Abby Sweeney - Calgary 2017 travel blog

- May 17, 2017 –

Robert Thirsk High School.

Robert Thirsk High School is named after the astronaut, Robert Thirsk. Much like Nelson Mandela, RTHS is a part of the re-design model for high schools. I personally liked RTHS the most, but I also think it is because we were there for two whole days, and we were immersed into the classrooms. RTHS is separated into Orange, Red, and Blue communities, and within each community, there is a 10, 11, 12 grade group. All oranges are on one floor, all reds are one floor, and all blues are on one floor. There is a learning leader for each grade community that serves as a “mini” principal to those students.

At first, I was extremely overwhelmed by all of the information I was given by the school. We sat in a room where the assistant principals (associate principals there) gave a lot of information to how the school works, why the school works, and what the school does to make it so successful.

Here are some brief notes that I took on the first day that I will go into more detail in this blog and in the next post:

1. Promotes self-advocacy

2. Focus (Monday – Thursday)

3. Connect (Friday)

4. Grade 10’s are more restricted in what they can do

5. Grade 11-12’s gain more freedom

6. Removal of CEU’s

7. Teachers refer to themselves as “sharers of information”

8. Timetables = schedules

9. Administrators refer to teachers as colleagues

RTHS promotes self-advocacy for students. It is important that the students know what to do when they need help, feel lost, or missed a lot of assignments. It is the school’s goal that by the time the student reaches the University level, he or she will have a better understanding of what is going on and how to approach their teachers when they are struggling with material. Another big aspect that I took away from this type of model is that students are in control of their learning. The student understands his or her own weaknesses and doesn’t need a teacher to limit his or her learning.

RTHS has incorporated into their “timetable” a 50-minute period Monday – Thursday called FOCUS. Focus is a time in which students are to report to teachers in classes that they are struggling with or missed assignments. They do not have to spend all 50 minutes in one room and can visit however many teachers they need to in order to get the help they need. So for students who miss two days from a stomach virus, it helps them to get caught up in those 50 minutes rather than coming in early or staying after school. On Friday’s, the timetable is slightly different, with a 45-minute period called CONNECT. Connect is a designated room that all students go to. However, Connect does not start until after September 30th. Connect is the place where students and teachers connect with one another. With about 20 students in each connect class, the teachers are pouring into the lives of their students while teaching them valuable life skills. The Connect teacher is chosen partially by the student. After the month of September, students get to pick their top few teachers that they have really connected with, and if assigned to that particular teacher’s room, the student will spend 45 minutes each week outside of their regular classroom time to speak about their daily lives, struggles, and issues at school. The hope is that the teacher the student is assigned to in Grade 10 will rotate up and become the student’s Grade 11 and Grade 12 Connect teacher. And the Connect teacher is the one who calls the students’ names at graduation. I personally like the idea of Connect, because the student feels safe in their environment and makes a connection with an adult that he or she can trust and go to in times of trouble. It is also the Connect teacher’s responsibility to serve as liaison between other teachers. If the student is absent for several days or is really struggling in a class, the Connect teacher will email/notify the other teachers the student has.

At Robert Thirsk, the grading system is a lot different than how I grew up learning a grading system to be. I cannot fully explain it because I do not fully understand it; however, the grading system is based on a spectrum. The categories are not meeting, basic, adequate, competent, skilled, and exemplary, and it is really difficult to get an exemplary. Many students fall into the adequate zone (which is a 65% in America). There will be more to this on my next blog that includes a rubric for an English class project!

One thing that I personally like about the entire Canadian education system is that teachers and principals all refer to one another has their colleagues. From previous experience, I have seen that some principals are higher and mightier than “their” teachers. In the schools, particularly RTHS, I noticed several times where the principal heavily relied and supported his teachers, and the teachers did not feel as though they could not approach the principal. Another thing that I liked was that all teachers shared information with one another, and they wanted to share it with us too! Teaching is collaboration, and while I have found many resources online, it’s sometimes difficult to get resources, worksheets, tests, rubrics, etc. from other teachers or pre-service teachers that I know. Many teachers that I know are in the “This is my classroom, I’m not leaving this classroom, I am going to do things my way,” type mindset. At RTHS you do not see many classroom decorations or teachers’ names on the door. It’s because this school is fluid, and the teachers, staff, and students are all required to be fluid and flexible in terms of location and learning. While teachers may share classrooms in Mississippi because of lack of space, teachers at RTHS share classrooms as a means to educate, and teachers relocate because of student needs and other factors.

(Side note: RTHS has nifty classroom walls that lift and two classrooms become one if teachers need to really reevaluate a lesson and drive it home to struggling students, or if the entire Grade 10 Orange is working on an inter-disciplinary project they can lift the walls and work together.)

There is so much that I want to share that each time I finish a sentence, something that I remember pops into my head. For example, students are not required to stay on campus for lunch. They can walk to a gas station or fast food place for lunch, and guess what! THE STUDENTS COME BACK WHEN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO. The school is designed so that students have access to the common areas with computers and to the breakout rooms to have one-on-one help or complete things such as group assignments.

It will seem a little chaotic to you at first, but once I started realizing that the teachers knew all of the students’ names, knew what they struggled in, and knew what they liked, it was easier for me to see how well the high school really works.

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