Last week, I attended the transformation meeting for urban boards in Edmonton. These events are being held throughout the province and are sponsored by Alberta Education, ASBA and ATA. Although my first thought about gathering “like” boards was to mix the groups up, I found it quite refreshing to be able to spend a day engaged in quality dialogue with our own teaching staff. I would say that we have a pretty strong relationship with our teachers, but are always pressed for time to really get to the “meat of the matter.” In reviewing the day, I have a couple of thoughts to share.
1. Transformation is a journey not a destination- Even though we need to have some thought about where we are going, we need to understand that transformation should be a continual journey. Until we reach perfection, we’ll always be on that journey. Education should be changing to meet the needs of our students and that in essence is transforming. The difficulty however, is that never before have we been requried to educate EACH student. And that puts us on a faster track than any change initiative prior!!!
2. Finland vs. Norway- I learned that both countries tackled school improvement differently. Norway who had a strong system suggested the status quo while Finland, decided to blow it up and start again. Don’t get me wrong, Finland is far different from Alberta and so any comparison has to be made carefully but should we be looking at really blowing the system up and starting from scratch? Consider the following and ask yourself whether the change would require just a tweak or a complete overhaul:
- Do we need 2 monthsof summer holidays in today’s society?
- Should we really have a distinct Social Studies and Science curriculum in the primary grades?
- Does every child have to finish the same material in the same year/semester/quarter?
- Does every child need the same curriculum?
3. Community readiness- If our true desire is to meet the need of EACH student then we had better be prepared to engage our communities. Battle scars will be the norm because school won’t be like it was and that will create considerable angst amongst our public. The known is always preferred to the unknown so resistance will be plentiful… from both inside and outside the system.
4. Mandate creep- A colleague of mine produced a visual that illustrated the number of initiatives facing school divisions. If transformation is truly what we seek, then let’s remind ourselves that research supports the implementation of 2-3 priorities not 50-60. Let’s focus on what is most important AND be prepared (all of us) to drop those things that don’t contribute in whole to our 2-3 priorities.
5. Relationships are critical- To achieve the necessary transformation required, the relationship between Alberta Education, ASBA and ATA must be authentic. Too often, we fail because the relationships have been built on niceness instead of grit. Egos must be parked and ears must be opened. We must be prepared to listen to everyone without formalizing a counterattack part way through the message. We’ll hear things we don’t want to hear and probably not like but if the relationship is to be strong, it must be authentic.
Finally, I’m excited about being in education today. I think we are beginning to promote an attitude or even more importantly an environment where we can take risks. In our division we use the term, “Fail Forward.” We won’t get this transformation right immediately but we will never get it right if we don’t start. Every chance you get, talk about what transformation means to you and your colleagues and then get on board for a great ride!!!