Sea to Sky teachers embrace new learning model 

Launch of summer symposiums offer project-based professional development opportunities

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Students in the Sea to Sky corridor may be eagerly anticipating (or dreading) next week's back to school routine, but for many of their teachers, this last week of summer holidays represented a launch back into study for their professional development.

The debut of the district-sponsored summer symposiums represented an opportunity for teachers to assemble in learning teams to tackle specific projects, explained Lisa McCullough, School District 48 superintendent.

"So often in the public education world our professional learning takes place in one-day snapshots," she said, "so this really provides that learning over time and a learning-together model that teachers have been long saying that they would like to see more of for advancing their learning for instruction in the classroom. So we've tried to go after that, to listen to what the teachers have to say and build something that begins to support that model."

Held at Whistler Secondary from Tuesday to Thursday (Aug. 28 to 30), the three days of professional development attracted 105 participants, which McCullough remarked is a substantial number for a small school district and reflects the commitment and dedication these teachers have to teaching and learning in the classroom.

In the upcoming year, approximately 41 per cent of teachers in the school district will be engaged in this learning model.

She added that the extended time period of the symposium offers the opportunity for learning teams to register, where colleagues can collaborate and work together on projects. Following the symposium, two job-embedded sessions will be held throughout the school year.

In addition to the Project-based Learning symposium, approximately 50 teachers and early learning facilitators participated in a one-day Early Learning symposium on Tuesday (Aug. 28).

Kelly Kislasko, Grade 1-2 teacher from Stawamus Elementary says that for her, the opportunity to work with presenter Colleen Politano is "a perfect note to begin the school year with."

Kislasko says she has seen Politano speak in the past and noted that she has shared many useful strategies for getting children into a focused and "ready-to-learn" state.

In addition to these professional learning opportunities, teachers in the corridor will also benefit from the Learning Improvement Fund (LIF), should the need arise for more support in their classrooms.

The district received $482,224 through the B.C. Ministry of Education's LIF and $83,453 through the B.C. Education Plan Fund.

The LIF money is part of $60 million being provided province-wide, up from $30 million. The increase is due to province-wide operational savings of $37 million resulting from the three-day teachers' strike in March.

"What it ends up meaning in the school district," explained McCullough, "is that the district will be reviewing each and every classroom for complexity issues — issues that would make us want to consider adding additional support."

The criteria will be the number of students assigned to the teacher, the learning needs of the students in that particular classroom, among other things.

These funds will go towards installing more resources, education assistants, additional teaching staff, and professional learning opportunities.

"It encourages the schools to look after their own business and provide safe and caring environments for all students ... but it's being acknowledged that where it is additionally complex, we now have a fund to address that," said McCullough.

At the end of June members of the BC Teachers' Federation voted to ratify an agreement-in-committee with the B.C. government's bargaining agent, the BC Public School Employers' Association (BCPSEA) following months of limited job action by educators. Only 75 per cent of teachers voted and only 52 per cent of those voted for the agreement. It is only good for about ten months before both sides need to return to the bargaining table.

Earlier this month the BC Court of Appeal ruled that teachers no longer have to prove that their classes are too large and compromise learning. Instead the BCPSEA must show the class size is reasonable.

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