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Feb 12

Chris Smeaton

Preparing tomorrow’s teachers!

On Friday, I had the pleasure of presenting to members of the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge on the transformation agenda. I began my presentation with a quote that I took from a tweet by Dave Martin (@d_martin05) “If we teach today, the way we were taught yesterday no one will ever be prepared for tomorrow.”  Even though the U of L offers one of the finest education programs in the country, they too, like all teacher preparation institutions, must be involved if education is to be truly transformed. Currently Alberta Education is engaged in an action agenda that encompasses a number of initiatives, all of which are to impact transformation. They include:

  • Action on Curriculum (Curriculum Redesign)
  • Action on Inclusion
  • Action on Teaching and Learning
  • Action on Legislation
  • Action on Research
  • Action on FNMI Success

It would be unrealistic for our university partners to ensure that teaching training included the above list in great detail but I believe there are certain aspects that all new teachers need a solid background in to prepare our students for tomorrow. If we truly want engaged thinkers, ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit, then here’s my list:

  1. The Three R’s- Relationship! Relationship! Relationship!- Great teachers of today and great teachers of tomorrow need to be able to develop authentic relationships with their students and parents, their colleagues and their administration.  I always add the word authentic because relationships based only on “feel good” instead of mutual trust and respect don’t last long. We know that successful students have at least one adult in the school that they can identify with and feel a sense of belonging. Every student needs to have that experience and it can only be achieved through authentic relationships. Great teachers are not friends with their students, they are mentors. That authenticity needs to flow to parents, colleagues and administrators as well. Trust, which is critical in our world today can only be built through the establishment of authentic relationships.
  2. 21st Century Competencies- It is time to move away from what to learn to how to learn. For too many years, we have been programmed to be content driven as educators. Although our curricula tends to be far too wide and not very deep, we still have to find the ability to embed these competencies. Students need the opportunity to be creative, innovative and collaborative. They need to be able to problem solve and think critically because, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein.
  3. Inclusive Education- One of the greatest shifts that I believe has occurred with inclusive education is starting from student strengths rather than student deficiencies. Furthermore, learning must be for ALL students not just some. That requires teachers to draw from a large toolkit of high yield strategies to meet the needs of EACH student. Understanding brain research, implementing differentiated instruction and utilizing powerful assessment strategies are not optional but rather part of what good teachers do… day in and day out. Setting up structures of intervention within the classroom and/or building cannot be left to chance. Inclusion means moving from feeling sympathy and making excuses to having empathy and creating opportunities.  
  4. Focus on FNMI- The last 150 years of FNMI education has been dismal. With an increasing birthrate in the FNMI population it should come as no surprise that all divisions will have more FNMI students in their classrooms in the coming years. The first step to FNMI student success must be on building strong and positive relationships. For too long, fingers have be pointed and blame has been established. This can only be eliminated by the development of trusting relationships and through a better understanding and knowledge of our FNMI peoples and their culture. Every time I view the video “Justice for Aborginal Peoples” it reminds me of the terrible injustices they have endured and the need to heal wounds we created. We have often told FNMI people what they need to do for their children’s success in school and quite honestly that has not worked. Instead, we need to ask our FNMI people what we can do as individual teachers, schools and systems to help create successful learners.
  5. Lifelong Learning- One of the 21st century competencies is lifelong learning. It is extremely difficult to teach if we are not role models ourselves. Teachers need to be constantly updating their skills, looking at the latest research and engaging in high quality professional learning. Going to a conference every 5 years is not sufficient given the complexities of education today. Teachers need to engage in collaborative activities both inside and outside of the typical school day. Social media has allowed educators to engage in professional dialogue based on their own needs and without expense. Students need to see teachers excited and passionate about their personal learning. Teacher’s enthusiasm about self learning and personal management must be readily viewed by students.   
  6. Be Bold- This is probably the most important to me as the senior leader of the division. We cannot maintain the status quo anymore if we truly want to transform education, and the only way to move from the status quo is to be bold. Being bold doesn’t mean being disrespectful or becoming an anarchist, but it does mean challenging the status quo and pushing the learning culture. It means trying something new and innovative, becoming a risk taker in your classroom and failing forward. Bold systems require bold leaders and bold schools require bold teachers. Without boldness we will wake up 5, 10, or 20 years from now and still be having the same conversations.

