The Gleaner

WINning school culture at Heritage tackles literacy rates

“How often do you get an opportunity to do serious professional development with the whole school?” asks the principal of Heritage Elementary School, Collin Thomas. It doesn’t happen very often, so when the staff at the Huntingdon-based elementary school were offered a chance to work directly with Thomas Hierck, the founder of the WIN or “What I Need” philosophy now serving as a guiding principle at Heritage, they were all in.

Hierck, an educator and consultant who works in British Columbia, spent two days at the school, where he participated in classroom visits while delivering powerful workshops as well. Parent volunteers came in to run activities with the students on the afternoon of February 23 to allow staff to participate in one workshop, while the following pedagogical day was dedicated entirely to development workshops.

The WIN program, which involves a 30-minute early-morning period three days per week for all grade levels, was initiated at Heritage this year after several years of work building up to its implementation. Students focus on social and emotional learning during the same period on the other two days per week, which ensures each child at Heritage is receiving targeted and personalized learning opportunities aimed at providing what they need to succeed.

“There is such a varied level of learner in all of the classrooms,” says Thomas. “In order for all of those students to grow, we had to come up with a purposeful program,” he explains. The process started in 2016, when staff identified literacy and reading comprehension as a common challenge facing their students. They began looking into different response to intervention programs and landed on WIN.


Staff at Heritage Elementary School enjoyed a full day of workshops led by educator and consultant Thomas Hierck who developed the WIN program now in place at the school PHOTO Heritage Elementary School

“The program works by identifying those areas where we are seeing gaps and doing something about it,” says Hierck. At Heritage, this has meant reorganizing school resources to bring extra staff into the classroom for a time every day for a period of intense targeted instruction.

“It is a moment in the day to forget about looking at a child and where they are supposed to be, and focusing on where they are,” explains teacher Julie Haché, who was part of a team of staff members from Heritage who travelled to B.C. last November to observe how the program works in other schools.

“It is up to the teachers to interpret the model, but we are all working on the same idea of pushing the kids forward,” adds teacher Serena Frier. “It is structured time, but within that structure, there is flexibility to do what you need to do with each child,” she continues.

“The students move in the classroom. They cut and they glue,” says French teacher Diane Lazure, who admits the WIN periods are just as enriching for teachers. “We are starting to see a little bit of the transfer of skills they are learning during the WIN period into classroom activities, and that is a really beautiful thing,” she says. “It is having an impact on them and how they see themselves,” she concludes.

Principal Thomas says that while they are encouraged by the early results they are seeing, this is a multi-year initiative. He expects it will take the school at least three to five years to fully bring the program to its potential. In the meantime, teachers are pleased to have a starting place.

“The evidence is pretty solid for highly predictable graduation rates by grades 3-4,” says Hierck, suggesting educators can no longer allow students to fall behind. “It is a fundamental right to be a proficient reader, and in 12 years of schooling we ought to be able to guarantee this!” he exclaims, suggesting the WIN philosophy offers a positive way to address this challenge head-on.

Hierck confirms that Heritage is one of a small handful of schools working with this program in Quebec; however, it has been quite successful in school districts in B.C. “When you get on a winning streak, you want to stick with it,” he says of the small victories Heritage staff are already celebrating.

“I get energized when I hear the news that it is working,” he says of his program. “The teachers are fired up about doing the work because they are seeing success,” he confirms. And, he says, the fact that “the adults can see the gaps and are willing to do something about it is energizing for the kids as well.”

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