2 more years of the same–growth and learning

Mar 14, 12 2 more years of the same–growth and learning

Sometimes being a radical is merely a function of where you are.  While seemingly conservative, I have, what will likely be perceived, in this context, as a radical idea—don’t change anything!  While the system could use tweaking, and teachers can certainly improve their skills, I believe the system is fine the way it is—I believe that we risk much by changing it.

When I leave work at the end of the day, I feel content.  I feel that I have had an efficient, positive impact on my students; I feel like I have earned that feeling and society’s money.  This is not just a function of me trying my best, but it is a function of a system that allows for that best to work.

I don’t think that we will ever have a perfect system in the messy world of education and as such, I don’t think that should be our goal.  No one system is going to work equally well for everyone so we have to stop judging ours in unrealistic hyperbolic terms.  We can’t accept a dichotomy of: if not perfect, then it’s broken.  We can’t say, if its not perfect, it needs to change.  If someone has to work harder, or gets less out of it, or takes an extra year to finish, or has to discover some of their talents and strengths somewhere else, then, while not desirable, that doesn’t mean the system failed or that they derived no benefit from it.

When I leave work at the end of the day, I feel content. I feel that I have had an efficient, positive impact on my students; I feel like I have earned that feeling and society’s money.

When John Snobelon was caught saying that the PC’s were going to create a useful crisis in education, it caused a bit of a stir, but it turn s out that it wasn’t all that unique an idea.  People have been doing it in education before and after Snobelon.  They do it to sell a new program or to stimulate change.  I think its a bit of a hyperbolic strategy.  I don’t feel the crisis.  I believe that my class prepares students and helps them grow academically and as individuals.  I believe that our current system allows for that.  I’m not sure I could continue teaching with a clear conscience if I didn’t.

Our education system might have been conceived of in a different age, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is outdated.  Many things, such as the student mind and physical bodies, were conceived of in a different age, and yet, have shown remarkable ability to adapt.  Constantly changing and updating is not the same as constantly improving.  While our intentions may be good, rarely do we have comparative data by which to judge one technique superior to another.  There are so many ways to teacher and learn.  Each style has advantages and concerns to manage.  Change often means favouring one at the expense of all others—it is rarely (if ever) well justified—merely well intentioned.

I do better with a lesson/topic/or activity, when I have talk it a couple of times.  My students do better.  While not as fun or exciting for me after a few times, it is for them, if not more, and since I am here for them, repetition and mastery are desirable.  I believe that this is true for the system as well.  We have had 10 years of growth in Ontario by every measure used, have we plateaued? No yet!  I believe we should continue with this growth trajectory.  Sometimes deep understanding and effectiveness must trump innovation.

Our system is incredible well conceived.  It is flexible and enduring – and it is working well. I would like it to continue.  I remember past experiments in education that were well meant but ineffective (e.g. open concept, whole language, some might consider resource withdrawl, etc); presently, education is working well and getting better – why change?

Innovation can happen at the classroom level with a committed and well versed teacher.  The system allows for that.  Why change it to a system that wouldn’t allow me that choice?  Why reject all or most or the 182 teaching strategies in the teaching/learning companion (http://www.ocup.org/resources/documents/companions/telrsta2002.pdf) for a favoured few for everybody?

The adaptability of out system allows for individuals to construct an education experience that they can tailor to their needs/strengths and those of their students.  I would hate to lose that strength.

8 Comments

  1. Hi Patrick,

    Quite an interesting perspectives you have. I cannot say I experience the same satisfaction when viewing the Ontario education system. I agree that a lot of great things are happening within our education system today but it is undeniable that the way we taught 20 years ago and the way children learn today are different. Why then would an old school perspective seem fitting for the learning environment?

    Aren’t learning theories, after all, just an evolutionary cycle of each other? Stepping stones to reach the next stage of growth? Simply, theories have interconnected over the ages and will continue to build upon one another. Much like a human’s development from infancy to adulthood. So shouldn’t the education system continue to evolve as well?

    • Patrick Tucker /

      Hi Sarah,
      thanks for the response – I want to get to yours too, but that might have to wait a couple of days. Sorry, but I guess that’s the blessing and the curse of asymmetric conversations.

      I have no problem with changing theory, but I think that need not change the system. Anyone in teaching knows that you are constantly changing or updating your teaching style (whether you like to or not). I don’t think, however, that we are on some pathway to an omega point of pedagogy (however as much as we might wish it). When you said “evolutionary cycle,” I took it to mean, we recycle the same ideas over and over again. Which, as you no doubt know, is a common complaint made by older teachers. The idea that we are changing to help support someone’s desire to show they can implement and manage change, is often what closes teachers down to any change—it leads to fatigue.

      The teacher has enormous license and capacity to change the classrooms practice. There are often challenging and remarkable examples. The beauty of our system is, I can pick and choice what works best for me and pass that efficiently to my students as powerful learning experiences.

  2. Nancy /

    “Sometimes being a radical is merely a function of where you are. While seemingly conservative, I have, what will likely be perceived, in this context, as a radical idea—don’t change anything! While the system could use tweaking, and teachers can certainly improve their skills, I believe the system is fine the way it is—I believe that we risk much by changing it.”

