Final Thank-you
Tue Apr 25 00:00:00 NDT 2017

Allow me this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to everyone I have had the privilege to work with these past years.

When the new provincial board was created in 2013 there was a massive amount of work over many months to establish routine processes needed for basic operations of schools. District office staff throughout the province stepped up and worked in a continually-changing environment to find out what would work, while continuing to respond to identified issues. School staff - administrators, teachers and support staff -  continued to provide support for our students while the growing pains of a new District worked themselves out. While we are still looking at ways to improve our operations, the early months and years of the new District did pose additional challenges. I want to thank everyone for the extra effort that was applied then, and continues to this day.

I have had a privileged vantage point to hear about, and visit, many of our schools. The strong focus on students and on helping the young learners who need us most, dominates the culture in our schools. Our continuous focus on core literacy and core numeracy has served us well and will continue to anchor our efforts in the future. Our growth in understanding our LGBTQ students has transformed many schools, and will continue to do so in the years to come. The absolute and defining line is: all of our students need support to become the best form of themselves. Celebrating and embracing our differences must be the standard to which we measure ourselves. Ultimately, we are all striving to the best version of ourselves.

A number of young student leaders are taking on this challenge and have been a powerful voice for a number of social issues. They have lead initiatives, supported by teachers, on a number of topics and have been influential in advancing what it means to be inclusive. Their work on mental health education has certainly complemented our training on Mental Health First Aid for administrators and Go-To training for guidance counsellors, which will extend to all teachers over the next couple of years. All this work, and so much more, has taken place because staff in District offices and in schools are relentlessly determined to advance support for students and genuinely care about their happiness and well-being.

Finally, on this past Saturday, four educators (three teachers and their principal) presented to the Board of Trustees their efforts to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) experiences and projects to their students. Besides their amazing projects (which included my passion around computer coding) there were a long list of take aways for everyone present. The teachers, supported by their principal, collaborated on a vision for changing things in their classroom; made it happen, and are continuing to change things up. They are a solid representation of the many educators in our schools who see a need for change; develop a plan, and make it happen.

I would like to personally thank everyone for their continued efforts to improve education in this province. It has been a humbling experience being part of the District. I have so much to be thankful for, and as I embark on a new role in the education system, I look forward to continuing to play a supportive role for our teachers. As always, we work together to build a system where students dream big and have the hope and confidence to create a positive future for themselves and for the province.

Darrin

PREVIOUS THREE ENTRIES
World Autism Awareness Day
Fri Mar 31 00:00:00 NDT 2017

Sunday, April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day and I am pleased that many of our schools are joining with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to celebrate this important awareness and support event on Monday, April 3.

Schools, community organizations, and businesses throughout Canada will be recognizing the day to raise awareness and help local autism societies in their important efforts to support individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their families, and caregivers. Our District has a collaborative relationship with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and we support their efforts to further raise awareness of the important work they do throughout our province. From transition programs, advocacy, employment, education, and awareness, their efforts are helping to make a difference in the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Throughout the country we are asked to show our support for the theme of this year, Inside Out for Autism, and wear our shirts inside out.

Throughout the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District we are providing support for many students with autism spectrum disorder and tremendous work is being accomplished by our teachers, administrators, autism itinerants, and student support services staff. Working with an exceptional partner such as the Autism Society NL has helped to enhance our work and I know our future collaboration will lead to further advancement in how we work with students with ASD. We are also committed to continuing to work with parents and guardians of students with ASD in helping to meet the needs of students and ensuring appropriate awareness is in place for all schools. Through such collaboration, we can ensure all students feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment and can achieve to the best of their ability.

I encourage everyone to visit the Autism Canada Inside Out for Autism webpage (http://www.insideoutforautism.ca/) to participate in World Autism Awareness Day. Share your World Autism Awareness Day activities on social media using #InsideOut4Autism. Further information about ASD and the work of the Autism Society NL can be found on their website (https://www.autism.nf.net/).

Let us all work together to continue the awareness and support available and improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder throughout our country.

Until next time!

Darrin

Technology: Power in the Palm of Our Hands
Fri Mar 10 00:00:00 NST 2017

There is no denying the significant role technology plays in our lives and the pervasiveness of computers, smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets - just to name a few -  in our society. They impact everything we do and have infiltrated all aspects of our society. Every day the vast majority of us hold in the palm of our hand technology that once filled rooms and laboratories, though those early generations of computers could not accomplish near as much our phones can; something we often take for granted today. The advances we have made are simply astounding and in many ways somewhat incomprehensible to those of us without strong computer backgrounds.

Yet, here we are with technology in our pocket that can remotely operate our house lighting, set our home PVR while we are at work, and research the nearest restaurant to grab a burger while we are on vacation. And sometimes, students and staff can access that technology in their classroom. Doing so for educational purposes is an overall positive experience, providing immeasurable access to information and resources, as well as providing the opportunity for students to explore, learn, and grow.

