Final div-wide PD day showcases power of collaboration

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One of the most creative presentations featured a song about literacy resources.

About 400 teachers from across Palliser Regional Schools and administrative assistants from every school attended a day of professional development Monday, April 20 in Vulcan. For teachers, this was the last of four division-wide collaboration days, when they work in small professional learning groups of their choice united by subject matter, topic or grade. For school administrative assistants it was the second of two collaboration days.

The day was an opportunity for staff to get their first look at the division’s new Human Resources/Payroll/Finance software which will give all Palliser staff an online way of accessing pay statements, vacation and sick time records and requesting leaves.

The new software was the key focus of the administrative assistants’ day together, and they were shown how to update work schedules, request time off and manage requests for substitute teachers or other casual staff. They also worked through the finance side of the software for real-time budget reports.

While administrative assistants spent the day working in the County Central High School computer lab, teachers spent the morning scattered throughout the building working in their small learning groups before uniting in the school’s gym for an afternoon of sharing their work.

Each of more than 40 groups presented to the full group of Palliser teachers, sharing apps, books, unit plans and other resources their group studied, used or created. Each of the groups had an assessment or literacy focus, aligning their work with overall division and school goals.

High school art teachers, for example, worked on ways to encourage students to explore how art and text go together, creating an art module on visual journals. Janelle Reitsma, a Calgary Christian Secondary teacher, presenting on behalf of her group, said the work promotes deeper thinking in the writing process. Students were asked to create a visual of their dreams and put text to their visuals.

Tanya Conrad, a music teacher from Picture Butte High School, and Anna VanderHeide, from Noble Central School, said their group used their collaboration time to plan a learning and collaborative opportunity for students from across Palliser, similar to the Palliser Band Day which brought together junior and senior high bands from across the division. On May 21, the music group intends to bring together more than 200 students from across Palliser for a Choral Day.

Several groups explored collaboration using Google Apps for Education, and the fruits of their labour are available to all teachers on Palliser’s Google sharing platform. In fact, one group devoted it’s time to creating a space where Palliser teachers can share “perfectly imperfect work.” Henry Schellenberg, a teacher at Trinity Christian School in Calgary, unveiled a Palliser Teacher Resource Wiki, a place for teachers to share ideas, no matter what level of development. Teachers could make a copy of a resource started by another teacher, add to it and then re-share with others.

Superintendent Kevin Gietz wrapped up the day by commending teachers for their commitment to supporting student literacy at all grades and all subjects. He unveiled a new goal for next year, promising that the division would ensure 95 per cent of all students entering kindergarten this fall would be reading at or above grade level expectation by the time they reach Grade 3.

He reiterated his gratitude to teachers in an email later in the week, stating, “Thank you so much for all that you do to promote literacy in your classrooms. Monday's Collaboration Day was a real celebration of all the great things that are happening and our students are benefit from all your hard work.”

Palliser commits four days a year to division-wide collaboration. To reduce travel time, the division experimented with having teachers meet at their choice of three locations in Calgary, Coaldale and Vulcan for one of the four days this year. From the three sites, the teachers then “met” with colleagues from across the division using Google Hangouts, holding meetings by videoconference.