Education Stuck in a RUT?
Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of occasional bouts of insanity.
Our education system in Alberta is tied to our broad program of studies and provincial achievement test (PAT)/diploma exam results. It is stuck in a rut. Teachers work hard to cover the entire curriculum and cover all the outcomes. The outcomes are too broad and lack engaging depth. Actually, the outcomes can be engaging, but many teachers feel pressured to rush through each outcome instead of exploring them with students. To add insult to injury, schools are measured based on PAT performance in a section of an accountability pillar. Basically, a report to demonstrate how well each school authority is doing. I am not sure this is the best way to help change our education system (but this is an entirely different topic).
Greg Miller (Principal of a Pre-K to grade 6 elementary school) posted these comments on his blog that he has heard from teachers. “I barely have time to cover the curriculum as it is” or “how is this going to prepare my kids for the standardized tests” or “the technology doesn’t work right half the time.” Unfortunately, those individuals usually choose to stick with the comfort of what they’re already doing. Well stated Greg. The scary issue is, as educational leaders, sometimes we hear this too often. So how do we change this? How do we get out of the rut?
1. Help teachers with more of their own time! Build in common time to learn. How do we expect teachers to grow and improve? We must allow them to work together and share ideas. We are not going to quickly change the structure of the day, so we need to change what teachers can do within the day. This is supported by Steven Johnson’s “Where good ideas com from.” We need to build calendars and professional development days that can support this innovation.
2. Give students choice on how to improve their learning. Check out what Noa Gutow-Ellis has to say at TEDxYouth “True Learning is Not Standardized.“
Or, give students a Fed Ex Day or Innovation Day. These 4th grade students took the concept of Fed Ex Day and made it their own with an Innovation Day – one day to work on whatever they choose, to just create and invent.
3. Leaders must limit the number of new initiatives coming into the school and keep only the initiatives that relate to the school/board and the teacher professional growth plans. If you work with your staff on these initiatives with honest and open dialogue, then you might have some tangible change that will benefit students. The curriculum redesign might be one of those catalysts of change. Here is the explanation from Alberta Education:
As we look for new, more effective and efficient ways to develop future provincial curriculum for K-12, one model we will be using is prototyping. Alberta Education will be posting a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the new year to invite school jurisdictions, Francophone Regional authorities and charter schools to take the lead and form partnerships at the local level and submit proposals. The proposals will be focused on beginning the development of new, competency-focused programs of study for K-12 subjects (mathematics, sciences, social studies, language arts, wellness education, and arts education) and to identify and/or develop classroom-based assessment and learning and teaching resources. Our Curriculum developers will be going out to the field and informed by research, will be working with the successful RFP applicants. Together we will co-create this new curriculum.
This sounds great; we might need to provide some release time for this to work or maybe some Fed Ex Days for teachers! Or, maybe let students sit in on our curriculum redesign project. Could you imagine a competency-based education that matches the education to the student? That might get us out of the RUT!