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Initiatives boost teaching, learning in Hamilton Catholic schools

By Kathy Yanchus • REVIEW STAFF

This year’s Ministry of Education-funded initiatives to support improved teaching and learning in Catholic schools across the region, were outlined at the Religion, Family Life and Instructional Services committee of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board (HWCDSB) last Tuesday (Nov. 20) evening.

“In terms of the elementary projects, in the initiatives this year, there’s been a real focus to make sure we are involving our special education resource teachers, as well as school principals and vice-principals during the co-plan, co-teach sessions, the professional development that happens inside the school,” commented Morris Hucal, assistant superintendent of education. “Through the board improvement plan for student achievement, we are committed to supporting our distinct student groups and we want to ensure there’s learning for all taking place.”

Within the initiatives, 14 schools, including Waterdown’s Guardian Angels, will be involved in the system implementing and monitoring (SIM) project, whereby the board will guide the work of school improvement teams at individual schools to support effective teaching and learning. At these schools, teachers, principals and vice-principals will examine literacy and numeracy strategies within a “co-plan, co-teach professional learning model,”he said.

Two student work study (SWS) teachers will work with teachers in 10 schools, including Guardian Angels, to build and integrate new knowledge and understanding of student learning and classroom instruction, by collecting samples of student work in both reading and math.

A common thread for all initiatives is a focus by participating educators on observing student thinking, engagement and their responses, said Hucal.

“And through collaborative inquiry, teachers are able to build and integrate new knowledge and understanding towards their own learning, that then translates back to classroom structure,” he added.

New this year is a technology inquiry initiative, ensuring support for teachers in the use of new technology, which the HWCDSB has been proactive in introducing, said Hucal.

“We feel that with the investments we’re making, this is a wonderful opportunity for our teachers to learn more about engaging their students through technology.”

At the secondary school level, the focus is on applied English and applied mathematics this year, and looking at increasing the achievements of students in those programs, said assistant superintendent of education Sandie Pizzuti.

“We remain very committed to ongoing professional learning in our system,” she said.

Under the heading of Building Capacity for Differentiated Instruction, projects will be focused on effective instructional and assessment strategies for English language learners and students with special education needs, and under the gap tutor program, tutors will work in secondary schools to support student learning in the areas of applied English and math.

The SWS initiative, and the Collaborative Inquiry for Learning Mathematics (CIL-M) initiatives, in particular, are showing tangible results, said Hucal.

“(CIL-M) teachers are appreciating the fact they have an opportunity to go deeper into  the big ideas of mathematics and having that opportunity to co-plan and co-teach with fellow colleagues, and to have an understanding of the students’ thinking, is not only helping students, but helping their own capacity as educators,” said Hucal.

Hucal said he attributes this change to gains in both primary and junior EQAO mathematics results. These results are also being reflected in report cards of participating schools, he added.

“We’re trying to share these projects and these initiatives in as many schools as we can. With 50 schools, we’re getting there, it takes time. What’s happening, as some teachers move to other schools or change divisions, because they’ve been involved in these projects, it’s a lateral build within the system, which is helping out,” said Hucal.

School improvement plans, an initiative where teams discuss and review annual strategies, have been effective because teachers are developing their own inquiry questions.  said Hucal.

“So they really own it and they’re really focused on, ‘Lets figure out what it is that’s not working here, what is it we can change, and lets observe and monitor it.’ We’re really getting a lot of great feedback initially, and they’re really liking the fact that the school improvement teams are taking the time to development these improvement plans and we’re working alongside them.”

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