A Learning Vacation

The last six weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, but also provided an opportunity to reconnect with family, friends and colleagues.

The Canadian School Boards Association (CSBA) Congress 2011 was hosted by the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association in Ottawa from July 7 – 9th. This was very convenient for me: I get back there to visit my sister –  who resides in a long term care centre and is the bravest person I know –  every summer.  She has given me permission to write about her – but that’s for a dedicated post at a later time. Coincidentally, my goddaughter was in town as well. She provided room in her student digs for me, which meant I could extend my visit a bit. And I was able to take a delightful daily walk to and from the conference. The picture above is the view en route.

The theme of the Congress,”Public Education – The Spirit of a Nation“, reflects for me the vital importance of public education to a strong, inclusive democracy. It must not be taken for granted, but continuously nurtured and strengthened. The agenda was generally relevant and useful. You can get a good sense of the content by visiting the newly revamped CSBA website, where many of the presenters posted the material from their sessions. Meeting colleagues from across Canada also gave me a new perspective on school board governance and where Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) fits into the spectrum. It was good to discover we are at the leading edge; it was humbling to realize how far we have to go.

Sir Ken Robinson, an advocate for transforming education and a personal hero of mine, gave a down-to-earth, funny and engaging talk. Using a combination of scholarly evidence, humour and passion, he pokes, challenges and prods education policy-makers into examining what we do and to move into action. While mentioning the North American childhood obesity epidemic, he noted offhandedly that the avoirdupois of assembled trustees was not perhaps the healthiest example for the children we serve. Made me set aside that second Danish, I must say. Sir Ken’s 2010 TED talk: Bring on the learning revolution! (18-minute video) is absolutely worth watching; it will also give you a good idea of what he presented to us.

The presentation, The Okicĩyapi Partnership, and the words of another speaker, Dr. Tom Chau, continue to resonate with me. The Partnership creates a strategic alliance between its members in order to promote, strengthen and facilitate First Nations and Métis education. The members of the Okicĩyapi Partnership are Saskatoon Public Schools, Saskatoon Tribal Council First Nations and the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. As the description of the establishment, evolution and ongoing work of this endeavour unfolded, I was moved by the dedication, patience, discipline, sensitivity and resolve of the presenters. Anecdotes they told of their personal experiences and how they found their way by “sharing – in governance, employees, professional development, innovative ideas and instructional practice” were truly inspirational.

Dr. Tom Chau, a biomedical engineer, uses his expertise to help children with physical disabilities communicate to their fullest potential. Dr. Chau’s work will improve access to communication technologies for children with complex disabilities within the Toronto District School Board and around the world. Showing video clips of how the practical application of his skills has transformed the lives of children – some of whom had never before been able to communicate – seemed to me to be a metaphor for all the children that we must reach – and that we must allow to reach us. Named one of 25 Transformational Canadians (The Globe and Mail in partnership with CTV, Cyberpresse and Cisco Systems), you can watch a short interview with Dr. Tom Chau here.

The Child & Youth Mental Health Panel was also outstanding. In CRPS, our Right from the Start (RFTS) project,  part of Alberta Health Services (AHS) Mental Capacity Building in Schools Initiative, focuses on the issues highlighted in this session. Phase One (2008 – 2011) of RFTS has now ended. “In continued support of the excellent collaborative work you undertake each day” (AHS Memorandum), some funding was granted for 2011 – 2014.  Sound mental health is a priority for the children in our schools. This vision of wraparound services for kids and families in our community will take a lot of patience, heart and hard work to achieve but there seems to be a common will to realize this dream. I believe and hope that, as statistical and anecdotal evidence mount,  the initiative will become the capacity and be at the root of our practice.

From Ottawa I traveled to Amherst Island and then Toronto… but that will have to be another post…

About Esmé Comfort

My husband Jim and I moved to the Bow Valley in 1980, settling in Canmore in 1983. Both my children were born in Canmore and attended K -12 in Canadian Rockies Public Schools District (CRPS), French Immersion. For the past six years I served as vice-chair of the board. Alberta Government support to the CRPS Inspiring Hearts & Minds initiative created opportunities for provincial, national and international outreach. In the past I held positions on the Canmore Daycare Board, the preschool board, and various school councils/PACs; I served as president of the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French for five years and sat on the provincial board for two. I currently sit on the board of the Canmore Folk Music Festival, work full time at an events management firm and edit, copy-edit and proofread on contract. My husband and I ran a small main street business for 18 years: supply and install floor wall and window coverings.
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