This week post comes from Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. Hargreavesis director of CHENINE (Change, Engagement & Innovation in Education) at the University of Ottawa. Fullan OC is professor emeritus at OISE, University of Toronto. The original version of this article appeared in the Toronto Star on September 23, 2020.
Canada’s public schools are the envy of the world. On OECD’s international PISA test results, Canada consistently ranks in the top dozen countries. Apart from Ireland and the city-state of Singapore, it is the highest performer among all English- and French-speaking nations.
But suppose you don’t want a strong public system. Suppose you seek inspiration from fading, imperial England, or the chaotically imperious U.S. Suppose, like them, you see public schools as means to save money, release tax dollars and create market opportunities that will mostly benefit the wealthy.
Politicians love a crisis. The pandemic is a perfect one. If they wish, governments can keep people constantly off-balance, distracted by hokey-pokey, back-to-school strategies that are online, offline, online and offline, back to school, then back home again, in constantly shifting conditions. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never waste a good crisis.” So here’s what to do.
If they wish, governments can keep people constantly off-balance, distracted by hokey-pokey, back-to-school strategies that are online, offline, online and offline, back to school, then back home again, in constantly shifting conditions.
1. Undermine public confidence
Don’t copy most Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, Scotland or South Korea, who have mainly had smooth return-to-school strategies that governments and teacher unions introduced together. Instead, like Ontario or Alberta, make last minute announcements, without unions’ involvement. This will provoke a reaction from unions and make them look unreasonable. It will also leave teachers underprepared and apparently incompetent. Public confidence in the teaching profession will sag. Meanwhile, underfund back-to-school arrangements so that classes are large, conditions are unsatisfactory and parents grow increasingly frustrated.
2. Create private alternatives
When people feel trapped, show them an exit route. Allow and encourage pods to be created by economically advantaged parents who are understandably fearful about their children’s health. After the pandemic, make these options permanent. Plant opinion pieces in the media that promote charter schools and private schools as alternatives to “like-it-or-lump-it” government schools. Pass legislation to introduce charter schools or expand their number. Ignore evidence from England, the U.S. and Alberta that charter schools don’t outperform regular public schools. Hide the fact that, elsewhere, charter schools often reap significant profits for their tax-subsidized private owners. And don’t mention Sweden. After it introduced “free” schools, the largest group of owners turned out to be hedge fund companies. Sweden also experienced the biggest decline on PISA results of any country in the world.
3. Misuse technology
Expand technology aggressively after the pandemic. Enrich technology companies by extending the educational market as much as possible. Mandate online learning to reduce the number of teachers and increase profits for Big Tech. Don’t implement technology in a prudent, balanced and evidence-based way to enrich and extend great teaching and learning. Use it to flood schools with devices and replace that teaching.
4. Impose austerity
After the pandemic is over, ignore experts like Heather Boushey, economic adviser to Joe Biden. She says that austerity is not inevitable and that public sector investment actually protects jobs and increases consumer spending. Chrystia Freeland said much the same in her 2012 book, Plutocrats. Impose brutal cutbacks. Pay no attention to what happened when, in 2012, Kansas’s notorious Governor Brownback introduced austerity measures and the largest tax cuts in the state’s history. Literacy and mathematics results plummeted from being above the national average to falling into the bottom 25 per cent.
5. Mortgage the future
Make your decisions on a short horizon. Ignore how our world is falling off its axis. Disregard how strong public education systems improve the future. Implement this plan, and public education will turn a tidy profit for the wealthy. It will amplify private gain. After people wise up, they will vote you out, of course. But don’t worry. You and your plutocratic peers will reap your financial rewards for a long time after.
However, if you see the light, a better future awaits. Invest resources to help vulnerable students catch up and heal after the pandemic. Plan responses collaboratively with teachers and their associations. Learn from the pandemic where technology can add unique value to young people’s education.
Don’t waste one good crisis by creating another. Transform education for public good, not for private profit that rewards the wealthy few.
This week’s post features a Lead the Change interview with Carol Campbell (@CarolCampbell4), Associate Professor of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. Campbell is a member of the International Council of Education Advisors for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Government. She has held education, academic and government roles in Canada, the UK and the USA
Lead the Change: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?
