Focusing on the competencies

The following blog post was published in the Lethbridge Herald on October 02, 2019.

Last Thursday, Holy Spirit began the first of three division wide collaboration days. While most professional learning days have keynote presentations and work in similar interest groups, these days will focus on student competencies and will be cross grade and interdisciplinary. Student competencies are not necessarily new, as they were initiated back in 2013 with a Ministerial Order on Student Learning, but the need to focus on them is becoming increasingly important. 

With a few rewrites during the last couple of years, the competencies that students need to be highly engaged in are as follows: (1) Critical Thinking, (2) Collaboration, (3) Communication, (4) Managing Information, (5) Personal Growth and Well-Being, (6) Problem Solving, (7) Cultural and Global Citizenship, and (8) Creativity and Innovation. When we look at what a student needs in order to be successful in adulthood, whether attending post secondary or not, it is the development of these competencies that sets one apart. Note, memorization and regurgitation are not competencies required! 

None of the above competencies are subject or grade specific and that is why our teachers and support staff gathered in non-homogeneous groups. In other words, there is an opportunity to teach and role model the various competencies throughout the school day, no matter what one’s professional position or the grade level with which they work.  Competencies are just common sense and given that common sense is not overly abundant in today’s world, what better place to develop them than in our schools.  

Just as we tend to parent as we were parented, we often teach like we were taught and learn as we learned. Our collaborative days in Holy Spirit are allowing our staff to wrestle with the competencies themselves in order to more fully bring them to life in their schools and classrooms. A focus on student competencies does not undermine the importance of foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, but rather enhances them. For example, in her new book, Limitless Mind,” Stanford professor Jo Boaler writes about the benefits of collaboration. She says,

An important change takes place when students work together and discover that everybody finds some or all of the work difficult. This is a critical moment for students, and one that helps them know that for everyone learning is a process and that obstacles are common. Another reason that students’ learning pathways change is because they receive an opportunity to connect ideas. Connecting with another person’s idea both requires and develops a higher level of understanding. When students work together (learning math, science, languages, English— anything), they get opportunities to make connections between ideas, which is inherently valuable for them.” 

We are all students and, just as this research suggests, the opportunity to collaborate and specifically focus on student competencies will benefit not only ourselves but the students in our schools and classrooms. This continued shift in practice will only improve the experience of our students and enhance their success in their adult lives! 

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