Educators fine-tuning their skills


South Slave Divisional Education Council Assistant Superintendent Brent Kaulback, standing on the left, speaks to principals and literacy coaches during a meeting.
Myles Dolphin/NNSL photo

Fourteen school principals and literacy coaches from the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) recently met at Princess Alexandra School to sharpen their skills and share knowledge with each other. The theme for the bi-annual meeting was ‘Beliefs to Practice’, a strategy aimed at ensuring all students have learned what they’ve been taught in the classroom.

SSDEC superintendent Curtis Brown said it’s important for teachers to adopt a responsible approach to their craft.

We want our teachers to have the mindset that all students can learn, and it’s our responsibility to make sure they’ve learned the material,” he said.

Brown added many SSDEC teachers naturally teach this way, and the board wants to keep making sure they are on the right track.

We have gone through a number of activities to help us understand that this mind frame might be different from the past, where some teachers believed their responsibilities had ended after the material was taught, regardless of whether the students understood or not,” he said.

According to Brown, research-based strategies in the past 10 to 15 years have coalesced and have identified strategies that really make a difference in the classroom. One of those is called guided instruction, which involves using various techniques such as group and partner work to make sure every student is fully engaged.

When you don’t give students opportunities to opt out – which could happen if you teach them as a whole – they are less likely to disconnect,” Brown said.

Literacy coaches such as Dorie Hanson, who works at both Harry Camsell School and Princess Alexandra School, work side by side with teachers to help them implement new research-based strategies that typically weren’t taught at the university level 20 years ago.

Hanson, who is one of two literacy coaches in Hay River, said she finds the training valuable because it brings in ideas from all over the region into one room.

We see what’s working in one school, and we can share those ideas and borrow the contexts,” she said.

Meetings between the region’s literacy coaches take place more often throughout the year, and Hanson said they’re often introduced to new pedagogy.

They were recently able to discuss a new Kindergarten pilot program with Susan Hopkins, the early childhood and Kindergarten co-ordinator from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE).

We were very fortunate to have it piloted by a local Kindergarten teacher last year at Harry Camsell,” Hanson said. “So we had an edge in understanding the new program and implementing it, and sharing our concerns with ECE.”

Brown said having literacy coaches onsite provides a wealth of advantages previously not available to teachers.

It used to be we’d go to an in-service for a day or two and hope they’d remembered enough of the information,” he said. “When they struggled, they’d typically revert back to their old methods. Now, with coaches in place, a debrief happens when something fails to work and there is a person there to discuss other strategies with you.” 

— Myles Dolphin