I have been away in the land of learning, dialogue and planning for what the future of education should look like in our province. This is an extremely uncertain time for us as educators. The students and families we serve are coming to represent a more diverse and complex range of needs. We are finding ourselves faced with the challenging task of continuing to find ways to personalize the learning for our students. As a classroom teacher, I always found this a most difficult yet crucially important responsibility – how to find a way to reach each and every one of the special and unique learners I had in my classroom? Now, it has become even more complicated for our teachers as we must address additional factors including a new understanding of the dynamic nature of what it means to know and understand in a way that prepares our learners to become successful in a world of continuous change and uncertainty. As a result, we are often left questioning ourselves as teachers. Are we making a difference? Are we helping our students to feel that each of them is a success story just waiting to be written?
Currently, our government is making some great steps forward in the area of inclusive education, curriculum re-design and the integration of technology to transform learning so that we, as teachers, can be supported in the challenging work that we face. The dialogue has begun and the groundwork is being laid so that we can make improvements to our school system. I had the opportunity to be a part of the dialogue this week as I attended roundtable research discussions around Action on Curriculum. The process that was facilitated by Alberta Education was excellent. Gathered together, in an extensive two-day “think tank”, were educators from around the province who had experience, expertise and a willingness to do what’s best for our students in order to move them forward through an educational system that prepares them to be successful, lifelong learners of the 21st century.
We heard from a variety of experts in the field of Education, who helped us to understand the bigger picture of what constitutes real learning. We uncovered, together, a shared understanding of different ways of knowing . The big message that resonated for me was that real knowledge and understanding cannot necessarily be imposed – rather, it comes from within a very deep, rich, contextual history of experiences, stories and values, unique to each student, each family, each culture and each community. This way of knowing should be respected, as something that is worthy of carrying forward among our learners and has a place in the curriculum that we develop for our learners.
Conversation also centered around personalized learning and what that meant to each of us – how do we recognize and value the individual in the context of the prescribed program of studies. We discussed the breadth and depth of learning – and came to an awareness of the constant struggle to determine when it is most important to come to know a little about many things or when we should go deeper into a particular discipline so that we come to understand the complexities, connections and applications about a topic of inquiry that we can personally and passionately connect to. So many excellent conversations about what is most important for our students to learn. What is it that constitutes real, memorable, relevant learning?
The learning continued as I left the roundtable discussions in Calgary and headed to Banff to join the Senior Executive and Principals from Parkland School Division for the College of Alberta School Superintendents Conference. More dialogue and discussion followed as we worked collaboratively to plan the way forward in Parkland School Division. We heard presentations from Ben Levin and Michael Fullan, who have led school and system improvement projects in Ontario. There were many reminders from this session that assisted our team in re-focusing on the most important factor leading to school and system improvement: excellent school leadership and excellent teaching. As long as we stay focused on this goal, we will be able to meet the needs of our students and provide them with the strong foundation they need to become confident, curious and capable learners in the 21st century. When we look at what really matters for our students…we can sum it up very simply:
Excellence in Teaching = Excellence in Student Learning
This message was created by one of our students last week during our Spring Fling – so great to see that our kids understand what really matters !