Change is possible, but first we need change
When a government seeks to address and solve future challenges, especially social and economic ones, it must look to education as part of the solution. The Premier’s Economic Council in Alberta is certainly doing this and recognizes that Alberta’s future requires a highly educated workforce that continually upgrades its knowledge and skills and nimbly adapts to rapid technological changes and the way the world views Alberta.
Futurists know that merely tweaking the education system will not produce the kind of workforce and community leaders needed for the future. What is required is informed transformation—an inspired change in our system that refocuses the work of schools, teachers, parents and students and re-engages communities, business and others in the work of learning.
Getting out of provincial achievement testing (PATs) and moving to a competency-based learning system that focuses more on project-based learning and less on a long list of content-driven objectives and that gives students more choice of curricula are examples of what we need. But more important is the revitalization of teachers’ professional role.
What we need more of
What do teachers need to revitalize their professional role?
First, teachers need to be directly engaged in developing learning activities that connect with their students. Finding problems that excite and challenge students and demand high-quality learning across the curriculum is the new work of teaching. Using technology to solve these problems is something that teachers can do with students, parents and the community. Linking learning to abilities will be the main task.
Second, teachers need to assess students. PATs have diminished the confidence that many teachers once had in their own assessment skills and judgement. We need to rekindle this skill in teachers who have lost it and develop it in those who have never been given the chance to develop it.
Third, teachers need to use technology not just to provide content but to encourage students’ creativity. The cocreation of knowledge, using technology to make learning real and meaningful for students and to open up the school to the world are all important tasks for teachers.
What we need less of
There are four things we need less of.
First, teachers need less red tape, bureaucracy and directives from above. Schools are places of learning and development. Amazing work gets stifled by red tape.
Second, let’s see less of the PATs. If the government needs to know how the system is working, it should sample a cross-section of students and commission reviews. The government should not subject every teacher and student to an activity that is not of direct value to them.
Third, teachers do not need to be constantly negotiating contracts of employment. The government and the Alberta Teachers’ Association achieved something significant when they reached a five-year contract settlement. The settlement created a space in which teachers could focus on learning, students and professional development. If we are to make major changes to the system, then I suggest that another five-year agreement needs to be in place to create an opportunity for change.
Finally, teachers and students need to be apprised of plans. Education should not be a political football kicked into play every time someone has a bright idea. If change is forthcoming, it must be spelled out and linked to a strategic vision.
In addition we need a strong focus on teacher professional development, from initial training to involving retiring teachers as mentors, coaches and guides for new teachers. Second, Alberta needs a strong and coordinated strategy for research and development in education, so we can continually improve our educational decision making.
Alberta’s education system is among the best in the world, but Albertans can’t be complacent or arrogant. We have to change our processes if we want to continue being the best system in the world for the 21st century. It’s time for informed transformation.
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Stephen Murgatroyd, PhD, FBPsS, FRSA, has worked with corporations to develop their change and development programs. He designed Athabasca University’s online MBA program and developed a creative work-based learning master’s degree. He is the author of more than 20 books.