Why are we dismantling education in Canada?

It is Sunday…a typical work day for me (I try to take Friday night and all day Saturday off to spend with my wife and family) and I’m ready to focus on work I need to do for the division. But instead, I’m going to spend the next 2-3 hours or more responding to the following Chief School Superintendent Role Review.

  1. REQUIRED: Submit a current organization chart that reflects the central office
    structure. Organizational charts provide a visual representation and allow positions to be
    viewed in context within the complete structure. The job evaluation process is not only an
    evaluation and analysis of the work assigned, but also includes an understanding of the
    structure in which that work is conducted.
  2. Describe the key leadership and operational accountabilities of the chief superintendent role within your jurisdiction. When describing the accountabilities, include any external versus internal focus of the position, as well as the degree of risk involved in decision-making. This list of accountabilities should be sequenced by order of importance (i.e., the most important result for which the job exists in the organization should be the first) and should reflect the regular requirements of the job and not rare occurrences (i.e. what might happen).
  3. Describe the challenges of the chief superintendent role within your jurisdiction. When describing the challenges, consider emerging and critical issues, extent of innovation required, strategic planning processes, factors that guide decision making, who is affected by those decisions and how they are affected.
  4. Describe any specialized knowledge or skills and critical behaviours required for the role to achieve results within your jurisdiction. Consider knowledge (i.e., degrees, knowledge of certain programs) and any critical behaviours (i.e., building collaborative environments, systems thinking) the superintendent is required to have.
  5. Describe the environment within which the chief superintendent operates. To understand the organizational strengths and challenges in the context in which the superintendent works, describe the operating environment, including such factors as technology and systems, people, financial, capital and funding and the governance environment.
  6. Describe the nature and purpose of the chief superintendent’s relationships. Chief superintendents do not operate or provide leadership in isolation. When describing the superintendent’s relationships, consider how the relationships are managed to deliver on outcomes (may include relationships with Alberta Education and communities).

To say I’m a little frustrated would be an understatement. But the requirement to justify my work and compensation are fairly minor compared to the lack of respect for system leaders and education as a whole in Canada. In Nova Scotia, all school boards were eliminated earlier this year and in provinces like Alberta that has publicly funded Catholic education, the cry for one publicly funded system is growing louder and much more intense.

People and governments in particular, have you noticed that Canada has one of the best educational systems in the world? Add, that those results are within a public not a private system and that we have one of the most diverse populations in the world. Don’t compare us to Finland or Singapore which has a fairly homogeneous population, look at countries that are as diverse as Canada. You would be hard pressed to find a better education system in the world. More impressive, is that Canadian systems are not content with the current status quo and are always trying to improve student experience and success. And by the way, that continuous improvement desire doesn’t come from government policy or business plans but rather internal accountability within schools and systems.

One of the first reasons that public education in Canada is so successful is our teachers. While most of us in education are always challenging our post-secondary teacher preparation programs to be even more rigorous in their training, comparatively, we are so far ahead. The teacher that a student has matters. I’m not suggesting that the sole determiner of educational success is the teacher but all things equal, excellent teaching leads to excellent student success. Secondly, leadership in schools is also a contributing factor to the success of the Canadian system. Leadership counts and the best schools are always led by top quality principals and their teams. Our provincial system has long focused on developing leaders and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Alberta is consistently at or near the top.

Great boards also contribute to our exceptional standing in the world. When they are locally elected, they understand the context of their communities and are able to set the right direction. The best boards live not in the administrative world but in the governance world. They understand their role and which sandbox they should be playing in. Throughout my years in senior administration, I witnessed the best of the best (thank you Holy Spirit) and the worst of the worst. Trustees who are single issue focused, have axes to grind or in it for their own political gain have no business being involved in the education of children. Superintendents from across the country can tell you horror stories of those trustees and boards but thankfully those cases are the exception and not the rule.

Finally, system leaders are a critical part of the fabric of excellence in Canadian schools and governments (local and provincial)  need to recognize that sooner than later. I’ve already heard confidentially from a number of my colleagues from across Canada  who will be “pulling the pin” and retiring as soon as they can. It saddens me because these people would still be able to give more to their systems after reaching their index for retirement. Unfortunately, they have become so deflated from external factors, mainly government interference, both locally and provincially, that they will just call it quits. They are going to be sorely missed in their organizations because they are not just good leaders, they are great leaders! Retirement should be an opportunity to pass on the torch rather than needing to throw it because it keeps burning you!

Governments (local, provincial and federal) do your jobs! Set your direction based on what is best for all students and then get out-of-the-way! Don’t play in my sandbox, play in your own. Education will continue to improve not because of your influence but because of those within the system. Stop with the death by reporting, excessive accountability and the irresponsible timelines for compliance information and go back to trusting the systems that have led Canada to be the best in the world!

3 comments

    • Brooke Culley on April 15, 2018 at 11:51 AM
    • Reply

    Well said Chris.

    • Del Sheehan on May 1, 2018 at 8:32 PM
    • Reply

    Hey Chris,
    I appreciate your thoughts and point of view. I agree with much of what you state: 1. Canada is unique and homogeneous-true! Comparisons are misleading. 2. Teaching excellence drives student success-agreed. 3. Educational leadership, for the most part, know their roles well and do a great job supporting staff and schools. 4. Government demands and interference don’t help education, learning, and/or create effective collaboration in education; as a disclaimer I do believe the ATA and Alberta Education do in fact provide some of the best educational curriculum and resources in the world-my opinion. I do believe that government interference has created some serious issues for special education programming and inclusive education teacher; who said inclusive education can’t be a centralized service if that’s the most cost effective and common sense approach to families and students needs in inclusive education? Another area that bothers me professionally as an industrial arts teacher is the fact that we don’t spend money or plan CTS programming in a manner that strives to mandate, promote, and access state of the art technology. ( I think we should be past the notion that presentation software is really “cutting edge” technology or demonstrates our place as 21st century innovators.) Is doing this expensive? Yes! CNC router, lathe, and milling machines, water jet and laser cutting tables, 3D printers, virtual and robotic welding systems, and virtual reality design frameworks and platforms aren’t cheap to buy or provide specialized training for…but really let’s not pretend that this is a priority for Alberta Education or most school districts in Canada. I believe that we are falling sorrily behind Asian countries in terms of technological innovation and educational implementation in our programming. ( My apologies to any central office staff or administrators that always seem to get their “feather ruffled up” when I make statements like this or suggest that we are in a technology educational deficit situation in “bigger picture” thinking.) The issue for me is that we often don’t spend money in common sense or even fiscally a responsible manner- I may be poking the bear here but do we really need to spend money encouraging or helping individuals decide which bathroom they should be using? I think some of the pressures really are putting excellent people in positions of questioning why things are occurring in education that are reactionary, impulsive, and result in money being directed in areas and avenues that have little to do with innovation or student opportunity. As usual Chris provided me an opportunity to THINK and REFLECT on deeper topics of education…thanks 🙂

    1. Thanks Del for taking the time to respond and make comments. I’m not opposed to “poking the bear” as I’ve probably done it once or twice myself. However, I heard something this past weekend at my conference about “truth telling” which I often equate to “poking the bear” that has caused to be be a little more thoughtful. Telling the truth should always be done with love and charity and not used as a weapon or for revenge. It is something that I need to be very reflective on going forward.

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