Inspiring Education Requires Innovation

This blog was inspired by this 15 minute video – If you care about education you need to watch the video – if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, watch minutes 5-7 for some key points.  Also, at about 9 minutes and 40 seconds, they say the program costs $5000 per child – I would love to know how much we pay per child in Alberta and what that cost includes.

I don’t have children in school, but since my good friend, Bill Campbell, asked me to join the Save Our Fine Arts group (#sofab) I have taken a keen interest in Alberta’s education system.  I have been learning about the role of teachers, school boards, principals, trustees, parents and lastly – unfortunately – students.  I have also discovered that employers are not part of the discussion in any substantial way.   (In health the hierarchy goes doctors, nurses then everybody else).

I have spent much of my professional life working for industry associations, where I get to study the economy from a macro level and observe patterns and trends from a birds eye view.  My degree is in Human Resource Management and while HR has never been in my title at work, every job I’ve had has dealt directly with workforce issues.

While I believe we have a decent education system in Alberta, I support Minister Dave Hancock’s vision for a transformational shift in how we approach the cultivation of tomorrow’s leaders in our schools.  I applaud Minister Hancock for bringing the Inspiring Education Initiative forward and for the approach he has taken, which attempts to be collaborative and inclusive.  Not everyone will agree on the details, but the direction Minister Hancock is trying to take education is right.

Looking at the interaction between the education system and the economy from a bird’s eye view, I see disconnect between the type of workforce employers say they need and the system we use to prepare students for that workforce.  If this disconnect continues we will fail our children and leave future generations without the tools they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

The broad range of employers I have spoken to over my career consistently tell me they need a workforce that is innovative, creative and sharp – able to adapt to an ever changing world.  How can a system that rewards seniority over innovation and creativity achieve that type of workforce?

We need to provide our young students with confidence – that is the secret ingredient that wakes a child up and allows them to explore.  Teachers (I’m sure many already do) should take on the role of facilitator and confidence coach and our education system should reward creativity and innovation rather than stifle it.  How can we breed the confidence to innovate and create into our children when we don’t give our teachers the confidence and tools to do so in their classrooms?

We need a system that allows for honest and open dialogue amongst ALL participants.  Teachers need a voice that is separate from the ATA so that they can speak publically and with confidence when they don’t agree with a direction being taken.

We all remember Bill 44.  A great online debate took place but there seemed to be one voice missing.  Through @crontynen’s MA research, she learned that on several occasions the ATA told teachers not to get involved in the online debate and that the teacher’s views would be expressed by the ATA.  While this was fine for some, @crontynen spoke with teachers that were craving a platform to discuss how they personally felt whether they agreed or disagreed with Bill 44.

The type of transformational change Minister Hancock describes will not happen and we will not nurture the innovation and creativity we need in tomorrow’s leaders unless we address these disconnects directly today.  These old paradigms simply won’t get us to where we need to go.  We also need to involve business leaders in the discussion since learning is a life long journey that business takes over once people enter the workforce.  It’s in everybody’s best interest to allow and encourage business to help the system get better.  Business has created the innovative approached in education and compensation that can be modeled after to make the education system more effective.

I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that this transformation could be facilitated though a focus on fine arts education.   Music, dance, theatre, poetry, art are expressions of creativity which can be used to educate children about every single subject.  Education through a fine arts lens can help foster the creativity, innovation and, most importantly, confidence our children will need to succeed.

We also need to fund the education system adequately.  This does not mean giving into teacher salary demands to buy their silence over the course of a collective agreement, it means rewarding innovation and creativity in the classroom.  It means providing enough money to supply the tools and resources teacher need to get their job done – but first we need to define how many resources are needed to get the job done.  It means bringing measurement and accountability into the school system and getting away from a system that rewards seniority.

To actually achieve a transformational shift in Alberta’s education system we will have to approach the system in a completely new and different way.  Everybody must have an opportunity to participate and we must be completely honest about the discussion.  We need to shine a very bright light toward the fact that the system we use does not mirror the outcomes we are looking for.  Then we need to have the courage to go there.  Old attitudes will do everything to stop us from moving in this direction.  We cannot let them stop us. Our children are changing and we need an education system that is fluid enough and innovative enough to change with them.


12 thoughts on “Inspiring Education Requires Innovation

  1. Thanks for thoughtful post. I also think Minister Hancock has done some very brave work taking this important conversation out to the people. I fear that all the work will be for naught though, as his days as Minister of Education appear numbered. Will the next Minister of Education share his passion and commitment? Will he/she share Mr. Hancock’s long term view of how education needs to be transformed? Or will he/she be daunted by the costs involved (for surely, everyone must know that transformation will cost more initially) and pull back to what we have always done?

    Can we move beyond simplistic standardized testing to something that truly measures personal growth, creativity, critical thinking, empathy, the ability to work collaboratively and in an interdisciplinary manner….and the other qualities that we know children will need to be successful in the future?

    Can we create a system that is flexible and responsive enough to meet the needs (and explore the talents) of ALL students? Can school become about learning rather than testing?