Carol Campbell: Re-reading my 2014 Lead the Change Q & A, there are many points I still consider to be important and there is much that continues into my current work – the importance of educational system improvement for excellence and equity, the role of research and evidence-informed policy and practice, and the need to carefully attend to the processes of educational change balancing and valuing professional voice, agency, and judgement alongside the role of government directions, policies, and resources. In my 2014 comments, I said:
There remain perennial issues of how to truly achieve educational excellence and equity, and there will be new emerging issues associated with global and local changes.
Over the following six years, there have indeed been changes in the field of educational change. Below, I highlight some evolutions in my work since my 2014 Q &A.
First, evolutions in my work concerning the substance of educational change. In 2014, Ontario had just established a new vision for education – expanding the previous focus on raising achievement and closing gaps in performance to become a broader vision of excellence, equity, and well-being (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). It is clear that alongside the importance of academic achievement, persisting systemic and structural inequities in access, opportunities, and outcomes from schooling, and increased prevalence of mental and emotional health issues for students and staff require priority attention (Campbell, 2020a). These issues need new, and additional, educational priorities, strategies, and resources. The genuine quest to improve equity and well-being for students requires also fundamentally rethinking the core of schooling and classroom practices too. For example, in our review of Ontario’s assessment system (see Campbell, Clinton et al., 2018), our recommendations for changes to support teachers’ approaches to student assessments for their classes and to transform large-scale standardized testing have implications also for: student voice, agency, equity and diversity; professional judgement and pedagogy; curriculum; integration of technology; and communication and engagement with parents or guardians.
Second, shifts in my work about the processes by which educational changes are developed, implemented, and evaluated. In 2014, I wrote:
The next phase of Ontario’s change strategies will require further evolution… in valuing, developing and integrating educators’ leadership, voices, capacities and actions.
That idea turned out to be very important. By 2014, the limits of top down reform were increasingly apparent internationally and also in Ontario. In the Ontario collective bargaining negotiations between teachers’ federations, school boards, and the government in the 2014 period, priority issues included initiative overload, workload, and work intensification. Agreement was reached to establish a joint working group involving all education and related organizations and government to co-develop new ways of working between labor and management. The resulting Policy and Program Memorandum (PPM) formally enshrined Collaborative Professionalism:
In Ontario, collaborative professionalism is defined as professionals – at all levels of the education system – working together, sharing knowledge, skills and experience to improve student achievement and well-being of both students and staff. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 1)
In my recent research both in Canada and internationally, there is growing and substantial evidence indicating the importance of valuing, investing in, developing, and trusting the education profession to lead educational change. This approach benefits not only the people who work in education, but also, importantly, the students they serve and wider system improvement (Campbell, Osmond-Johnson et al., 2017; Campbell, Zeichner et al., 2017; Campbell, Lieberman et al., 2018; Cordingley et al., 2019; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Lieberman et al., 2017).
Such educational change processes have, however, been challenged by austerity and adversity towards the education profession in many contexts, including Ontario during 2018-20. As we look around the world at governments who have attempted to mandate austerity and created adversity for the education profession, we find these change efforts generally do not succeed in bringing about long-term successful and sustainable change. When professional judgement, agency and empowerment have been developed; governments cannot unilaterally revert to top-down mandates. Successful educational change is co-developed with the education profession and enables professionally-led improvements in educational practices. The need for professionalism and teacher leadership are especially important in the context of the global pandemic, as discussed further below. Therefore, my work has shifted in considering professionally-led educational change and collaborative professionalism in times of support for innovation and improvement, challenges of austerity and adversity, and now to prioritize professional judgement and professional capital in responding to the educational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Successful educational change is co-developed with the education profession and enables professionally-led improvements in educational practices.”
LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?
