How can we use our collective global experience to make us stronger?
My copy of Clever Lands by Lucy Crehan arrived in the post on Wednesday night and since then I’ve been eager to dive in. I showed the copy to a colleague and had a good discussion. We both agreed that we need more educational explorers like Lucy out there, armed with a growth mind set, ready to bare flaws and showcase strengths in a worldwide education show and tell.
I skipped right to Chapter 14, all about Canada. It took me back to thinking about my own experiences of teaching and learning.
For this post, I’ve chosen to write about my experiences and impressions of secondary school education in Canada, covering four areas which often spark interesting conversations among teachers:
Remember the workload survey I mentioned in my previous post? What if marking and feedback was conducted as per your own professional judgment, not something dictated by a school policy? Primary school leader Jeremy Hannay, summarised his impression of written marking for The Guardian last year:
“I had never seen so much marking before I came to England. Ontario schools give teachers the professional autonomy to decide when written marking is appropriate and when it would be better to use oral or peer-to-peer feedback.”
From speaking with teachers in Ontario, it seems that there is a lesser emphasis on marking to provide evidence, and a greater importance on providing effective feedback. Guidance in Ontario’s ‘Growing Success’ document states that, “Evidence of student achievement for evaluation is collected over time from three different sources – observations, conversations and student products.” A recurring theme in this document is the importance of teacher professional judgment.
Teachers in Ontario will typically spend 18.75 hours a week teaching, with classes of up to 29 students. Over the week, they will have 6.25 hours of ‘prep’ time for marking, planning and collaboration.
I right-clicked ‘accountability’ as Lucy had written about in her book and found the different synonyms for the word. I ‘right-clicked’ on some of those synonyms as well: Answerability, Responsibility (Duty, Obligation), Reliability (Dependability, Consistency, Trustworthiness) and Culpability (Blameworthiness, Guilt, Fault). Within a school, a teacher is formally observed and evaluated by the Principal once every 5 years. Of course, teachers can always set up peer observations and learning walks if they wish, but the authority to do so lies with the teacher. Accountability, then, is a responsibility, where trust is handed to a teacher in order for them to fulfil their duty.
Streams and Sets
From my own experience in a Canadian high school, there is no setting. I had the choice to pick an AP class (Advanced Placement) if I wished, but all other classes were ‘mixed ability’. In her book, Lucy captured the philosophy behind this poetically in her conversation with Marie:
We stream up rather than down, we think a rising tide lifts all boats, but if you stream down you have students giving up or thinking they’re dumb.
I regularly have students in my bottom set classes using their position on the ‘ability’ ladder as an excuse for doing poorly: “but miss, I’m bottom set”. Looking back, I don’t recall a single conversation with my high school teachers about not hitting my target or baseline grade and that’s because we didn’t have any.
Reading Clever Lands confirmed one thing for me: ableness and readiness are two different things, and we mustn’t decide that a child isn’t able, when in fact, they may not be ready.
Importance Of Experts
We cannot help students if we aren’t given the information or the tools to do so. We cannot teach students if we don’t know how they learn. Teacher training programs must adequately prepare future teachers for the demands of the profession, this includes time in classrooms observing lessons to learn from them, as well as having a go yourself.
I still remember my feedback from the first lesson I ever taught, it was one word: ‘sketchy’. There was only improvement to be made from there! When I graduated as a qualified teacher, over the year, I’d completed two placements in different schools and about 12 weeks of being in a classroom, either observing, teaching, or reflecting.
Are 12 weeks enough? Since then, many universities in Ontario have changed their teacher training programs to two years, to allow for more time in the classroom, teaching.
Qualified teachers with additional responsibilities must complete Additional Qualification (AQ) courses, this includes positions of leadership, guidance counselling and working within the realm of special educational needs. Lucy summarised the importance of this nicely when she spoke about the role of support teachers helping students with educational needs:
it does seem sensible that children with the most complex educational needs receive additional input from those with the most specialist training.
Having shared a different perspective, I don’t think any one country has it all figured out, but each system will have its strengths and we can learn from the priorities, vision, and values which countries place in their education systems.
I’ve come across many teachers who have had experience teaching in other countries – we surely can use our collective global experience to make the future of education across the world stronger.