Architects of learning

December 4, 2012
Jonathan Teghtmeyer

My wife is a recreational therapist at a youth residential drug treatment program. To me, her job is the most important one in the program because she helps youth shift their use of recreational time from drugs to something more meaningful.

She starts the treatment process by meeting with each new client to assess his or her recreational needs and to discover which of the client’s previous activities were successful. Then, she works with clients on recreation planning, which involves setting recreational goals, researching recreational opportunities, gathering resources and structuring activities into the treatment program.

As the planning stage moves to the implementation stage, my wife’s role switches to supervising the client. She becomes a resource, provides side-coaching and course corrections, and works to ensure that the recreational opportunities are safe and successful.

Finally, my wife and her client determine if the recreational goals were met, if adjustments are needed for the future and what the next steps should be. Upon completing the program, the client has a comprehensive recreation plan to use at home.

In some ways, her work mirrors the role of teachers envisioned by Inspiring Education Steering Committee Report (2010), which states that “Albertans see the role of the teacher changing from that of a knowledge authority to an architect of learning—one who plans, designs and oversees learning activities.”

This role of “architect of learning” attempts to describe how teachers will guide the learning cycle in a personalized learner-centred education system.

The fundamentals of the teaching cycle, like my wife’s work, are assessment, research, planning, supervision and evaluation. In this model, teachers assess prior knowledge, research learning activities and resources, help students plan for their learning, supervise activities and evaluate results to guide future learning objectives. It’s a powerful model, but important professional conditions must be in place for it to succeed.

The first is caseload (a new way of saying “class size”). For years, teachers have been advocating for conditions that permit more ­individualized attention. The only way to achieve individualized attention is to limit the number of students in the care of each teacher.

The next condition is time. Focusing on the learner means teachers have sufficient time for assessing, researching, planning and evaluating. If the time is not available, the focus on the learner is lost and so is the advantage of the personalized model.

The third condition is flexibility. Teachers require the autonomy to make programming decisions, need respect as professionals and ­freedom from school board meddling in instructional matters.

The fourth condition is support. Every student has unique needs that might not necessarily respond to the model. A teacher alone can’t meet every student’s needs without appropriate access to resources and ­support.

The final condition is professional development. Continuous exposure to new theories, practices, technologies and resources will ensure that teachers have a diverse set of offerings for student learning.

The vision for Inspiring Education is important to Education ­Minister Jeff Johnson; after all, he was one of the steering committee’s co-chairs. That’s why he should consider the proposal put forward by ATA President Carol Henderson (see “Open letter to the premier of Alberta,” page 3).

The letter outlines the professional conditions teachers require to meet the needs of students today and to create the model envisioned by Inspiring Education, which says clearly “Albertans see the teacher as the single most important contributor to learner success.”

The only way we can achieve the envisioned educated Albertan of tomorrow is by supporting our teachers today.

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.