CC: In terms of the substance of educational change, the field is becoming both broader and more diffuse in the range of policies and practice being researched; yet it is also becoming more precise and deeper in seeking to unpack the realities, implications, and possibilities of educational change. Increasingly, schools and educators are being asked to do more to meet the current and predicted future needs of students in a rapidly changing global and economic context, for example, by considering the competencies and skills to be incorporated into curricula, pedagogy, assessments and integration of technology. Teachers are also being asked to meet the increasing diversity of student populations and complexity of educational, mental, emotional, and physical needs present in classrooms. Already emerging in the light of COVID-19 is an expanding range of educational, health, and social needs for students and staff – from the logistics of physical distancing, hand washing, and hygiene in schools to how to address issues of trauma, anxiety and well-being for students and staff, and how to ensure adequate and equitable access to quality teaching and learning whether at home or in school (Campbell, 2020b).
Regarding the processes of educational change, the now long-standing tensions between bottom up and top down reform have not fully gone away but they have shifted somewhat in current evidence and debate. I have been a contributor to the ‘Flip The System’ movement – which prioritizes and values teacher-led educational change rather than top-down government directives – from the start (Elmers & Kneyber, 2015) and this is growing in momentum. For example, the findings from both TALIS and PISA emphasize the importance of professional ownership and leadership of educational change (Schleicher, 2019, 2020). There are examples of countries, including Scotland where I am a member of the International Council of Education Advisors, taking this shift to a professionally-led education system seriously. At the same time, there is still the tendency of many governments to mandate, micro-manage, and expand the scope and details of influence they seek over the day-to-day work of educators. In the emergency rapid response to COVID-19, it is understandable that governments made decisions quickly; however, this mode of governing needs to be re-balanced through partnership with the education profession whose leadership, knowledge and judgement are essential to protecting and educating all students (Education International, 2020).
LtC:What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going?
CC: I am excited about the vibrancy and growth of the educational change community. As a field, educational change has become established over time while also evolving as a wider range of people becoming actively involved in investigating a diverse range of topics to grow the field further. My 2014 Q & A included discussion of research, policy and practice connections, I am excited to see the growth of ‘boundary spanners’ who work collaboratively within and across these communities and the increasing number of ‘pracademics’ – practitioners and policy-makers who are researching, writing, active on social media, and speaking out about educational change. Nevertheless, we have more work to do to further increase the diversity of people involved in the educational change field; including those of us who are already established scholars in the field introducing, encouraging, mentoring, sponsoring and collaborating with people who are currently under-represented in the field, for example Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students and practitioners. These connections and intersections are vital.
“We have more work to do to further increase the diversity of people involved in the educational change field.”
“Excites” is not the appropriate verb, but if we go to the Latin origin of “call forth”, the implications and impact of COVID-19 for educational change cannot be understated. At the height of the pandemic, over 91% of students globally were not in school and 63 million teachers were affected (UNESCO, 2020a, 2020b). The human tragedy and trauma of COVID-19 are horrendous and our first duty is to protect people and save lives. As countries start to shift from emergency response remote learning to what the provision of education for school children will look like and require whether at home, in school, or blended learning; there are significant questions about all aspects of schooling, teaching, and learning (Campbell, 2020b; Osmond-Johnson et al., 2020). The immediate COVID-19 response suspended many of the traditional conventions, structures, and routines of schooling – these emergency responses should not necessarily become the ‘new normal’ but neither should there be a full return to the previous status quo.
Long-standing and new inequities for students and schools have been brought into very sharp attention currently. As I write this, anti-racism, particularly anti-Black racism, protests are happening in every state of the USA and around the world. In my home country of Canada, systemic and structural racism, including anti-Black racism, are long-standing issues too that have not been fully addressed by our governments and school systems (Campbell, 2020a). It is also one year since the publication of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which concluded: “this violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples” (MMIWG, 2019, p. 1). This report further amplified the Calls to Action from the previous Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, 2015) investigating the historical trauma and legacy of abuse and violence perpetrated by the Residential School system for Indigenous people.