So, what would you say is important for preparing tomorrow’s teachers?

2 comments

  1. rick

    Good post, Chris. A few thoughts, if I may?

    Define ‘Authentic”.

    This is one of today’s buzzwords; everybody says ‘authentic’ assessment, ‘authentic’ relationships, ‘authentic’ activities. What constitutes ‘Authentic’? To my mind (in context above) authentic is trusting and sincere, empathetic and concrete. The people who share these relationships with us have to be able to trust that we are in them for the right reason, reasons built on our integrity and our concrete beliefs. They have to trust that we honestly care how they feel and how they strive to get through the day, and that our relationship is built on that basis, rather as a matter of control or pro-forma technique. We need to be clear and sincere, and value the relationships we have while striving to understand the people we have them with. Our relationships with kids, parents, peers, and community have to say “I care about you and what happens to you. I will do my best to help you, and will be honest with my feedback and my feelings. I may not always agree with you, but even when I don’t, I still care. You can trust me not because of what I say, but because of how I act.”

    “More about ‘how to learn’ than ‘what to learn’ “. I mostly agree with this; life is not (nor has it ever been, if we are honest) about becoming great at Trivial Pursuits. Learning ‘How to Learn’ in today’s information-rich world is a mandatory skillset.

    But it’s not enough. To drop a phrase a friend of mine uses, it is ‘Necessary but not Sufficient’. Lots of things in the world are built out of other things; the knowledge and skills needed by tomorrow’s generation will need to be constructed out of (and built upon) the knowledge and skills so hard-won in previous generations. It’s really hard to work with chemical reaction dynamics without at least a rudimentary understanding of particle theory. It’s difficult to understand immigration without a firm grip on geography, economis, politics, and history. My caution here is that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater; if our elementary teachers focus on working together, communication, and using 21st century tools to the exclusion of basic frameworks for embedding knowledge into conteptual structures, our secondary teachers are going to have a tough time.

    Curriculum – and planning longitudinally – is still very important.

    You are completely accurte with the new move toward inclusive environments, and with the issues we face in doing better with FNMI education and understanding FNMI culture. Doing a better job of these IS the work of a lifetime.

    Mostly, I agree with being bold, with having the courage to toss out blind obesiance to the status quo.

    However, I would like to consider one other part; being responsible.

    It’s great to get a fabulous idea at a conference, from twitter, or off somebody’s blog and decide (with great conviction) “THAT’S what I’m going to do, starting tomorrow!”
    The inherent problem is that you are playing around with children’s futures when you do that; what if you’re wrong? We need to make responsible choices, and think them all the way through. Deciding that kids no longer need to learn to spell, or understand their basic facts in Math, Science, or Geography will have consequences long past the elementary years we teach them in, and when those children suddenly struggle trying to fit into a High School system that is unprepared for them, it is not enough for us to shrug and say “those High School guys need to get in the game. It’s not our fault”.

    We are trying to do that now, except we are more comfortable pointing the finger at our post-secondary acceptance policies. We need to be responsible to not only have the great ideas, but to make sure the entire system makes the changes necessary to enable those great ideas. We need to be responsible enough to not only give kids a push forward, but to pave their way forward.

    And if those great ideas fail, we need to be responsible for the choices we made that now place those kids at a disadvantage.

    So what’s important in preparing tomorrow’s teachers? Teach them to be honest and sincere, to be curious, to be explorers, to embrace everyone, to have vision, and to be responsible.

    Our very best teachers already are all of those things.

  2. Chris Smeaton
    Chris Smeaton

    Great comments Rick! Thanks! You’ve hit the exact meaning of authentic to me. Last week, I spoke with a parent of a child with special needs. She told me that when we know that something is wrong, don’t make excuses just tell the the truth. She said that she may not like the answer but would appreciate the honesty. That’s authentic.

    Regarding content, like most things we always have to strive for balance. It cannot be an “either/or” world but instead “and”. Transformation doesn’t require us to throw out everything that we are currently doing. We need to honor the past and maintain those practices that continue to be effective and efficient. Change for the sake of change is not beneficial- we’ve done that too much already in education.

    And finally, your piece on responsibilty is crucial. Each of us needs to be responsible to the individual child and collectively to each other and the system. Quite honestly… kids deserve it!

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