to have you with us!
Some of our teachers are in different spaces and on different learning teams. I would like to say an enormous thank you to Mr. Sangster and Ms. Knight who both volunteered to change grade assignments this year. Our teaching culture at Belfast is very special, highly collaborative and interconnected. Both these teachers demonstrate through actions what it is to move from "me" to "we" in putting the needs our our school and our students first! Thank you both for helping to support teachers new to Belfast in your new roles!
Getting to Know You!
The staff refers to first few weeks at Belfast as "cocoon time" during this time, we keep limit the number of interruptions or special events to allow classrooms to settle, to create routines and to allow students and teachers to come to know each other. This year we also included release time for teachers in grade 3 - 6 to interview their students one on one. Some of these interviews are ongoing and will be completed this week. Teacher and student feedback following interviews was incredibly positive.
We are looking forward to a very busy week at Belfast next week. We celebrate the contributions of Terry Fox on Monday with our Terry Fox Assembly and run during the lunch hour! Earlier in the day we will host our first #belfasty Day! Our #befasty Days are exciting times for us to build community through learning that we do together as a school. In past #belfasty Days we have explored creative challenges, engineering challenges (STEAM) and indigenous cultures. On Monday we will community as we form our "family" groups and team identities that will last the year. Students from K-6 are placed in family groups for #belfasty Days. This allows our older students to demonstrate and develop leadership and our younger students to build connection and belonging here at Belfast! For this first #belfasty Day our kindergarten students will not participate as they are still becoming used to their own classroom and the routines coming to school.
Connecting with Parents
On Thursday we will welcome parents during parent teacher conferences on Thursday. This year students from grade 1-6 will come to school for a half day on the Thursday*. Teachers will take a break for lunch then start interviews at 1:30. We have reserved 2 days to meet with parents (Thursday and Friday). The first day is for parent bookings and we encourage parents to book an appointment on this day. The second day (Friday) is reserved for longer parent meetings that are required for students who have Individual Program Plans (IPP's) or other personalized learning plans that have carried over from the year before and need to be revisited.
Over the years a number of fads have come and gone. One such fad is fidget spinners. Fidget spinners are marketed to children and parents as focusing aids. Well intentioned parents are purchasing these objects and sending them to school with their children. Unfortunately, the reality is that fidget spinners are distracting to learning.
Some of our students use tools that allow hands to be quietly in motion thereby helping them to focus their attention. Many different objects can be used for this purpose including small bits of modelling clay, squish balls or other tactile objects. Our teachers are very good at identifying which students could use this kind of strategy and providing options that are successful. The key to remember is that these objects are tools not toys. Our grade 1 and 2 teaches have a good way of distinguishing between a tool and a toy. "A tool is for learning and is intended to keep the eyes and brain open for learning." Indeed I have been present when teachers have reminded students to keep their eyes up even while they manipulate a tool in their hands. A toy on the other hand takes the students attention away from learning. A fidget spinner is not manipulated by the student it is simply watched while it spins. This is the primary reason that we do not recognize fidget spinners as an attention aid. It is our opinion as a staff that fidget spinners are toys not tools.
I am encouraging parents not to send these items to school as they are a distraction to learning and often create behavioral challenges in the classroom and on the playground. Further, the design of these spinners is varied. Some of them light up, others resemble weapons. Fidget spinners should be considered in the same category as other popular fads such as Pogs, Bey Blades, Pokemon Cards etc. They are fun to collect but don’t belong at school. As per our student handbook, teachers may collect these items and hold them for students until the end of the day, but the school is not responsible to ensure that they are not lost or stolen.
At Belfast we are always striving to make learning engaging for students. The essence of Arts Centered Learning is engagement through active participation and creative tasks. As teachers we are learning new techniques and strategies all the time. We are getting better each day at making sure that students are actively engaged in their learning rather than sitting for long periods of time waiting for their turn. That said, If you feel that your child needs an attentional aid at school please do not hesitate to contact your child’s teacher. We would be happy to collaborate with you to set your child up for success.
Appreciation for our teachers...