    Or will this vision be too much for the current MLAs who will vote on the new Education Act. You mention Bill 44— this was a real low point for the current government. They lost the path, in my opinion.

    For the sake of our children, let’s hope they can find it again.

    Best regards,
    Sue Huff
    Acting Leader
    Alberta Party

    1. Thanks for your comment Sue.

      I cannot speak for other leadership candidates, but I support @griffmla for PC Party Leader because I strongly believe that he is interested in seeing transformational change in Education. When he wins the leadership I am confident that he will foster an environment that allows such change to occur – not only in Education but also in Health and other key areas.

      While the details on how that change should occur must be flexible, the vision and direction needs to be clear. I believe Doug will bring this type of leadership.

      While the PC Leadership contest may delay the strategy a little bit, it will give us all an opportunity to bring these issues to the forefront and pick a leader that will help us achieve the vision laid out by Minister Hancock’s Inspiring Education Initiative.


  2. Thanks for your comment Sue.

    I cannot speak for other leadership candidates, but I support @griffmla for PC Party Leader because I strongly believe that he is interested in seeing transformational change in Education. When he wins the leadership I am confident that he will foster an environment that allows such change to occur – not only in Education but also in Health and other key areas.

    While the details on how that change should occur must be flexible, the vision and direction needs to be clear. I believe Doug will bring this type of leadership.

    While the PC Leadership contest may delay the strategy a little bit, it will give us all an opportunity to bring these issues to the forefront and pick a leader that will help us achieve the vision laid out by Minister Hancock’s Inspiring Education Initiative.


  3. If you want to know how much we pay per student in Alberta, let’s look at the 2011 budget recently released.
    Total education budget: $6,400,000,000
    Total funded students: 558,473
    Per student funding = $11,460
    This includes operating and capital expenditures and is obviously not transferable to how much school boards or individual schools get per student. What I would love to know is how much of the $11,460/student principals actually see when they do their budget, but I digress.

    Now let’s look at the Harlem Children’s Zone. When Geoffrey Canada talked about $5000/child, he wasn’t talking about his charter school students. He was talking about the health and social services provided to the 10,000 kids in the community. So 10,000 x $5000 = $50,000,000. His annual budget is $76,000,000 which leaves $26,000,000 for his 1200 students or $21,667/student.

    I’m not trying to belittle the work that Geoffrey Canada is doing. He is changing lives for the better, and although I disagree with many of the things he does in his charter schools, I applaud him for realizing that we need to provide much more than academic stimulation for kids to succeed. I am very glad that the Alberta government is also looking at providing more wraparound services to our students and I, too, think that Alberta Education is heading in the right direction.

    What I dislike most about Geoffrey Canada’s schools is his “succeed at any cost” model in which he prides himself for bribing his students to succeed academically. This leads to students who only do things only for extrinsic rewards. For example, the 5th grade student who wants to go to Stanford and be a CEO only because it pays the most. He probably has no idea what a CEO actually does, or if he would find the job interesting or challenging. He just wants to make more money than the other people in whatever organization he joins. It is people doing things only for money that got us into a big financial mess a couple of years ago.

    Is succeeding for money better than not succeeding at all? I would have to answer yes, because the lives these disadvantaged students would lead otherwise is often much, much worse. I just wish Geoffrey Canada would use other methods to accomplish his goals. He certainly has enough money to.

    I really liked what you wrote about needing students who are innovative, creative and sharp. Unfortunately, I did not see any of that in the video. On the contrary, the students seemed to be conformists due to the uniforms, strict discipline (not to mention bribery tactics) who are trained to be good test takers. But, I cannot say that for sure without visiting the school.

    Now, as for your other points in the blog post:
    – I completely agree that teachers need more autonomy and that they should be able to speak freely. I also think that MLAs should be able to speak freely. Is that always in everyone’s best interest?
    – I disagree that education should be modelled after business practices. Business practices are based on competition which is designed to weed out the failures, not to ensure the success of all. I want every student to succeed. That is not to say that there are not some lessons that could be learned from business. Education should be looking at best practices everywhere.
    – I agree that fine arts teach more 21st century skills than almost any other subject and should be an integral part of every student’s education.
    – I agree that everyone needs to come together in order to create the transformational shift that is needed in our education system.
    – As for rewarding innovation and creativity through measurement and accountability… I think I’ll just leave that one for another day 🙂

    1. Thanks Trina. Like I said in my blog, we should be firm on the goal or vision and flexible with the details.

      With respect to business practices being based on competiton which is designed to weed people out; I will suggest that GOOD businesses are about the exact opposite of that. Bill Campbell works for a good business – you shoudl talk to him about how much they pay to nurture, train and accompodate their employees – its very, very high.

      Having said that, if people consistently don’t perform well they get let go – the same should go for bad teachers.

      The point you make about that grade 5 student not knowing waht a CEO does day to day doesn’t really sit well with me. Do you really think a grade 5 kid who wants to be a police officer knows how much paperwork is required or that they would have to spent a lot of time testifying in court?

