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Mar 25

Chris Smeaton

Let’s Innovate!

Let’s innovate! We need an education system that provides us with students who are innovative and creative. To be successful in the future, students need to be adaptable and flexible. They need to be great communicators, collaborators and let’s throw in that they can get along with everybody they meet! That is exactly what our division, province/state or country really needs from the education system. We need students who are globally competitive! Sound familiar?

Oh, did I forget to mention that we need all of those skills and competencies developed but let’s not really change anything. Instead of doing what is best for students, we should continue to listen to a very loud minority who complain excessively about the current system but heaven forbid, reject any sort of change. They still want letter grades, percentages, rankings, back to the basics and anything that was the norm when they went to school because you know… it worked for them. To be honest, I’m not sure it worked for them when I listen to some of their rhetoric!!!

If we want to create a system of education that engages students, prepares them for a future that we can only imagine, then don’t shackle educators with arbitrary or worse ancient and irrelevant rules. Allow education to move away from only an accountability system to an assurance model where stakeholders understand the difference between high quality learning and compliant testing. That doesn’t mean we don’t need standardized tests to maintain and check on standards but let’s look for assessments that can illustrate the competencies learned by our students and not evaluations that simply require a regurgitation of knowledge. Let’s look for ways where students can demonstrate their learning beyond a paper and pencil test because most of us, as I’ve said before, are evaluated on our performance and not simply our test taking skills. Employers have little use for employees who know their stuff but can’t apply it!

A couple of weeks ago I met with my C21 Canada Leadership Academy colleagues. We are a group of K-12 leaders from across the country focused on setting national direction so Canada doesn’t just remain good in the world but transforms to great. Each of us has examples of greatness in our own systems and when I engage with my colleagues I learn a tremendous amount. I gain multiple perspectives, I witness various strategies and I come back to my division ready to share my learning. But I also am affirmed in those visits with colleagues and from tours of their schools. I see so many examples of high quality learning and innovative practice that I also witness in our own division. Learn and affirm are required to move us away from the status quo and to shake off those naysayers who want us to go back to the “good old days.” Whether I write this as a superintendent, a dad or now a grandpa, I can’t ever imagine believing that the status quo is good enough! The education system that every child deserves moves forward, challenges what school ought to be and pushes the boundaries outward.

So just because the system worked for “them” doesn’t mean it will or can work for the students in our classrooms today. The world is too different, too complex to “do it like we’ve always done it and expect different results.” Bold leaders in government, (not those who pander to loud minorities), collaborative and forward thinking system and school leaders (not those who rule with an iron fist) and, fearless and passionate teachers (not those who make excuses) are required. Building better systems that can engage young minds and activate a love of learning intrinsically cannot ever be accomplished by doing more of the same. It is time to break the mold of what school was and create what school needs to be. Our students deserve it and our society needs it!

13 comments

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  1. Teresa Murray

    As a retired teacher and present day tutor, I take issue with your comments about parents. Are you simply guessing at the reasons parents complain or express concern, imputing motivation or do you have concrete evidence that they want nothing more than their familiar past?

    The parents I have spoken to complain about the present day system because they see the heart ache their children are going through; hear their children talk about feeling ‘dumb’ because they can’t understand math, because they see that their children are being let down by the education system even in the earliest grades, because they hear from their relatives and friends that the education system which prioritizes, 21st century learning, is not what their children need. Parents let down their guard in the privacy of their homes and even cry on my shoulder at times. They fully understand what their children are lacking and that is a completely separate issue from “it worked for me”. It is very important to understand what lies behind the frustration that parents express; some are more articulate than others.

    With all due respect do you have evidence that it is a minority that wants to maintain “the past”? My observations indicate that there is broad support among the general population for serious reform of math education at the elementary level. Parents expect the education system to teach their children the basics of math, commonly called arithmetic, which is the foundation for the discipline of math and is key to opportunity and possibilities and know that this is not happening in Alberta and in much of Canada.

    I hope that you continue your good work for Catholic education in Alberta. I am well aware that challenges in education have grown exponentially in the last few years and I ask you to truly listen to what parents are really saying and hear the real meaning of their words. Many, many families are suffering greatly and often very quietly because of constructivist educational theories and must be taken very seriously. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

    Teresa Murray

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thank you Teresa for your comments. I’m surprised that you made mention of parents and math and I did not specifically name either of them. Education from the broadest sense needs to be far more responsive to a very changing world and I don’t believe that the current system without some major overhauls will be beneficial to our students present and future. Foundational skills in literacy and numeracy are essential but they are floor level, only the beginning to what a student will need to graduate and be successful into the future.