It is Teacher Appreciation Week and it's a time for us to appreciate the work large and small that teachers do with children in their classroom. Many of us will receive such open appreciation this week. And it's likely to make us feel very good - warm and fuzzy. What I've come to realize is that for me, Teacher Appreciation Week is less about receiving appreciation myself, and more about pausing to reflect about amazing individuals who have touched me deeply and have helped to shape me into the person (and the teacher) that I am now. In truth teachers come in many forms and from many walks of life. Many of the best teachers don't have official certifications. Many of them have never been to a University or even expressed an interest in becoming officially “a teacher”. Yet , the lessons they have taught us are profound. It's not because of our occupation that we are teachers. It's in the act of teaching that teacher help the learner to discover something more about themselves than was apparent before. Teaching, in this sense, is not a noun, it is not a profession, it is not a qualification… it is not an entitlement. Teaching is a verb. Without action, there is no learning, without learning there is no teaching. My most influential teachers have been from many walks of life. Some have been present for long periods of my life and others just a moment. Each came into my life for a purpose - the lesson. The truth is my best teachers changed me.
Over the years I danced in competition but the medals and trophies were never important to Mrs. Shaw. She’d sometimes downplay our individual accomplishments and teach us all the meaning of humility (often sharply). For Mrs. Shaw dancing gave us an opportunity to give back to our community. Many times a year we performed at Senior’s Residences, mental health facilities and community festivals. We learned to be generous with our gifts and to give without receiving anything in return.
I’ve been lucky to have amazing teachers in my life and while I appreciate the sentiment of Teacher Appreciation Week, I ask each of you to consider reaching out and connecting with the people who have been your most important and influential teachers. Teacher Appreciation Week isn’t special in and of itself, arguably it loses its meaning if it is an obligatory or sparks an entitlement in those of us that carry the title of “teacher”. I challenge you to reach out and reflect back the contribution your greatest teachers have made in your life. It’s often said that teachers plant seeds that they may never see bloom. It is truly a generous act to allow someone to see the “flowers” - to see how their actions have had an influence on another’s life. You spend every day as parents and teachers paying it forward to our own children and students, for just one day this week, see if you can’t pay it back.
Excitement has been building through the school all week. It started with the kindergarten, grade one and grade 2's on Tuesday, and continued! Each grade group had a talent show that showcased musical, dramatic, magical and mystical acts from across the school. As an arts centered school we often say it is "not about the art". This week it certainly was. A few years ago we went to a talent show model that allowed for all students to shine. Instead of a traditional audition process, all students were encouraged to show their talents in a grade group talent show. After each grade group show a few performers are asked back to perform one more time for the whole school. This format honors all students and lets them all have their moment to shine!
Performing in front of others from a young age helps students to build communication skills and self-confidence that will stay with them through their lives. I am so proud of each and every student that bravely took the stage this week! It has been very gratifying to watch our students share some of the other parts of their lives through this annual event. In fact, many of our students start thinking and rehearsing their acts early in the year! Regardless of whether they have had formal training or not, they have come to know that they can share their talents openly and with complete abandon. I was especially tickled to see that students who continue to sign up year after year. In their moment, with all eyes on them, they are special, they are important and they are loved! In the days that follow these performances I see students walk a little taller and engage with their peers a little more freely. In some cases, it is the first time that they are really "seen" by their peers and it can be life changing!
Next week we welcome a few acts from across the grades to come together to put on one final showcase for this year. Students who are invited to perform again will be notified in their classrooms. It is hard to decide who to call back to the "Big" talent show but in the end we hope that we have provided an opportunity for all in one way or another. Parents are welcome to attend the final talent show on Thursday April 27th. The show is scheduled to run from 1 - 2 pm but may run a little longer due to some last minute additions. Huge applause go out to our teachers and especially Mr. Symington for his organization of this event!
Our Beautification Project is finally in full swing!
We had bob cats and dump trucks on site today and fencing installed around the work area.
This fencing will be in place throughout the installation of new playground equipment (see previous post).
Parents are asked to pick up students from the front of the building for the next few days while we have large equipment operating. Our installation / excavation crew has been doing a great job of stopping all activity when students are on the playground so that students are safe. Our part in this is to ensure that the crew has enough time to actually complete their scope of work.
The good news is that the protective fencing has left our adventure playground usable!
There will be many projects and and enhancements over then next few months. We are indebted to the Communities in Partnership (CIP grant), Parks Foundation and ConacoPhillips for their financial assistance that made this project possible. Thank you to everyone who has contributed so much time and energy in the past 2 years to get us to this point. Today is the result of several YEARS of hard work and dedication!