      Money isn’t a bad thing and we shouldn’t treat it that way.

      I don’t advocate for bribing kids with money either; but Canada’s failure is not an option is appropriate for what he is trying to acheive in what is a very dificult environment. Those kids have it very tough and come from some very disfunctional families. There is nothing wrong with hard love and discipline as long as its accompanied with compassion and empathy.

      Thanks again for your comments – I appreciate your point of view and willingness to share.


      1. Good businesses weed out the failures during the interview process. Only charter schools and private schools have the option of selecting their students here.

        I’m not sure why people continue to harp on about letting go bad teachers. First of all, there are ways to fire bad teachers. It just requires due process, as it should. Second of all, teaching is incredibly hard and I think it does a great job of naturally weeding out the ones who are less effective. People naturally don’t want to stay in a job they’re bad at when it’s so difficult. Rather than focusing on how to get rid of “bad” teachers, it would be more helpful to figure out how to better support the great ones so that they don’t leave.

        I don’t think money is a bad, but it is not an end in itself. Money is just paper (or numbers on a statement). It is only what you do with money that has any value. This is why I take issue with the Grade 5 student. A child who wants to be a police officer may not know what it entails, but it shows that he’s interested in something. Being interested in being a CEO only because it pays more is just sad.

        Thanks for the responses!

      2. I had to comment on this one … I’m really struggling with the fact that it is an issue that the Grade 5 student wants to make money.

        Let’s imagine, for a moment, what his daily circumstances are like … he probably views money as a way out for him and his family. A way out of Harlem, and danger. So it shouldn’t be he wants to make money and that’s sad. It should be why does he want to make money? To have a chance? To give his family a chance? To give his future family a better chance?

        I’m glad he has goals and he recognizes that he can, despite where he was born and the situation he was born into, make money and become a successful business man. I’m glad that he wants to be successful and I’m confident that as he grows up his definition of success will change. Maybe he sees Canada as a “success” and knows he has money.

        At the core kids don’t understand money – they do understand that it makes the world go round. So good for him – for getting it and for wanting something better for his future than to be the next teenager shot dead in Harlem’s streets.

        Canada and his school system did not turn this kid into a money hungry future shady businessman … that to me is silly to even try to parallel.

        I’m excited that we have an example of how innovative we can get in education.

        That’s my 2 cents anyways.

        Thanks P and T!

        C xo

      3. Everyone should want to make money, because everyone should want to be independent. It’s ONLY wanting to make money that is the problem. I’m glad he wants to better himself. I’m only afraid that he’s going to accomplish his goal and then say, “Now what? I’ve spent most of my life making my way to the top and I have everything anyone could ever want and I have no idea who I am or what I want to do with it.” And then he’ll figure out what he’s really passionate about and discover that he’s wasted most of his life pursuing something that isn’t all that important to him.

        This is what education transformation is supposed to be about – helping kids to find their passions so that they can spend their lives doing something fulfilling, rather than having a job to make money and counting down the days until retirement. You know, that whole Sir Ken Robinson talk 🙂

      4. I agree Trina – this warrants an in person conversation! 🙂

        I must say though that we shouldn’t take what the grade 5 child says so far … we have no idea what was edited out.

        But to say he ONLY wants to make money is absurd … especially when you see how passionate he is about his studies. To insinuate that because of what he has said he is going to grow up and be unhappy and realize he has wasted his life is even more absurd … especially when you consider how much effort it has even taken him to beat the Harlem odds and get this far.

        Agree with the style or not, Canada’s educational system has turned children’s’ lives around and made them passionate about school, staying off the streets, and becoming something … even if that something is a rich CEO.

        CR xo

      5. Forgot one last thing 🙂 The financial crisis was not caused by shady businessmen and I by no means meant to insinuate that Canada’s methods would create such people. The financial crisis was caused by institutions and investors taking undue risk because their only object was to make money.

        I, too, am excited by innovation in education. I just don’t want the wrong lessons to be learned.

        Thanks again for providing this forum for conversation. I think we’ll have to explore our different philosophies about money in person 😉

  4. Peter, thanks for your comments above. You have been a great addition to our Save Our Fine Arts committee. A strong education is key to our future success, not only individually, but also as a Province. Our current system has done us well for the past 30 years. But as the world continues to change, we need to change our education system with it. For the future of our Province. For the future of our children. I believe Education Minister Dave Hancock is on the right track. However, like everything, there is a cost. Hopefully, our next premier will provide the funding that is required.

  5. I think the Hon. Dave Hancock summed it up nicely in a speech he made to Edmonton area teachers:
    “The best possible circumstance is that we have a Premier who understands and values our education system – one who sees it as the most important investment we can make in the future of our children and our province.
    How can we help that happen?
    We can do that if we speak with one voice.
    I can tell you, from a political perspective, that whenever there is a multitude of opinions, ideas and competing philosophies on an issue, the most likely political action is inaction.” Reflecting on what I have heard over the last few months would indicate that there are many areas that we do agree on. That is where we need to focus our efforts right now. As the Minister said, the province is at a “tipping point.”

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