I was pleased to contribute to the recently published paper – Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada. The paper is authored by Penny Milton, the former long serving head of the Canadian Education Association, and had contributions from more than twenty superintendents across the country, among others.
I have written before about the value of a national conversation in education. Despite falling under the mandate of provincial governments there is huge value in building a learning network across the country. As we embrace a post-standardized world, learning from jurisdictions across the country is essential, as we want all students in our country to be well prepared for the rapidly changing world.
There have been a number of papers written in recent years on the shifts in learning that we are seeing, and that we need to see, and I have given a lot of blog space to the great work I see on a regular basis in West Vancouver. What is particularly valuable about the Shifting Minds 3.0 document is that the same conversations, the same areas of attention, and the same urgency, are being seen and felt across the country. The work is both exciting and daunting:
The challenge for school district leaders is to extend the transformation to all classrooms and schools. Whole-system reform requires conditions that support educators in examining and reshaping the foundations on which their practice is built (leadership and management, as well as teaching) . . . Because education is complex and the stakes for students are high, a dual strategy of both improvement and innovation can offer a reliable way to maintain stability while enabling forward momentum.
The dual strategy notion of innovation and improvement is one we often talk about in West Vancouver. Yes, the world has changed and the skills our learners need are changing. But this change is within a context of having one of the highest performing systems in the world. We are moving from a place of strength so stability must be alongside momentum.
It is interesting to see the work in British Columbia in the context of the country. In reading this document, I get the sense that we are ahead with much of what we are doing. The document describes three governance models and management approaches and we see all three in BC:
Central direction involves stakeholders in an iterative relationship of policy design and local implementation. This approach has raised academic achievement across the majority of schools. Success depends on feedback loops, with leaders and practitioners learning from and adjusting strategies as needed. Central direction can promote improvement in schools, but it limits innovation.
Non-intervention approaches allow school districts to respond to local contexts without the pressure of specific school improvement policies. In these cases, the central authority encourages rather than mandates the change. Some districts have been able to innovate under these conditions; others less so.
Enabling or permissive approaches encourage or support experimentation and innovation at the district and school levels. Some may enable innovation by the simple absence of a prescribed regulatory framework; others may develop specific innovations—for example, in curriculum or assessment. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the province to learn and try out alternative policy designs before attempting to replace one significant policy with another.
We also see all three of these approaches at work locally in West Vancouver. We have spent a lot of energy trying to foster enabling and permissive approaches, but it is important to use all three depending on the initiative and the circumstances.
Finally, the shifting system drivers described in the document are very useful. It is not that the shifts are new, but it is an important reminder of their interconnectedness. We are definitely shifting learning environments and pedagogies and working hard on shifting governance. We are getting strong leadership from the province on shifting curriculum. I see shifting assessment and citizen and stakeholder engagement, of the six, as the two we have the most work to do. Very important to see they all must work together (double-click to open graphic in a full-page):
I encourage you to read the full document. There are many documents on the topic of the shifts in education, from many organizations with many intended audiences. This one nicely describes the challenge needed by those of us at a systems level. It is an important challenge for us to continue to take on.
As the paper concludes, “change is inevitable; transformation is possible. System leaders create the conditions for transformation by encouraging leadership at all levels, imbued with the very attributes we are aiming to develop in young people—creativity, inquiry, collaboration, calculated risk taking, reasoned problem solving, and the capacity to learn from experience and face the next challenge.”