Tuesday, June 20, 2017

High Relationships / High Academics: It takes Unity to Achieve this.

As I went to church this weekend, I listened to the visiting speaker talk about issues that divide many churches today. (Don’t tune me out just yet!) Usually what divides people in churches are a matter of preference and not because it’s absolutely essential. Some of the things that divide churches are the kind of music played, or the version of the Bible used from the pulpit, or whether you’re allowed to have a social drink or not. Yet all of these issues are matters of preference.

He illustrated this by using a diagram such as the one below.

 When churches have Low Love Low Truth, they are going nowhere because there is little vision or direction.

When churches have High Love and Low Truth, they become too permissive or passive, even though everyone is getting along, nobody really is taking a stand for anything.

When churches have Low Love and High Truth, they tend to become intolerant and judgmental of others, or very legalistic.

When churches have High Love and High Truth, they embody a balance that allows the church to overlook preferences or differences that matter little to the grand scheme of things because there is a Love for one another and a Love for Truth. These churches grow because there is a unity that thrives pulling everyone in the same direction.

So what does a Sunday morning message have to do with school? If you didn’t grow up in a strict legalistic Baptist church as I did, maybe the relevance is lost on you. But I think there are a lot of similarities in how schools operate. Let’s change a few of the terms first. Instead of Love, let’s call it Relationships, and instead of Truth, let’s call it Academics.

When a school operates in the Low Relationships Low Academics quadrant, they are a struggling school. There is tension or division, and the purpose of learning is lost.

When a school operates in High Relationships Low Academics quadrant, they become too permissive and kids are running the school. There is chaos. Standards are absent to hold students and teachers accountable. Learning takes a backseat in these scenarios. When the relationship is everything often what starts with unity ends in a division because the purpose is unclear.

When a school operates in the Low Relationships High Academics quadrant, they tend to become intolerant and judgmental of others who differ with their opinion or ways of doing things. These schools resist change because they are very set in their ways. They are right so why change. These schools are also very punitive towards behaviours or grades because the relationship piece is of little value and academics are everything.

When a school operates in the High Relationships High Academics quadrant, they embody a balance that allows the school to embrace diversity. Differences of opinion are valued and recognized as preferences. Teachers are encouraged to be creative and express themselves however they feel as long as it is in the best interest of the students learning needs. These schools understand that relationship with one another as staff and students is the key ingredient where learning begins. They realize students learn from teachers who care about them as a person first and know how to help them learn. There’s a balance. As a result, these schools thrive, because they move forward together with a common goal in mind.

So what does that mean for us as a school? The desire is for unity not for uniformity. Uniformity demands that everyone believe the same, or agree on everything. That is not realistic. We strive for consensus with the understanding that some will not be in agreement, but they will still work and support the majority. We need to be in agreement on the Code of Conduct, the TQS, Alberta Education Initiatives, Grassland School Division vision and mission, the Division policies, pedagogical practices, assessment, and lots more. These are the essentials.

However, when schools have developed a negative culture where it is acceptable to be critical of one another based on different preferences, these schools rarely move forward with success. Without unity, schools stall. Student learning takes second place because disunity distracts everyone from achieving what they are there to do. High Relationship, High Academic schools respect each other’s opinions without taking it personally, or it becomes a deal breaker for working together. They talk things out honestly and respectfully rather than meet in the hallways to solicit support for their positions because they have a need to be right.

I’m certain that staff at Bassano School want to be a High Relationship High Academic school. But if we focus on our differences, our focus is on each other. If we focus with unity, our focus is on our students, our school, and our communities. It’s not realistic to think we will always agree on how things should be done, but if we agree to respect each other despite our different preferences, we will remain united and be a strong healthy school. When we disagree with one another, it’s important not complain to one another about something because this promotes disunity. A legitimate complaint followed by solutions directed to the appropriate individuals in a respectful manner promotes unity.

I say this not because I feel that we are divided. Every school has its challenges, and overall I think we are pulling together as a staff. I feel a positive energy shift within our school. I would like for us to keep moving forward with unity and harmony. As we have a few new staff joining us next year, we need to be open to new ideas and suggestions they may bring with them. We need to make them feel welcome and important. I know we will do that because we want to be united and we want to grow as a school.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

My Philosophy of Education Starts With Children

From the earliest moments of systematic knowledge acquisition or formal schools, Aristotle classified the pursuit of knowledge into three categories: the theoretical pursuit of truth for truth’s sake, the productive discipline of making things, and the practical discipline of making judgments. Not much has really changed over the years because each of these disciplines suggests that the learner was central to the process of learning as a life-long learner, which subsequently transferred this knowledge into something usable that lead to action and yet guided by principles of what is good for all. Learning from that point forward encouraged the individual to pursue knowledge through inquiry that centred around the constructivist principle attaching meaning to learning outcomes or concepts. But somewhere along the way, education was limited to the elite upper class heavily influenced by the Industrial Age, restricting many from accessing formal learning opportunities.

That was the past. As learning theories have swung like a pendulum over the years, and many repeating themselves, we have moved into the 21st Century, and it is imperative that we base all educational philosophies upon proven theory of understanding and knowing the truth (knowledge) that places the burden of learning squarely on the individual learner.

While we are inundated with all kinds of initiatives and approaches to teaching learning these days, like RTI – Response to Intervention, CRM – Collaborative Response Model, Adaptive Schools, Math for Success, Brain Based Learning, Personalized Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and more, we must keep one thing central, the students. What sometimes gets lost with teachers under the pressure of learning a new approach is the learning itself. We need to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this just good practice around students and learning, or is it a new initiative that will fade into the past like so many have before?” Recently, a new research study released by Oxford University stated that in the next 25 years, 47% of the jobs will be gone due to computerization, machination and robotics. While this might scare us reading this, it is ever more increasingly important to teach students how to learn. It is imperative then to assist our students in the process of being a life-long learner, and when we have done so, we have helped them for life.

In the 21st Century, placing the learner at the centre of all learning experiences needs to be aided by technology, makerspaces, experiential learning, and other ways to engage the learner.

  • Learners need to develop skills, knowledge, and competencies that will benefit them in school and life,
  • With outcomes and standards established, we need to support learners in attaining these outcomes with means other than textbooks and worksheets,
  • Learners are supported in the construction of knowledge that links past and present knowledge with outcomes in meaningful ways through connections to real life,
  • Greater emphasis needs to be placed on literacy and numeracy skills for lifelong learning,
  • Assisting learners in developing learning pathways based on intrinsic motivation that integrate personal values, interests, and goals,
  • Each learner is considered unique, allowing flexibility of where, when and how they are able to learn,
  • Engaging parents as an active and essential role in creating meaningful opportunities for the learner,
  • Supporting teachers in their role as facilitators of learning through professional development and with their Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s),
  • Engage learners through technology connecting them to a world of information,
  • Incorporating technology into the learning experience that embraces creativity as the highest order of thinking,
  • Understanding where students come from and what trauma they may have experience that is impeding their ability to learn.

In the end, it simply comes back to putting kids needs first over those of ourselves as educators. It’s also about treating the students as we wish we were treated as students. When we show respect to students, we create the fertile soil where learning can and will happen. Each student will learn at different rates and by different methods, but in the end, they are still learners, and as a teacher, I have been granted the wonderful opportunity to change lives that ultimately changes their future.