Saturday, 3 September 2016

Staying Calm in a Sea of Change

"...the fact that many kids simply aren't being prepared for their lives in the current system...Full on transformation can only be fueled by a deep understanding of how significantly out of step the school experience has become with the real world."     Will Richardson

We are in a very dynamic and exciting time in education as we strive to evolve and adapt to best prepare students for an ever changing world. Yet at the same time, I cannot recall a period when there seemed to be such a sense of urgency. Perhaps this is a product of the ubiquity of our digitally connected world and the increasing number of experts consulting, presenting, blogging and tweeting about transforming teaching and schooling for the 21st century. These commentators often lament the archaic structures in our schools and implore us to stop 'tinkering around the edges' and totally change our practices. New buzz abounds about personalized learning, inquiry-based learning, social-emotional learning, distributed learning, career education, technological and digital literacies and coding, big ideas, core and curricular competencies, aboriginal perspectives and having students embrace their personal and cultural identities. To be clear, schools must continue to evolve and all of these are progressive and thoughtful ideas, yet transformation needs careful planning and ongoing support, energy and communication - including reaching consensus on what our vision is for  'future ready' schools. 

To present some balance, the level of professionalism in public education in British Columbia is high and our schools are not broken. Indeed, using current provincial, national and international measures of effectiveness, we are doing very well. Perhaps we need to change how we conceptualize and measure the effectiveness of our schools, including post-secondary learning; nonetheless, it is important that we view all change through an appreciative lens and continue to build upon the thoughtful practices we have in place. 

Creating safe and inclusive communities and ensuring that our relationships are caring and respectful with every student in every situation on every day will remain the foundation of best practice in our schools.  Students will still need structured opportunities to read, research, think and to ask and answer questions; to write, edit, calculate, compose, create, practice, perform and to reflect on thoughtful feedback and be allowed time to revise - using all mediums. We need to deepen our assessment skills as well as our understanding and implementation of the decades old principles of learning, including 'people learn in different ways and at individual rates', 'learning is both an individual and a collaborative process' and 'learning requires the active participation of the learner'. These clearly connect to the notion that we engage and learn best when we have opportunities to pursue what interests us. 

We cannot continue to 'do what we have always done' and expect to remain effective with students. Indeed, as professional educators, we must expect from ourselves the same as society expects from other professionals and continue to learn, to remain current and to collaborate with one another to improve our practices and our schools. At the same time, it is important to recognize that teaching and working effectively with diverse learners is remarkably complex, challenging and important work. To be sustainable, it should also be energizing, rewarding and valued.  As we engage with colleagues and our students about implementing new ideas and strategies, it is important that we take a deep breath and remain calm - we are striving to move from very good to better. In the end, the most important influencers of change in education will always be the dedicated and professional teachers, support staff, vice principals and principals who work with our students and in our busy schools every day.  When we work together on goals we have identified and always keep our focus on what is best for every kid, change becomes desirable, manageable and rejuvenating.

Thank you to all dedicated and caring educators and have a great year!

p.s.  Those who have not worked in actual classrooms, or in schools or districts for many years, if at all, are unlikely to create transformation. It is very complex work that cannot be done from afar. A couple of other thoughts on '21st century learning' and the 'real world' - every significant technological, scientific, artistic, business and medical innovation in the world today was created by people born and educated in the 20th century (or earlier). I am confident that students of the 21st century will refine and expand on the work of previous generations at an unprecedented pace.  Perhaps our job is not to define nor tell students what the 'real world' is all about, rather allow students opportunities to discover and redefine it for themselves?  Indeed, our greatest responsibility is to help students develop the learning, thinking, communicating and problem-solving skills needed to unravel the significant global problems we have created in the real world.  


  1. Great post, Jim.

    There does seem to be an urgency to "blow up the system" when reading through posts about education on Social Media. I am not so sure. Undoubtedly, we can and should be doing some things differently in order to improve and provide students with a better, more comprehensive experience that helps prepare them for their future. But here in BC, we have being doing some things very well, and it feels like most students in today's system enjoy their experiences more than previous generations did.

    When I consider all that we have to be proud of in education I look to the emphasis on Socially Responsible behaviour and Multicultural Understanding as things I see where students today are far ahead of their predecessors. We have spent a great deal of time cultivating relationships with our students and we must continue to focus here.

    There are several other factors, however, that educators must adapt to. Our assessment practices, our fostering of critical thinking, and promoting the pursuing of student passions are required as we move into the next phase of educational change. Like doctors and so many other professionals, there is a need to constantly reflect and improve, and most of our educators do this. Teachers work very hard at the difficult task of educating youngsters and the vast majority of them are willing to spend time to make changes to improve their craft. We do not, however, need to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". Using the appreciative lens you write about is the best way to recognize the improvements that are being made while fostering the growth of these practices.

    I had a very good experience when in school, but it was not as comprehensive nor as socially-aware as the one I see students getting now. We have many areas to refine and develop, but there is a need to carefully consider, discuss and support the changes we need. Like you, I believe that finding a consensus of a "future-ready school" is the first thing we must decide.

    Educators in schools all across BC are doing very good work, and are making educational experiences for our students very strong. Can we get better? Of course. But we need to carefully highlight and support the strong efforts being made right now.

    Thanks for the post and best of luck to you, the students and the staff at your school. I'm sure you will have another very strong year.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write a response Jason, I sincerely appreciate your thoughts. Absolutely we need to adapt and our role is not to protect the status quo, but to question it and work with others to explore new paths. I agree that most educators are doing the very best they can and will need ongoing and meaningful professional learning that includes collaboration with other educators to practice and discuss changing pedagogies. Our role is to work with colleagues, ask good questions, support inquiry and innovation and to acknowledge and, if possible, inspire one another.