With the new challenges of a global pandemic combined with the unacceptably long-standing history of inequities, injustices, and systemic and structural racism which are being brought to the fore right now; part of the solution must be in and from the education system. If ever there was a time for a serious rethinking of the purposes, structures, content, processes and outcomes of schooling and the need for evidence-informed educational change, it is now. I hope the educational change community will be ‘called forth’ to rise to this incredible and urgent challenge to collaborate to generate ideas, provide evidence, and to offer concrete suggestions to create new possibilities for genuinely equitable and excellent education systems which also embody a duty of care, protection and well-being for all people (students and staff) involved.
LtC:What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?
CC: Educational change is essentially and ultimately about people and the relationships between people. Of course, when you work to bring about change there are a host of educational, political, and practical factors involved. Educational change should also be evidence-informed, drawing on research and data, professional expertise and judgement, and engagement of affected communities.
“Educational change is essentially and ultimately about people and the relationships between people.”
My advice is to always be very thoughtful about the human dimensions and implications of whatever change you are attempting. This includes:
working in partnership to identify needs and priorities for change;
engaging collaboratively in mutually respectful interactions to co-develop plans and details for change;
supporting and trusting the people who will be directly involved in the day-to-day development, adaptation and implementation of changes;
considering as many possible potential consequences (positive, negative, intended and unintended) before actually proceeding with change; and
having those continuing, trusting relationships to listen, learn, revise, or even abandon changes due to the emerging experiences and evidence.
The purpose of education is the betterment of humanity and that applies to both the substance and processes of educational change (Campbell, 2018).
LtC:What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?
CC: There are many potential and important future research directions. We have been living with many tensions in educational change – for example:
a rapidly changing world, yet the tendency for changes in curriculum and assessment systems to be slow, incremental, and often additive rather than transformative;
the commitment to be inclusive, culturally responsive, support diversity and advance equity, yet unacceptable continued evidence concerning systemic, structural and sustained inequities in and from schooling;
the rise of the importance of leadership and professional judgement throughout all levels of the education system, yet the complex and contested balance between the exercise of formal and informal power and authority;
the desire to learn how to appropriately integrate and manage technology and online media in teaching, learning and the work of the profession, yet ever increasing needs to mitigate the ethical, privacy, and safety risks involved;
the growing recognition of the importance of well-being for students and staff, yet changing pressures in students’ lives and work intensification for educators contributing to stress, anxiety, and related health issues, which are compounded by the profound impact of COVID-19.
It is even more urgent now to address these priorities specifically to understand the details of changes needed for each issue and holistically for interconnected, substantial changes in education systems.
We are witnessing educational change during a global pandemic combined with protests and social movements advocating for significant change to address long-standing discrimination and inequities. It is an extremely difficult time for many people. No one has all of the answers, so more than ever we need to come together as a global community to learn from each other. We know from history that from times of ruptures in society, social movements calling for action, and paradigm shifts in knowledge; change will evolve. I encourage the educational change community to be proactive in considering and supporting the possibilities for constructive, positive future changes.
Campbell, C.(2018). Developing teacher leadership and collaborative professionalism to flip the system: Reflections from Canada. In D.M.
Netolicky, J. Andres & C. Paterson. Flip the System Australia: What Matters in Education. London, UK: Routledge.
Campbell, C., Zeichner, K., Osmond-Johnson, P. & Lieberman, A. with Hollar, J., Pisani, S. & Sohn, J. (2017). Empowered educators in Canada: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A.L., Hammerness, K., Low, E.L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M. & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching 1uality around the world. San Francisco, CA:Jossey Bass.
Elmers, J. & Kneyber, R. (Eds.) (2015). Flip the system: Changing education from the ground up. London, UK: Routledge.
Lieberman, A., Campbell, C. & Yashkina, A. (2017) Teacher learning and leadership: of, by and for teachers. London, UK: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) (2019). Reclaiming power and place: Executive summary of the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Canada: MMIWG.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2014). Achieving excellence: A renewed vision for education in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (2015). Honouring the truth, reconciling for the future: Summary of the final report of the truth and reconciliation Commission of Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: TRC.
ABOUT THE LTC SERIES: The Lead the Change series, featuring renowned educational change experts from around the globe, serves to highlight promising research and practice, to offer expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change, and to spark collaboration within the Educational Change SIG, Kristin Kew, Chair; Mireille Hubers; Program Chair; Na Mi Bang, Secretary/Treasurer; Min Jung Kim, Graduate Student Representative; Jennie Weiner, LtC Series Editor; Alexandra Lamb, Production Editor.
Trista Hollweck: Where I live in Ottawa, Canada, the final week of June marked the ‘official’ last days of the 2019-2020 school year. And what a strange year it has been. Since the start of 2020, my three elementary-aged children have been out of school due to a number of unusual events: a province-wide labour dispute, which resulted in a number of rotating strike action days, inclement weather (this year it seemed we had an unusually high number of snow days) and a global coronavirus pandemic that catapulted 91% of students across the world into a full-time ‘learning at home’ context. As a result of COVID-19, my husband and I have also found ourselves working at home and sharing space, screens and bandwidth with our children. To say that I have found the experience challenging is likely an understatement, but I also recognize my extreme privilege. There have been no deaths due to the coronavirus in my immediate circle. I also continue to have paid work, have access to technology and outdoor green space and share virtual schooling responsibilities with my partner. I know it could be a lot worse and it certainly has been for many and these disparities will continue into the future.
IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
TH: As I reflect on the end of this academic year, I am definitely relieved to have the weight of ‘learning at home’ off my shoulders for the summer. However, the recently released provincial reopening plan gives me pause. The plan requires school boards to prepare for three different scenarios: a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols, a modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery. My children are part of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) who released their plan for a fall school schedule which breaks students into cohorts of 15, with one cohort attending school on Monday and Tuesday, all cohorts home Wednesday while schools are deep cleaned and a second cohort attending Thursday and Friday. Apparently, cohorts at home will be learning alongside those in school. There are many remaining questions about this plan for students, families and educators. How will students and staff be protected? Why the deep cleaning on Wednesday? How will students at home be learning simultaneously with those at school or will teachers be responsible for both in class and online workloads? As expected, this plan has not been well-received by parents and health care providers who have raised serious concerns about the safety and mental health of children if they remain isolated and take issue with some of the quality of distance learning. In response, there is an active movement advocating for a full return to school in the fall. Educators and school staff remain concerned about the health and safety protocols in any school reopening plan. Personally, I struggle with the possibility of continuing to balance work and home beyond the summer, especially since all our children’s summer camps were cancelled. In fact, I think 15-year-old Ontarian, Liv McNeil, brilliantly captures what I and so many are feeling at this moment in her short film “Numb” submitted for a pandemic assignment at the Etobicoke School of the Arts.
Usually at this time of the year I am feeling more chipper and optimistic, but instead I am left with a sense of loss. As a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, I am disappointed for the teacher candidates who were unable to complete their first practicum placements in schools and worried about what their second year might look like. As a mentor-coach and teacher leader, I am deeply worried for my colleagues and other teachers and school leaders who are very concerned about what the fall will look like, whether they will have the necessary time to plan and whether their health and safety will be considered. They are also exhausted from having to pivot rapidly from traditional bricks and mortar schooling to emergency remote learning, learn new instructional skills at breakneck speeds whilst simultaneously navigating often unclear and conflicting opinions and expectations from the Ministry, school district, union, parents, and education experts and public intellectuals. Many of them also remain very concerned about some of their students who they know have difficult home lives and feel quite helpless in being able to support and care for them. Finally, I feel sorry that so many students did not get to experience their proms and graduation events as they were intended. That said, a quick tour around my neighbourhood and across my social media feed shows just how creatively schools, families and communities have rallied to celebrate events, mark graduations and reimagine the traditional convocation ceremony. Lawns and windows are dotted with signs broadcasting that a “Graduate from the Class of 2020 lives here” and it is inspiring to see the sheer volume of innovative virtual proms, farewell tributes, and powerful commencement speeches. One of my friends who is a principal at a small school even told me that their individualized pandemic graduation approach was so well-received by students and families that it will likely become a school tradition. This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling- to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education. I do not yearn for a return to ‘normal’ schooling which has never served all children well or equitably. Rather, we have an important opportunity to learn from this unique pandemic experience and build our system back better.