    As a parent, I find it puzzling why you do not look beyond the things that are working fine, and look at the things that are not working fine. Could it be the same attitude that I was confronted with in the year 2001, of an education system who refuse to see the obvious early struggles in reading, writing and numeracy of my child, and simply pointed to her grades and said she was passing, and therefore she had no reading problems. It turned out in grade three, after the threat of legal action, and my family doctor reading the riot act to the school, to begin the assessment and she did indeed had a learning disability in language, or the new term a specific learning disability. And it is only now in 2012, that the system that you see as being so flexible and working just fine, is finally getting around to addressed my child’s reading deficits, who is now 16 years old. An education system that is working so fine, that between the years from 2001 to 2010, I toiled away at home, home schooling after school as well as re-teaching the lessons of the day plus the cognitive exercises to target specific cognitive weaknesses, and at the same engaging in pitch battles with the school and school board staff over special education services and accommodations.

    All the hard work has paid off, where my 16 year old will be going to university to chase her dream of becoming a forensic scientist; the pie-in-the-sky goal to shoot for back in 2004 when her numeracy abilities were below a grade one level, and her writing was at a grade one level. Even in 2004, the education system that you think is so fine, told me I was wasting my time, as well still insisting that my child did not have a reading problem and that at the very best she was capable of being a C student. My child is now in the top 20 percent of the top achievers, with a 73 % average in English.

    One can only imagine, if my child did received the remediation in her reading deficits in the primary grades, she could be very well sitting with a overall 90 something average, But she had to make do with my home version of teaching and tutoring, and to my delight the pie-in-the-sky goal was obtain, and for that matter she now has many choices in the science and math fields other than forensics. Patrick, as you claim an education system that is working so well, have you look at the data streams of the lost potential of students and the future doors of education opportunities being slammed, sealed and nailed at the earliest junction in grade school?

    No perhaps not. ” I believe that my class prepares students and helps them grow academically and as individuals. I believe that our current system allows for that. I’m not sure I could continue teaching with a clear conscience if I didn’t.”

    A statement of many who work within the education system, seeing only what they want to see, keeping the blinders on, just in case the realities of the 21st century public education model imposes the images of many fault lines and chasms where the students are falling into and the lost potential that goes with the students, just to maintain the clear conscience. A pseudo-reality where students grow academically and as individuals, completely ignoring the realities of the students and their shaky foundation in academics and personal growth.

  3. So, I have a couple of thoughts, which are inspired by Patrick’s original post and the subsequent comments!

    Sarah speaks of children learning in different ways today. I think that this is an important assumption and one that could do with a little more unpacking. What does it mean to say that learning is different today than it was, say, 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago? Do we mean that the brain and the way it learns is different? Or are we saying that we have different learning tools at our disposal?

    The second thought was inspired by Ken Robinson’s comments on video posted over at CEA. Sir Ken talks about virtuosity…a level of proficiency and excellence that takes place within (and in spite of ) the confines of the existing system.

    Both of these are ideas that this thread of conversation has caused me to think more deeply about!

  4. Patrick Tucker /

    Wow! Thanks for your long and rich response; it was obviously a story you needed to tell. It reminds me a lot about my own experience going through the education system. In grade 2, as I was hastily fixing my work with my teacher before she had to bring it to the principal, she let slip that I scored the lowest in our school on our standardized test and had to demonstrate that I wasn’t “that bad.” I remember going through school with reading and writing difficulties. I remember failing french and other language tests. I remember practicing reading with my mom. I remember her editing my work for sentence and paragraph structure into 3 year university. I started quite low but graduated near the top of my class. Along the way, my mom was a constant ally, tutor, and teacher; however, it wasn’t just my mom. Along the way I had some teachers make the difference in my life too (particularly my grade 5 and my grade 8 teachers) – not all, but some (enough).

    The system didn’t fail me, perhaps some teachers did. In the end, I had to work longer and harder (as did my mom). In truth, I can’t imagine a system where that wouldn’t have been true for me. Language came really hard to me; would a different system have made it easier? Maybe, but its just as likely that other system would have made it equally more difficult for another child.

    It sounds to me like you daughter had some teachers that should have done better by her. I don’t feel however, that this was a systemic failure on the part of the education system (from what little I know about it). When you say, “Even in 2004, the education system that you think is so fine, told me I was wasting my time, as well still insisting that my child did not have a reading problem and that at the very best she was capable of being a C student,” I can not reconcile this with the system per sey. This to me, and obviously to you, doesn’t make sense, and I don’t feel our education system supports such a claim. It is unfortunate that the individual’s you came against seemed to accept it. There are other stories, comparable to yours, where the teachers and the system made all the difference in the world. It is too bad you didn’t experience them.

    I set rigorous standards for myself, and I am quite reflective in my practice. I’m hoping that over the next little while I’ll be able to demonstrate that to you (and others) as we move forward in our discussions, and as we continue to build our understanding of education and of each other. In a dynamic innovative environment like this forum, someone has to highlight what’s worth keeping of what we have; I think that is partly what I plan to do.