      1. Teresa Murray

        They were examples and I could have listed others.Unfortunately, I am not sure that you understood my points. One of my main points was the importance of actually listening to parents, not simply deflecting as you did in your response to me. Also, the floor is missing.Hard to survive or build without it. Many good Catholic families are being hurt by this “missing floor”. Not acceptable. Teresa Murray

        1. Chris Smeaton
          Chris Smeaton

          I would never dismissed the insights of parents. In working with our parents very closely, there seems to be great support for what we are doing in Holy Spirit. Literacy and numeracy are a priority in our division. My belief is that parents desire high quality learning in classrooms and we need to assure them that this is occurring in our schools. Much of the push back is not coming from parents.

  2. Gerry Varty

    Outstanding post, Chris.

    First: Anyone who knows you would never question the commitment you put into maintaining quality relationships and communication with parents. You don’t have to defend that record.

    You bring up some important points… As the world continues to change with an ever-accelerating pace, it is going to become more and more obvious that the education of the 70s & 80s – although it was an excellent education for a static time – will no longer be sufficient for entry to the world. The needs, requirements, even the workgroup forms and habits are shifting; its not that ‘the vocal minority’ don’t see that, it’s that they no longer have a clear picture of themselves upon graduation. THAT person didn’t have the ability to jump into today’s workforce or society; THAT person doesn’t have the benefit of 20 years of adulthood, slowly growing with technology and adapting to a changing world, like the adults who are longing for the good old days. They yearn for an old-fashioned education because it worked well for them, it prepared them for an old-fashioned world. They feel defensive because THEY feel they can survive in the emerging new age… but they are not THAT person, anymore, and today’s graduates can’t afford to wait for 20 years of experience to transform them and make them more capable.

    They need to hit the ground running.

    Today’s world not governed by the scarcity mentality that ruled when we got out of school… there are more than enough workers, the ‘drone’ jobs don’t pay enough to live on, and the higher-level jobs require a skillset that relies on adaptability, innovation, and vision… not on assembly-line compliance or on regurgitated facts. The world of tomorrow will require a different kind of citizen, and building THAT person requires a different kind of Education.

    Are we getting it right? Maybe not yet, but our teachers and schools are forging new directions, new pedagogical and cultures to support our need to educate students for a world that we would have struggled to enter. It’s not our old system with a couple new bolt-ons that is needed… we need a new system that retains the good parts of the old one.

    Those are very different things.

    And the math? I wrote about that 5 years ago: http://engagingourlearners.blogspot.ca/2012/05/where-are-we-heading-in-this-handbasket.html?m=1

    In some cases, we are still struggling to make it all work right, but going back to the 70s isn’t going to fix that. Except by 70s-Era benchmarks.

    Keep up the good work in #hs4!

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thanks Gerry! The world is such a different place today and nobody can deny that! To believe that education should be like it was before only hurts students. Many divisions throughout Canada are on the way to preparing students for their future and not our past. I’m very blessed to be in a school division that has a staff extremely committed to making a difference in the lives of our students.

    2. Teresa Murray

      The most vocal parents are actually the most savvy, most successful and most educated. (A little stereotyping in your post and some rather condescending remarks about parents).These savvy parents are the ones who get their kids to a tutor,who will provide the fundamentals of an academic discipline, immediately.

      By the way, providing the fundamentals of a major academic discipline is simply that.It has nothing to do with going back to the 70s. May I suggest that you tighten up the logic.

      1. Chris Smeaton
        Chris Smeaton

        I appreciate your conviction and don’t necessarily believe we are on opposite sides. To be fair, my blog didn’t specify parents and so I think it is unfair to say that my remarks are condescending to parents. I will leave it at that.

  3. Teresa Murray

    I will leave it at that also.I am sure any readers can make up their own minds after reading the various posts and analysing the logic and or deflection.

  4. Celinda Corsini

    Hi Chris,
    Well said! I wish everyone could read this.
    Innovation is fun, invigorating and incredibly rewarding, and yet so challenging when students, parents or colleagues don’t “get it” and can’t see the value in it.
    We do need to affirm each other and continue spreading the message that Change is necessary- we owe it to the kids!

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thanks for the comments Celinda. Much appreciated!

    2. Teresa Murray

      My comments and those of other parents certainly do not exclude proper use of innovative approaches. Would be nice to see arguments debated and end to ad hominem and assumptions.

  5. Teresa Murray

    I meant ‘points debated’

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