Playing at the outer boundaries!

A couple of weeks ago, Holy Spirit Catholic Schools hosted our annual division-wide professional development day that showcased many of our own teachers leading sessions and also included an open spaces concept. This year I offered both a morning and afternoon session entitled, “A Conversation with the Superintendent- Let’s talk about transformation!” It was an opportunity to share my thoughts and dreams about the division but more importantly to respond to questions and engage staff. To be very honest, these conversations are far more beneficial to me as I hear grassroots thinking that allows me to grow as a leader.

One of the topics that came up in both sessions revolved around curriculum. I have long been a critic of the extensive curriculum that currently exists in Alberta. The overabundant amount of curricular outcomes often leaves little time to develop learning beyond the surface. This lack of depth deprives students of truly engaging in their own learning. Teachers typically believe that they are mandated to cover every outcome whether it has anything to do with what I would suggest is core learning to that grade or the next grade. There is a mandate but I thought I would push the envelope a little by asking, “If you didn’t teach all of the outcomes, would the superintendent, your principal, parents or students know?” The obvious answer was a categorical, “No!” I decided to go a little further and ask if great teachers had a full understanding of what needed to be taught at their own grade or subject level for student success. Participants believed that was the case!  So, my final question was, “Why aren’t we focusing on those outcomes instead of trying to get through everything?”

I relayed this conversation to Alberta Education personnel at a recent information session. I’m not a “rule breaker” but I believe if we continue to congregate in the middle of fenced area that governs education, we will never move far from where we currently exist. Transformation will require us to get to the far edges of the fence and hopefully enlarge the flexibility of our rulebook. And part of the transformation process has to include a redesign of the current curriculum. Alberta Education is involved in the process of Curriculum Redesign currently and it is outstanding. Their Framework for Student Learning provides the right direction for educational reform.

Framework for Student Learning- Alberta Education

However, the issue I have is not on the excellent work being led by the province but instead on the time it will take to “get it right!” I’m suggesting that we continue with the work of Curriculum Redesign but also allow individual jurisdictions to pilot some common core initiatives. The guidelines need to be fairly strict to ensure that student learning is enhanced and professional judgment is collective and informed. Teachers cannot do this in isolation as professional judgment is far too diverse and therefore, schools and divisions must build in the collective approach.

We know that literacy and numeracy must be central to student learning.  We also know that both teacher and student autonomy are motivating for increased student engagement. The literature is also overwhelming that purpose and mastery are key to learner engagement. It is my believe that shrinking the curriculum in order to allow for deep inquiry in outcomes will allow the goals of inspiring education to be more fully realized. It is time for education to move from the comfort of the center of the “rules” fence and start investigating the outer boundaries.  But to do this there must be permission granted not just from my office but from the province too!!!


  1. I break the “rules” regarding curriculum quite often. My kids are fine and, frankly, I think their experience in my classroom is better for it.

  2. I know many teachers who are scared to death that the curriculum police will take them away in handcuffs. Accountability has instilled a very real fear in many teachers that convinces them to teach in awful ways because they think that’s what they have to do.

    Some teachers aren’t waiting for permission, and some of them are getting away with implementing Inspiring Education, while others are getting reprimanded for it. We are in a difficult transition period right now and some teachers are becoming collateral damage.


    1. Thanks Joe for your comments! There is no doubt that some educators are fearful of being innovative. However, sometimes that fear is not from outside forces but internally motivated. Sometimes the fear originates because an innovative practice is far from our comfort zone and we would rather not move from there. Other times, there is a callous attitude of “This too shall pass!” Regardless, everybody in the education system, top to bottom, side to side has to move along the continuum of inspiring education… our students are far too important for us just to sit and do nothing. Each of us is responsible for the necessary changes required. I have always said that increased internal responsibility decreases the need for outside accountability.

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