    My position continues to be this: the system can incorporate change without being changed. Though not often a fan of his, I’d like to recommend you go to the CEA web site (http://www.cea-ace.ca/) and watch the clip from Sir Ken Robinson. In this one case, I think his view of the system has a lot to think about, and some of what I’m hinting at.

  5. Nancy /

    “My position continues to be this: the system can incorporate change without being changed.”

    The structure itself, or as in the system design can indeed incorporate change without being changed, but it is in the processes and the networks of the education system that makes the education inflexible and resistance to change, and simultaneously presents the image of an education system that requires no radical change.

    As Sir Ken Robinson states, we need more virtuosos to take command of the processes and networks of a lone school, and as Stephen points out, to strive for excellence and proficiency. As Robinson points out, teachers need to know that the education system allows for innovation and change at the school level, to correct the anomalies within the processes and the networks.

    My child struggles in school were not the fault of the teachers, but rather it lies at the doorstep of the processes, networks and the overall structural design of the education system, that is responsive only to ideology and dogma of change, rather than being responsive to innovation that leads to success, achievement and steady progress of students. The education system as it is currently configured, is inflexible to the anomalies, which gives way to the culture of blame and excuses. and in turn it is the teachers that carries the weight and burden of implementing and the execution of a diverse range and span, of policies and goals to the best of their abilities.

    The last few days, I learned something new about core deficits in the phonological component part of reading, that the processes and networks of the education system do not consider when implementing reading instruction policies, curriculum and other policies where reading is required for students, because the education system is not designed to allow two-way communication flow between the reading research networks and the networks within the education system. Ken Robinson states in the video on CEA, that innovation can only happen when all of the networks outside and inside the education system are open, allowing the free flow of knowledge to occur, and the creativity to emerge to innovate.

    The new information that I learned about core deficits in the phonological components, has now become the new premise why my youngest child requires accommodation at the public exams, even though she has good comprehension and good grades. The reading research based on the science, and my knowledge base, to formulate a remediation plan to correct the core deficits in the phonological components for my 16 year old child. Still early stages, but this weekend it is all about thinking of the naysayers at the board level, and to anticipate responses of board staff that thinks along the idealogical lines and the more practical lines of costs. I am determine to cut the naysayers off by blocking the pathways of easy resistance, and to face the reading science.

    It is not the first time for me, but as Ken Robinson has stated, you don’t give up. And that is very true to me, because if I did give up on my child, she would not be making plans for post-secondary education. And my child’s academic success is itself an anomaly where LD students are for the most part low achievers, but is seen as acceptable and a fact, that LD students are low achievers by the education system and its structure. .

  6. I’m struck by the passion in these posts, and replies. Something that struck a chord with me was Nancy’s observation that the education system is not setup to allow two-way communication between various networks.

    I think a major flaw (the major flaw) in the system are the strong barriers between all the stakeholders. There just isn’t enough flow of ideas and information within the networks, let alone between them! Teachers don’t share enough with other teachers. Parents don’t share enough with parents. Administrators don’t share enough with administrators. And then these very closed circuits attempt to share with other closed circuits? No wonder there isn’t a lot of trust.

    Hopefully the voiced.ca community can help bridge some of the divides that exist in today’s educational system. I really feel that most teachers, admins, parents (and even publishing companies) really do want to help kids learn. But maybe my personal perspective is too narrow because I don’t have enough contact with the people on the other side of the table.

  7. Nancy /

    “. I really feel that most teachers, admins, parents (and even publishing companies) really do want to help kids learn. But maybe my personal perspective is too narrow because I don’t have enough contact with the people on the other side of the table.”

    No, not at all a narrow perspective, people truly want to help kids learn, but what is lacking is the knowledge deficits of the stakeholders within the education system, and the knowledge deficits of the parents, and the other outside groups where education/learning knowledge is withheld for idealogical/political purposes, not meeting the mandated goals of the stakeholders within the education system, and more importantly knowledge is withheld to control the gates of all networks inside and outside of the education system, to prevent sharing of information and knowledge.

    A disadvantage of a monopoly model of a 20th century based on 19th century industrialized education model, where communication flows only in one direction and any two-way communication flows are met with resistance equal to shut down the two-way communication exchange that is not keeping with the mandated goals and interests of the stakeholders within the education system.

    Neil, you are correct there is strong barriers between all stakeholders and within the various sub-groups of the stakeholders inside and outside of the education system. Trust cannot be build on a system where exchanges of knowledge and information are viewed with a jaundice eye and suspicion, among the stakeholders within the education system, and than expect to reach all students’ potential to become productive citizens in the 21st century.

    As a parent, I needed to upgrade my knowledge to help my child, the education system and its stakeholders was of little help. I had to look elsewhere, and in that world, many networks would dearly love to have the communication gates open on all networks inside the education system. A free-flow exchange of knowledge and information between all networks, without the filters and lenses that are imposed by the upper levels of the education system and the top dogs of the education stakeholders.

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