Nor’wester View Public School, located in a beautiful, isolated rural setting, has a homogeneous student population. Teachers make use of EQAO resources and sample questions as a way to present diversity and urban concepts to their students. The school’s population is declining slightly, and most students are bused or driven to school.
The staff members at Nor’wester View use the EQAO assessment results as a celebration of their success. They also use the cohort tracking data to look at trends and areas they may need to focus on in the school improvement plan. The primary and junior teachers review the Nor’wester View data, and intermediate-division teachers also check the results from the OSSLT and Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics to inform their planning. As Principal Erin Aylward notes: “The data that we receive from EQAO is always the starting point of our school year, when we look at areas for celebration and improvement. We start with diagnostics and observation and add data from interest and school climate surveys.”
Nor’wester View teachers use observation and survey information to get to know each child. Some teachers design their own surveys using the questionnaires from EQAO assessments. Teachers set their smart goals in September, but these goals are fluid. They revisit them once they have collected their diagnostic data and received the Item Information Report from EQAO. “We know our students well, and we adjust our instruction to meet their individual needs. We use the Assessment and Evaluation cycle of learning goals, success criteria and feedback,” says Principal Aylward.
“Our intermediate teachers are part of a math professional learning community with the secondary school teachers engaged in preparing students for the Grade 9 mathematics assessments from EQAO. We are now expanding the PLC to include literacy.”
—Erin Aylward, Principal
The staff agrees that the key to Nor’wester View’s success is the leadership of Principal Aylward. She recognizes and praises the individual strengths of her teachers. She provides an open climate that promotes sharing and collaboration. She encourages the staff to “take the walls down” and observe each other. With her staff feeling safe, Principal Aylward challenged them to look critically at their own practices and have the professional conversations necessary to improve their effectiveness at moving children along the continuum. As a result, the staff members feel free to help each other grow, and they work extremely well as a team.
This excellent strength-based leadership model has been put into practice in the classrooms. Lists of strengths go up in all classrooms in September. Once teachers establish learning goals, the students are given the rationale behind them and create the success criteria with the teacher. Just like the teachers, the students work in a climate where they feel safe, comfortable and able to take risks. Positive relationships and character education programs are key elements of student success.
Many of the teachers at Nor’wester View have additional qualifications in mathematics. They have also been deeply involved in the board’s Assessment and Evaluation Project in literacy. As well, they take part in distributive leadership forums to share best practices. The teachers work collaboratively, and they are invited to observe each other’s lessons. Following the same model as the teachers, the children also work in groups and use peer evaluation to learn.
Nor’wester View teachers take leadership roles in EQAO- focused workshops. The Grades 3 and 6 teachers attend and then share their insights with the rest of the staff. Recently they explored Understanding Levels of Achievement: Using EQAO Information to Improve Student Learning (Primary and Junior Divisions) and have found it a useful resource. The teachers are collaborative and comfortable sharing effective strategies.
Growing out of a cross-panel transition program, frequent communication between the intermediate teachers at Nor’wester View and Grades 9 and 10 teachers at their local secondary school ensure students are prepared for EQAO’s mathematics and literacy assessments. They meet four times a year to review the EQAO results together. Teachers bring sample answers back to use in lessons that have been introduced to support student needs. Principal Aylward tells us: “Our intermediate teachers are part of a math professional learning community with the secondary school teachers engaged in preparing students for the Grade 9 mathematics assessments from EQAO. We are now expanding the PLC to include literacy.”
Communication with parents is open and ongoing. According to parents Tony DaSilva and Nancy Pohjoisrinne, parents are engaged in their children’s education, and they contribute to their children’s success by sending them to school well-rested, on time and ready to learn. Parents feel comfortable volunteering in the classrooms, where they see what and how their children are learning. Nor’wester View has an active school council and parents are real partners in education; they are involved and supportive of their children and of the school.
This strength-based school has a positive and caring climate that encourages risk taking and learning from students and staff alike. The teachers know their students well and use specific learning goals and success criteria to move students forward, even planning beyond Nor’wester View to support student success in the secondary system. It is clear that everyone’s enjoyment of learning at Nor’wester View makes for ideal conditions for improved student outcomes and achievement.
“The data that we receive from EQAO is always the starting point of our school year, when we look at areas for celebration and improvement.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient