Editor’s Notebook—Aiming High With AISI

June 22, 2011 Gordon Thomas

Eleven years have passed since the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) was introduced to the Alberta landscape. Over the years, AISI has endured growing pains but it has thrived and the consensus among educators, not just in Alberta, but in other parts of Canada and abroad, is that it is a great success. And now, this innovative made-in-Alberta program has had its funding cut in half.  

This issue of the magazine begins with an article by Larry Beauchamp, of the University of Alberta. He believes that if AISI were a commodity traded on the stock exchange, its shareholders would have reason for jubilation and would oppose reduced funding. “There is no doubt that AISI dividends, by all measures, have far outstripped the annual investment.” He views AISI as “one of Alberta’s greatest education success stories. AISI is an example of how strong partnerships can serve as catalysts and bring about meaningful educational change.”

AISI is living proof that when “strong partnerships” develop among teachers, great things happen. “AISI has changed Alberta’s learning culture. Student learning has increased because teachers have worked with and beside other teachers,” observes Jim Parsons, in “Eleven Years of Teacher Action Research.” Parsons should know. As the University of Alberta’s AISI director, he’s seen first-hand the creative and inventive work resulting from the program. He also reviewed more than 1,500 reports of site-based, action research projects. A photo of a beaming Parsons appears on page 8. He has every reason to be smiling, for some of those projects are featured in the book he’s holding, published to mark AISI’s tenth anniversary (Ten Years of AISI: Impact on Teachers, Schools, and Beyond—coauthored by Parsons and Kelly Harding).

Steve Jobs says “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Exploring leadership and its influence on AISI underlies a study by education researchers Rosemary Foster, Lisa Wright and Phil McRae. Their article, “Sense Making in the Leadership Terrain,” provides a learned glimpse into their findings.

AISI researcher and teacher Kelly Harding offers practical steps to teacher educators for developing AISI-inspired coursework for students enrolled in Alberta’s faculties of education.

Dennis Shirley, professor of education, Boston College, is an internationally recognized education researcher who participated in a review of AISI in 2009. Based on his findings, Shirley is critical of the government’s decision to reduce funding. “Now is not the time to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” he writes.     

AISI is a worthy program that deserves support, says ATA President Carol Henderson. AISI “provides innovation and creativity and encourages and supports research and acquisition of knowledge. Now is not the time to reduce funding for a program that has gained worldwide recognition.”

The message is clear. Let’s work to re-launch AISI on its founding principles and ensure its substantial benefits continue into the future.

Last, thanks to teachers who provided photographs and short stories related to AISI. And a special thanks to Koni Macdonald, ATA government staff, for her photographs that enliven this issue of the ATA Magazine. Koni’s images have appeared in the ATA News and in countless ATA publications. This June, Koni will retire after close to 21 years with the Association.  

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