Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Guest Blogger Trina Hurdman, on Inspiring Education

Nation, during the course of my reaching out to candidates in this October's municipal election, I found myself having a discussion with Trina Hurdman, a candidate for Calgary Board of Education Trustee (Wards 1 & 2).

We got onto the topic of the recently released Inspiring Education report, and Trina mentioned she had some thoughts that went beyond the initial panicked reaction that most media focused on relating to the mention of governance in the report. I offered her a chance to speak about the report and its vision on The Enlightened Savage, and she graciously took me up on my offer.

I want to make it clear that this opportunity is a standing offer, to anyone running for office in Calgary this year. Anyone who wishes to run against Trina - or for any office whatsoever - will have the same chance to engage in a discussion with me, and see if we can get their ideas or vision onto this space for the voters to see, via text or (as was the case with mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi) through audio (I won't, however, be re-posting anyone's campaign flyer verbatim).

Appearance by a candidate on this site does not constitute an endorsement on my part. You should all know by now, I don't do endorsements. You're all grown-ups, and you can make up your own minds.

Trina's text begins... now.


As many of you don't know, last week, Alberta's Ministry of Education, unveiled a report entitled, "Inspiring Education." It was the result of a three year long conversation with over 4000 Albertans on what the future of education in Alberta should look like. The 51 page report presents a vision for education and deals mainly about how we need to shift from content to competencies within our classrooms. However, there is one sentence within the 51 page report that deals with the subject of governance and states, "Governors could be elected, appointed, or recruited from the community," which, not surprisingly, journalists took to mean that the province was going to replace locally elected trustees with a super-board, as they did with our health regions. Despite Stelmach's and Hancock's firm denial of such an idea, and the fact that the next sentence is, "Governance should be less top-down," the media has pounced on this subject of governance and the rest of the report has largely gone unnoticed.

I think it deserves better than that. Our children are in the classroom, not the boardroom, and we need to focus on how this will affect them. Education is changing and too many people fear those changes because it is so different than what they experienced in their own youth. This is why this report is so important. It presents a vision that 4000 Albertans have created together. If we can agree with this vision, then the shortcomings of our current system will become more apparent and we will be much more likely to support change. Without support from all stakeholders, this vision will never become a reality, and that would be a pity.

So, what exactly is this vision? I will attempt to condense the report down to what I believe are the essentials. At the forefront are specific qualities and abilities that we want our children to possess by the time they graduate from high school. They have been summarized as "the Three E's" of education. They are (and I quote directly from the report):
  • Engaged Thinker: one who thinks critically and makes discoveries; who uses technology to learn, innovate, communicate, and discover; who works with multiple perspectives and disciplines to identify problems and find the best solutions; who communicates these ideas to others; and who, as a life-long learner, adapts to change with an attitude of optimism and hope for the future.
  • Ethical Citizen: one who builds relationships based on humility, fairness and open-mindedness; who demonstrates respect, empathy and compassion; and who through teamwork, collaboration and communication contributes fully to the community and the world.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit: one who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.

I want to make it clear that focusing on the "Three E's" by no means implies that the "Three R's" (reading, writing, and arithmetic) will be tossed out the window. In order to develop critical thinking skills, communicate effectively, or explore ideas, students must have certain basic skills that will not diminish in importance. What will change is how those skills are developed and used in the classroom. Those skills will become a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

In order to create an educational system designed to foster these "Three E's," the report identified six values that should always be considered when making any decisions about education. These are (and again I quote):

  • Opportunity - Learners are exposed to rich learning experiences that enable them to discover their passions and achieve their highest potential.
  • Fairness - Learners have access to the programs, support services, and instructional excellence needed to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Citizenship - Learners have pride in their community and culture. They have a sense of belonging and work to improve both the community and the world.
  • Choice - Learners have a choice of both programs and methods of learning.
  • Diversity - Learners’ differing needs, cultures, and abilities are respected and valued within inclusive learning environments.
  • Excellence - Learners, teachers, and governors achieve high standards.

Sounds good so far, doesn't it? How could anyone have a problem with any of that? High standards, rich learning environments, more choice. Great! However, many people don't understand what changes will need to take place in order to actually make it a reality. Some areas where change could occur are presented throughout the Inspiring Education report and include:

  • Assessment practices: the "Three E's" are pretty hard to measure using standardized multiple choice tests, or any sort of grade, and will need to be replaced.
  • Role of the teacher: teachers will oversee learning activities rather than transmitting facts.
  • Curriculum: should be less restrictive in order to allow students to pursue their passions.
  • Technology: needs to support innovation and discovery and should not just be a teaching aid.
  • Governance: should have a greater representation of stakeholders responsible for decision-making.
  • Personalization: students learn in different ways and at different speeds and should not necessarily be grouped by age and grade.
  • Credentialing: required hours of study may lose relevance as we focus more on whether or not the competencies have been mastered.

Starting to feel a twinge of doubt now? Change is hard. It is especially hard in the field of education because it's our children's futures that are at stake. But, change is needed. With so much information available at our fingertips, who are we to judge what information is most important for children to memorize and at what age they should be exposed to it? How much of what you learned in your high school classes do you use in your daily life? How much of it is still even relevant? The world is changing faster than ever before. We can no longer stand still while doing the same things as always, and expect our children to be prepared for what lies ahead.

If our educational system can succeed in creating engaged thinkers and ethical citizens who have a true entrepreneurial spirit, we will have truly made the world a better place for everyone. I encourage you to read the report and share this vision with others, so that when these new ideas are presented, you will know what we are trying to achieve. A better education for our children, and a better future for all.

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