Excellence! Teachers teach for it. Students strive for it. Parents expect it. Alberta Education praises it and the community celebrates it. So what is excellence? How do we define excellence and how do we measure it?
The accountability agenda is alive and well in Alberta and we are not shying away from it. In these times of high stakes provincial testing (Provincial Achievement Exams and Diploma Exams) we strive to achieve Excellence, as recorded by these exams. And while PSD students are doing very well at the Acceptable Standard, our schools endeavor to find ways to increase the number of students who are achieving the Standard of Excellence as measured by these paper and pencil tests. Teams of teachers pour over results and analyze the data to determine where they need to reinforce curriculum, change their teaching strategies, introduce new vocabulary, resources or activities.
At the same time, we continue to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning, skills, aptitudes and performance in endless situations beyond paper and pencil testing.
Our work is first and foremost about lifting students up to become more than they have imagined possible. As we prepare students for their place in the world – a world, that in some ways we can’t even anticipate, we are always encouraging growth and excellence as defined for the individual student. In addition to demonstrating excellence on provincial tests – our staff, parents, community and students themselves expect see excellence in many different areas of education.
Those areas of potential excellence are endless. We recognize excellence in leadership, music, art, drama and athletics. Our students have opportunities to excel in Career and Technology Studies (CTS) where we see demonstrations of amazing proficiency in Food Studies, Mechanics, Welding, Construction and beyond. Some students have a gift for language learning that is celebrated in second language instruction: French Immersion, French as a Second Language, German or Japanese. You don’t have to look far to see the incredible talents of our youth and we strongly believe that it is our responsibility to serve our students in ways that give each and every student the greatest opportunity to succeed.
Operationally, that means change continues to be the theme for the future. While the educational system of the past has met the needs of the past – today’s situation looks very different. Dr. Sam Shaw (former President of NAIT and currently with Encana), speaking to the College of Alberta School Superintendents last week, talked about the real needs in today’s work place. The skill set of today’s graduate centers around the ability “to learn”, to problem solve and to work as a committed team player. Those critical thinking, decision-making, collaboration and communication skills that we are focused on are the right ones! These process skills are the foundation of life-long learners. Gone are the days when we can focus solely on knowledge and content.
As teachers and students are planning for learning they should be creating a critical question for inquiry. If you can “Google” the question and get an answer – it is the wrong question! Today’s engaged learning needs to pose questions that require students to use their skills to find answers to real problems that are bigger than contrived, isolated subject, text book questions of the past. The stage has been set for students to achieve excellence in meaningful and relevant ways.
We are so proud to say that we are on the right track. And we are so quick to say that we have not arrived. Most importantly we continue to be thankful for the amazing students who learned with us every day. Thanks also to the hundreds of staff members who come to work every day to do what is best for kids. And to our parents, families and community we appreciate your ongoing support that keeps us going and for your tough questions that keep us researching and reflecting and always staying focused on what is best for students. Excellence is always the goal and we have agreement that there is a continual need to find ways to more accurately measure, report and acknowledge a broad range of excellence. Excellence is not the same for every student!
As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!