In my first editorial of this school year, (Year one of an exciting new role, Volume 51, No. 1), I told readers about how my daughter is beginning kindergarten this year. I dedicated that column to describing what I would like the public education system to provide for her and her peers across the province.
My vision was lofty. Among other goals, I said I wanted her to “feel safe, welcomed, valued and engaged in her school,” that I wanted her to “gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will make her a successful, compassionate and active citizen” and that I wanted her to learn “valuable skills related to critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and citizenship.”
“Most of all,” I wrote, “I want her to develop a thirst for knowledge, a hunger for understanding and a love of learning. This is no tall order for public education.”
I may have spooked my daughter’s kindergarten teacher a little bit. When I went to drop off my daughter on the Monday morning after the editorial appeared, the teacher mentioned to me that she had read the column.
“No pressure, right?” she quipped.
The vision I painted for public education is not intended to be delivered in whole by each and every teacher — it is simply not possible. We are a team working together on the goals of public education and the whole team has responsibilities for achieving them. It takes classroom teachers, but it also takes support staff, paraprofessionals, and ministry and school board support too.
Having said that, the role of our classroom teachers, who work closest with the students that the system is intended to serve, are the most important piece of achieving the vision.
After spending time in Finland and talking with educational leaders there, our executive secretary Gordon Thomas describes their success in this way: “The role of the teacher is to support the student to meet the student’s learning needs and the role of everyone else is to support the teacher.”
So no, Mrs. H, no pressure. The pressure is on the rest of the components in the system to ensure that they are supporting you.
Fortunately the person in the best position to influence how well the supportive components perform is an experienced classroom teacher: Education Minister David Eggen. He would be well positioned and well served by viewing issues in education through the lens of how best to support teachers.
It becomes a sort of two-part test for him to use when making decisions and issuing directives. How does this advance the vision of public education? How does it support the work of teachers with students?
Consider the current iteration of Student Learning Assessments. Are these tests, in their current form, anything more than a provincial achievement test done on a computer at the start of the year? Do they advance the vision of public education? Do they support the work of teachers in their classrooms?
Consider issues like excessive administrative tasks being assigned to teachers, or lengthy school board calendars filled with non-instructional days of diminishing value: do these things advance the vision of public education? Do they support the work of teachers in their classrooms?
Initiatives, directives and system features that don’t pass the test should simply be stopped or redesigned. Re-engineer the system to focus on the core work by removing the extraneous weights. Ensure that teachers have the support and resources they require to do their best work with students and allow the benefits to flow from there.
And the benefits would be very valuable for the minister: improved satisfaction in the system, improved student achievement, better international rankings (if that matters to him) and the political benefits of increased confidence in a government seen to be operating effectively. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact
me at email@example.com.