Is it good when my daughter has a paradigm shift?

Dr. Jim Parsons

A Story from the 10th ­Anniversary Anthology of AISI (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement) Stories

A kindergarten teacher met with the mother of one of her children. It was an odd question, but the mother had to ask. She didn’t quite understand what had happened the day before and wanted to check it out with her daughter’s teacher.

A day earlier the young kindergarten-aged daughter was frustrated; something wasn’t quite working as she thought it should. The mother, witnessing the daughter’s distress, became concerned when her daughter’s breathing became ­laboured and her small body shook.

“What is going on?” the mother had asked. “Are you all right?”

The daughter’s response was “Yes. I’m OK. I’m ­having a paradigm shift.”

The mother asked the teacher: “What is a paradigm shift?” and “Are they okay for my daughter to have?”

That the language of a four-year-old generated such questions might, at first, be surprising. But, such is the outcome of Crestwood School’s Cycle 3 AISI (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement) project (an educational change project conducted over three years from 2006–09).

The project was not so much about building ­vocabulary as about developing ways of talking about the everyday problems that are part and parcel of dynamic school living. When a four-year desires a “paradigm shift,” perhaps your school’s goal of developing a vision, values and language is working.

Such language and the paradigm shift that went with it were a ­result of a project entitled ­“Developing Character and Competence.” The project’s participants were from three Grades 1–6 schools in the Medicine Hat School District No. 76 (working with 760 ­students) and the implementation of Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The project came about because the Medicine Hat School District believed it needed a safe and caring school culture for children—a response to Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s belief that schools must take care of students’ personal issues before schools and students can concentrate on ­learning. (Dr. Martin ­Brokenleg, a regular presenter at teachers’ conventions, is well known for his work with youth.) The project provided a tool for conflict resolution and ­behaviour change based upon the central ­hypothesis that character development encourages academic achievement.

There is much evidence that the project has succeeded. Not that kids won’t be kids; but when something happens on the playground, teachers at Crestwood School know that everyone is on the same page. The character education taught through the 7 Habits has created a school culture characterized by character and competence. These habits have been embedded into lessons, school discipline plans and behavioural expectations. Simply put, the school has undergone a paradigm shift.

Dr. Jim Parsons is a ­professor in the Department of Secondary Education at the University of Alberta.

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