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.

PP

CBE and the Provincial Budget – I Expect Better

I spent much of the day conversing with people on twitter regarding the provincial budget and response from the Calgary Board of Education, which seems dishonest and is disappointing.  I am frustrated that the CBE chooses to manipulate facts and deceive Calgarians with respect to what the government’s budget actually means for education.  I feel sorry for teachers who seem to be used as pawns for negotiation instead of the valued professionals they are.  It frustrates me to no end to listen to the CBE threaten teacher layoffs when that is not what the province intended with their budget and not the best scenario for Alberta’s students.

Below is a snippet from an e-mail that was sent to me by an anonymous Calgarian who shares my frustrations with the conversation:

The province’s budget wasn’t actually that bad. I’m surprised they even kept half of AISI actually, but I’ve heard good things about it in other jurisdictions. I was a little disappointed by the elimination of the enhanced ESL (only for new immigrants who basically have never been to school and don’t speak English), and that they only put such a measly little bit into pilot programs for special needs. That special needs freeze is going on 4 years now and is getting ridiculous.

The release by the CBE was very misleading however. The province didn’t cut as much as they are making it appear. A 60 million dollar deficit… Sigh. I can’t say I’m surprised. You noticed that they will be getting 28 million for teacher increases (although they say that won’t cover it – it’s probably 29 million), and doesn’t mention teachers retiring from the top of the grid when they talk about grid increases. The $25 million in grants that were cut should therefore be cut from the programs that they were designed to be cut from (eg. AISI should go down in half because the grant was cut in half).

The CBE shouldn’t go into a deficit in order to continue things that are no longer being funded (and AISI was considered a huge waste of dollars in Calgary anyways) unless there is a clear benefit (eg. they should probably continue enhanced ESL, but should offer it in less schools and the students who really need it should go to those schools). And despite what they said, the province did increase ESL funding by 11% in response to the greater population of ESL students. It was also the CBE’s suggestion to the province that they cut class size funding at all levels except K-3 in order to save money last year, so I don’t know why they are criticizing the province for cutting Grades 4-6 class size funding when it was their idea. So, I can understand a small deficit due to this budget, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near 60 million. The CBE is trying to use the province as a scapegoat for their own mismanagement.

I find the comments by the CBE disappointing.  The world is just starting to see the light at the end of the recession and times have been tough;  we can’t just keep giving more and more.  In my opinion, the CBE needs to tighten its belt just like everybody else.  It can do this by reducing targeted programs and finding better and more efficient ways of doing business.  It shouldn’t, however, hold teachers, parents and students hostage by threatening to cut teachers.  And the CBE should engage with Calgarians honestly.  I expect better!

PP