We do recognize there can be adverse impacts of technology within the school setting. Constant access can be distracting for everyone. It can cause behavioural and academic issues, both at school and at home. As educators we are cognizant of this and feel we have a role to play in helping students learn appropriate behaviour. In this light we have a number of protocols and agreements with students to help them learn appropriate uses. Everyone in our school communities must remember that the use of technology, particularly cell phones, is a privilege and inappropriate use of technology will lead to a loss of that privilege and potentially further disciplinary action, depending upon the activity.

Key aspects of our approach include the Internet and Social Media Safety program and associated lessons we are providing to our Grades 1 to 12 students. Combined with the Acceptable Use of Technology policy and its Terms of Use agreement and the Social Media Use policy and associated guidelines for students and staff, there is a lot of important work ongoing and behavioural expectations in place. Key to this is our administrators and teachers working with students to set parameters in behavioural matrices, as well as modeling proper behaviour. The approach may somewhat vary but that is not necessarily negative, nor reflective of a lack of fundamental expectations. It is a recognition that each school must operate as they feel appropriate for their school and in accordance with the input and expectations of their school community.

For the most part, inappropriate use of cellphones and other technology is an intermediate and high school issue. While the use of such technology is not pervasive at the K-6 level, we do also feel the same parameters should be in place for our youngest students and that technology use should be focused on educational purposes. And, when it comes to personal technology that is solely focused on gaming, those devices are best left for personal social time outside of school hours.

There is no easy solution as to how we best address this ever-changing issue. Technology races forward and I think we are best served by ensuring our students have access to, and knowledge of this area, with the application of technology in school focused on academics. An article recently published in the Ottawa Citizen indicates that strict bans tend not to work while education and parametres seem to be the best approaches. That is where we should be, especially at the 7-12 level.

Like most issues, appropriate use of technology is not just a school issue and should be discussed at home, as well as other social and learning settings. The more we talk, model appropriate behaviour, and teach positive approaches, the better prepared our students will be to focus their energy and use technology to their advantage - in their current academic pursuits and in their future endeavours.

Please take some time to review the material below and become more familiar with this important issue, including the measures we are taking as a school district to work with our students.

The strongest piece of advice I can give to everyone - students, parents/guardians, teachers and staff - is to put your devices away as often as possible and go for a walk, run, or other pastime of interest to you. Engage in an activity that physically or socially connects you with the real world. For parents and guardians, be realistic in your conversations with your children and ensure they use their devices in a positive manner.

Until next time!

Darrin


Acceptable Use of Technology policy and Acceptable Use of Technology Agreement for Students and Parents/Guardians:

Social Media Use policy, Social Media Terms and Conditions for Student Use and Social Media Terms and Conditions for Staff Use:

District resource page for parents/guardians and students:

Staff Social Media Awareness Video Developed with the NLTA:

Ottawa Citizen Article:

Violence Prevention Month and Anti-Bullying
Wed Feb 08 00:00:00 NST 2017

February is Violence Prevention Month and in our schools we take time to acknowledge our efforts to curb violence.  Recent commentary has highlighted the concerns of some parents and guardians with what they perceive to be a lack of attention to this matter and some common concerns have emerged, including parental requests for clear guidelines and appropriate responses and consequences. While there are defined processes in place - including responsibilities outlined in the Safe and Caring Schools policy and the Bullying Intervention Protocol, which all schools must follow - each specific scenario is unique and must be considered in that light. As educators, that is our role and it must be taken extremely seriously for the well-being of every student.

Schools and teachers today find the need to promote interpersonal skills development within, and among, our student community. There is a tremendous dialogue and debate across our country on how the digital society affects our children. The prevalence of technology and social media, even for our youngest learners, has increased the need to teach appropriate communication and social skills.

We have also identified the need to build resilience in our students, the ability to struggle but push through, to fail but to keep trying, to build a growth-mindset. We know that most things in life are achieved through hard work, dedication and focus. Relationships are no different. My generation, maybe unknowingly, learned dispute resolutions through unstructured play on our neighbourhood streets and playgrounds. Today, the heavily structured lives of many of our children mean that the development of these skills have not naturally evolved as a part of the growing process.

What does all this mean for our schools? It means we will continue to maintain a focus on promoting and developing positive behaviours. Furthermore, schools will engage students in discussions through programs and activities such as Morning Conversation Circles, Roots of Empathy, and other character development opportunities. We will continue to focus on the importance of relationships and further expand well-researched approaches, such as restorative justice. The men and women who work in our schools are always seeking to improve the safe and caring environment and respond effectively when a student does not feel safe.  We are committed to improving our response when working with children.

For parents and guardians, we ask that you continue to work with your school, respecting that everyone has your child’s best interest in mind, even when we may disagree. The hard work of establishing relationships is a process for all of us. We urge you to continue to work with your children to build resilience, promote positive behaviours, teach appropriate use of social media, and encourage positive relationships. Our schools are constantly working on these concepts, however, all of us need to reinforce these messages, both in the classroom and at home.

We need to work together to build a school community of confident and hopeful students. Let’s find ways to foster stronger and more positive relationships, thereby reducing instances of bullying and building confidence in our students.

Until next time.

Darrin

Darrin Pike
CEO/Director of Education

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St. John's, NL · Canada · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706

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