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Blog: Monday, January 13th, 2014

Guest blog: Gemeinshaft

The first blog in the “Fifty Weeks of Innovation” series comes from Cameron Friesen, principal of South Poplar Traditional Elementary School, which enrolls over 250 students, K-5. As you will see below, they have much to celebrate in their “gemeinshaft.”
~ Kevin Godden

We believe that at South Poplar we have built a system to collaborate with each other that provides exceptional instruction for students, groundbreaking work and peer coaching among teachers.

For the past three years, grade group teachers have met on Wednesdays for a half an hour while their students receive either music or technology instruction. Teachers spend the time reviewing student data, planning co-teaching lessons, and discussing teaching strategies. Our school community works from three big ideas that drive our collaboration time together. The first fundamental purpose of our school is to ensure that all students learn at high levels. The second idea is that we cannot achieve this purpose working in isolation within our school but must work collaboratively. Thirdly, we must continually check to see if students are learning the skills and gaining the knowledge that we believe are essential for their success.

The trusting and supportive relationships that have been formed by teacher collaboration has resulted in co-teaching occurring throughout our school. One example of this is our grade 4 teachers who perform parallel teaching each Tuesday morning. The teachers, along with the learning assistance (‘L.A.’) and English Language Learners (‘ELL’) teachers and the principal parallel teach Stephanie Harvey’s Reading Comprehension Toolkit. The purpose of the toolkit is to help readers engage in an inner conversation with the text, merge their thinking with it, ask questions, infer, think about what’s important, and summarize and synthesize. A Smartboard lesson, handouts and assessments are prepared as a team. The students are divided into groups of 8 to 10 using specific criteria (i.e. LA or ELL students) and instructed in different classrooms throughout the school simultaneously by 5 different teachers. The teachers then meet to discuss how the lessons went, mark assessments and decide on future lessons. This type of small group instruction leads to more students participating in the lesson and improved student learning. Along with current Smartboard technology, Edmodo is now being used by this group of teachers to further increase participation of each student during the lesson.

This is just one example of the many innovative practices that are occurring at our school as a result of our collaborative culture. We have started to post our innovative practices on a website called This website allows us to share all the innovative things that are happening around our school with each other. Check out ours at You may even leave an idea of your own!
I believe that for innovation to flourish a community must have trusting relationships that are formed on common beliefs and values.  This type of community inspires and allows people to work together for the common good. It is the job of the leader to provide a culture that is driven by moral purpose rather than compliance. It is the job of the leader to provide a forum in a safe environment where this can take place, and innovation can flourish throughout the schoolhouse.