As a charter school, we have a special mandate in Alberta to provide specialized learning experiences for students in keeping with our school’s vision, mission and charter as well as to share exemplary teaching practices and innovations with other schools.
Although we have this common mandate, each charter school is unique. Over a period of several months beginning with our staff retreat at the beginning of the school year in August, the Calgary Science School has been reflecting on our mandate and in the spirit of inquiry, we have been exploring the question, ” What does exemplary teaching and learning look like in the Calgary Science School?”
In addressing this question, reference was made to the work that has been done on student assessment through our AISI project; the Galileo longitudinal research study of the Calgary Science School one-on-one laptop program and student engagement initiatives; the expectations for exemplary teaching outlined in the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard and a variety of artefacts including school evaluation reports, survey data and the fundamental framework as a school outlined in our charter. Students and parents along with school staff members were involved in the process of developing descriptors of exemplary teaching and exemplary learning in the Calgary Science School.
In reflecting back, the process itself was very worthwhile. Sixteen descriptors of exemplary teaching and learning emerged and laminated posters with these competencies of exemplary teaching and exemplary learning were unveiled at the February, 2011 staff retreat and at a general assembly of the students. The posters have a prominent place in every classroom and in gathering areas throughout the school and the intent is that they will be referred to on an ongoing basis and will serve as a reminder of the nature of our commitment to exemplary teaching and learning as a charter school community.
The members of the school leadership (administrative) team, are using the descriptors of exemplary teaching as a framework for teacher supervision and evaluation and the recruitment and selection of teaching staff members. Teachers have been encouraged to make reference to the framework in developing their Professional Growth Plans and in soliciting ongoing feedback from their students. A professional growth plan template and a student survey (Survey Monkey and Google Forms versions) have been prepared for this purpose.
The exemplary teaching and learning descriptors will also be used as a focal point in articulating the education plan for the next school year. Students and teachers are invited to Board of Directors meetings to share exemplars of the exemplary teaching and learning dimensions.
As a school community, these descriptors are seen as living documents, which will continue to evolve. During a two-week period in March, as a component of the ongoing school evaluation process, in complement to exemplary teaching and learning professional development work that we are doing at the school, I was involved as superintendent in a process of interviewing all of the school staff members, all of the students (as class groups) and over 40 parents who were at the school for student-led conferences.
The basic format was to seek responses to the questions, “What causes you to believe that the Calgary Science School is a great school and what suggestions for improvement would you have to offer?” The interviews generated a great deal of feedback which was organized through a thematic analysis process on the basis of ” Areas of Commendation “and ” Suggestions for Further Consideration. Interestingly, all of feedback received reinforced the efficacy of our 16 descriptors of exemplary teaching and exemplary learning. As well, through the process a number of strategies for further enhancement were identified.
Based on our experience, we would recommend schools give consideration to becoming engaged in a similar process of describing what exemplary teaching and learning looks like in their school and using it as a framework for further professional development and enhancement.
Dr. Garry McKinnon,
Superintendent, Calgary Science School
Exemplary Teaching Poster
Exemplary Learning Poster