Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Final Day- Inspiring Education Forum

This day's highlights: U of A President Indira Samareskera's address and the discussion at my table. Low point of whole conference: discussion on governance.

But, let's start with the good news-- highlights from Dr. Sam's speech:
  • Reaffirmation of the importance of creativity. We need to be open to "weirdness, eccentricity and difference" (love it!). Difference must be celebrated rather than homogeneity.
  • Creative thinking is regarded by some to be inefficient, a waste of time, risky, a sign of laziness, but this is just wrong.
  • Everyone has the capacity to be creative in their field (it's not limited to arts).
  • Intellectual freedom is essential. Schools must support the fermentation of new ideas.
  • Teachers must model creativity and life-long learning in the very act of teaching through a willingness to learn from students and by being open to changes worldwide.
  • We should encourage students to ask us questions we cannot answer- encourage them to find answers themselves by drawing on expertise of many people.
  • 20-30% of intellectual growth of university students happens outside classes. This is a heavy shift to experiential learning.
  • Key skills for students to develop: the creative application of information, inventiveness, empathy and meaning-making.
  • We must ignite the passions of students.
  • My question for Dr. Sam that was not posted (due to time constraints): "We need to change the way we teach the teachers. How quickly can the U of A adapt its B'ED program to meet the new needs?"

Ideas from my table (discussion):

  • Difference between "power with" and "power over"... we need to recognize the limitations of "power over", which closes opportunities and meaning whereas "power with" with opens up possibilities for all.
  • Narrative identity development (from Phd student at my table, an expert on change!).... we develop a different way of seeing self, through our connection with others. ("One Self as An Other" recommended reading.) We self-regulate through our participation in a group. Focusing on personal achievement through a competitive model undermines levels of trust and social community. It reduces the potential of the group and actually makes us less competitive globally. As a summary: cooperation at a local level increases potential to "compete" on the global scale.
  • We added some suggestions to the "Bold and Courageous Ideas" section including: creating the time and environment for reflection & narrative inquiry to deepen understanding of the knowledge of change, personal growth & creative thought. We also thought we should create measures for the new priorities of education like creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, social adeptness, etc. etc.
  • Under POLICY THEMES there were three identified by the Inspiring Ed folks: Learner-centered system, Equitable and Inclusive Learning Opportunities and Coordinated/Integrated Supports.

The LOW POINT--- the discussion on governance. For many of the 180 trustees in the room, this was THE topic of most interest on the agenda. They wanted to know Where are we going? Will the government unveil their plan? Is the Education Superboard coming? Or will we now learn about some other model of distributed governance that involves giving parents more authority over their individual school (the "Every School is a Charter School" model). There was an expectation in the room that this would be a clarifying moment. Sadly, it was not.

The governance conversation started with a reading entitled "What is my unique contribution to the whole?" Interesting choice, I thought, to get us all in the right mindset. There were passages that said things like: "If we're going to reweave the world rather than have it disintegrate, we need new ways to understand diversity and differentness". It emphasized the importance of seeing our interconnectedness and listening quietly to other people's stories in order to find common ground.

Okay, I'm ready. I'm open. I'm listening quietly. Lay it on me- where are we going? But then I started to feel a little anxious, for some reason. For the first time in two days, doubt crept in.

Then out comes the wordle... it shows the answers that most people gave in response to a question something along the lines of: who is a contributor, with a shared responsibility for education? The words Parents, Teachers, Community were in huge letters of course. In small, insignificant letters was "school boards". I'm okay with that, but to take this information and tape under the heading: GOVERNANCE seemed disingenuous. The people being consulted last year never heard the word "governance"during these consultations....at least it wasn't mentioned at the session I attended. So to assume that having a shared responsibility is the SAME as governance doesn't jibe for me. And it didn't jibe for the trustees I met during the break. They were ticked off, in fact!

The sheets we filled in during our group discussion were entitled "A Shared Governance Model" and we were encouraged to think about how these contributors' roles could be increased. So people spent time examining how parents, teachers, students, etc. could have a more meaningful roles in governance. Because school boards had been presented as insignificant (visually and metaphorically by the wordle), I doubt they appeared on many sheets.

Then the photographs came out. I got a spider on a web and I was asked to tell the group how my photograph illustrated the governance themes of "Community Involvement", "Accountability and Shared Responsibility" and "Parental Engagement and Choice". I felt frustrated and, to be frank, manipulated.

To be clear, I support shared leadership. I support strong community ownership of education. I support meaningful involvement of students, parents and teachers in education. I believe we all own education, but I was looking for a discussion about "governance"... as I understand it...not more discussion of what photographs of swimmers, mountain bikers and compasses mean. I don't think the governance themes were genuinely generated in the first place (because the questions were never framed accurately), so I felt the whole conversation started in the wrong place. Ultimately, I want to hear where trustees and boards fit into all this.

I brought these concerns to the attention of the Minister of Education following the session today. He said I was confusing "governance" with "government". What I was looking for fell under "government" which would be developed based on the desired principles of "governance". He said everyone is involved in governance, only the elected officials are involved in government. I told him I thought most trustees labelled their work as governance and so it was logical they might be some confusion around this. He said he would clarify meaning through a communication, possibly on his blog. I thanked him for listening to my concerns and agreed that clarifying meaning was a good idea. He reiterated that he had no intention to create a superboard. "Why would I do all this and then create a superboard?" he asked. I also mentioned that not recognizing the 180 trustees in the room might have been interpreted as a lack of recognition for them and their work. I concluded by telling him how positive I thought the whole conference had been and thanked him for creating the opportunity for this important discussion. Change, I feel, is inevitable; the synergy of 800 people focused intently on one shared purpose will make it so.

1 comment:

Albertagirl46 said...

Thanks you for your post. I enjoy your insight into the various conferences going on. I think the issue you raise about the recognition of the School Boards is important. There should be an effort made to raise the profile of the School Boards. EPSB Trustees administer a budget nearly as large as the City of Edmonton's and has the added responsibility of educating our children, yet most voters in Edmonton really don't have much awareness as to what the EPSB trustees do. Through the past years the province has taken over more of the School Board responsibilities, but no one seems to be aware of the ramifications of this. I wouldn't discount a SuperBoard just yet.

Traditionally it seemed to be that retired teachers and people looking for an access into political life were the only ones to run for Trustee. This seems to be changing with "activist" parents getting involved, which is a good thing.

I have been reading different blogs about the Inspiring Education Forum and trying to predict 20 years in the future. I have decided to reread Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, just to see how useful speculation on the future is.