This idea of using the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink schooling – to build on what is working well and discard that which has long been broken, also leaves me feeling a sense of hope and inspiration for the future of public education
IEN: What do you/your community need help with?
TH: In Ontario, it is safe to say that from a parental perspective the remote emergency teaching and learning has been a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst some educators have been incredible in their ability to offer innovative and impressive distance learning provisions, others seem to have struggled. Moving forward into a hybrid or blended learning situation, there will need to be opportunities for educators to learn from and support one another through mentoring and coaching, collaborate in professional networks, have clearer expectations for what is expected and access useful professional learning and development. During the pandemic, there have been incredible professional learning offerings. I have found curated resources on websites, webinars and online workshops focusing on trauma-informed approaches to teaching, culturally responsive approaches, restorative justice in education, repurposing our pedagogies, and building community in an online environment very useful. I think teachers and school leaders will need help navigating the sheer magnitude of available resources. Clear expectations and directives as to what effective distance learning and hybrid learning should look like would also help.
Systems will also need to find and fund supportive structures for the social and emotional wellbeing of students, teachers, school staff, school leaders and the wider school community. As an educational community, we will also need to take a moment to consider the purpose of schooling and reject practices that are not aligned with our aims. We must also listen to our students. Whereas some have thrived with self-directed learning, others as Liv McNeil captured in her video have found it a soul-destroying experience. In my own family, it has been hardest on my grade-five son, despite his teachers’ best efforts. With organization and self-direction already an issue, virtual schooling required constant supervision and prodding. He dreaded the twice weekly google meets (even though they were very well-structured), never remembered to submit assignments (even though they were complete and the platform was easy to use) and overall, missed learning by listening in class and the supportive feedback he received daily from his teachers. As he said to us, “I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework.” Incredibly, his teachers noticed his struggles and set up individual weekly chats to keep him on track and check in. Going forward, we will need to continue to be creative in our instructional approaches, embed new pandemic pedagogies, prioritize wellbeing and relationships, collaborate and learn with and from other systems, work with stakeholders, and be innovative in finding ways to get all students learning in a safe and consistent manner.
“I always liked doing my work at school so I never had homework and now all I have is homework”
IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
TH: In my work as the Project Director for the ARC education Project, I am fascinated by how our different member systems are managing the pandemic and education. I am also following what we can learn from other responses across the country and globe (see Educational International, the OECD, HundrEd, Unicef, People for Education, UNESCO). I believe Ontario can learn a lot from and with its global partners and that we need more ways to share our experiences and include key stakeholder voices at the decision-making table. Twitter has always been an excellent resource for me as an educator and it has been truly wonderful during the pandemic. I have an opportunity to learn from educators around the world and access content and practices I may not normally. I have been following People for Education, Carol Campbell and Caroline Alfonso among others to give me insight on what is happening in Ontario. I have also been actively engaged with my Facebook friends and gauging their responses to the numerous articles and opinion pieces that I am posting. This helps me get a sense of different perspectives and keeps me thinking critically. There are no easy solutions and no plan that will make everyone happy. Finally, as a mentor-coach and practitioner, I have appreciated Growth Coaching International’s #curiousconvos webinars (and even participated in my first one) as well as the resources made available by the Instructional Coaching Group and Cult of Pedagogy.
IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?
TH: I have found many moments of inspiration during the pandemic. It is amazing to see how quickly schools and districts have found innovative ways to deliver food, social services support, technology and mobile hotspot devices to students as well as how they’ve delivered curriculum using online, radio, television and printed methods. So many teachers have been incredibly innovative in their pandemic pedagogies and their use of online platforms and social media apps such as Tik Tok and Instagram to connect with their students. Colleagues at my previous school district, the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB), are also a constant source of inspiration. Since most elementary schools outside of the greater Montreal area in the province of Quebec reopened in May, I believe we can learn a lot from their experience and creativity (see the interviews with WQSB teacher Letha Henry and principal Sam Halpin). Ultimately, I tend to dwell in a place of hope and am inspired to believe that together we can use this terrible situation to catalyze transformational change and improve our public education system.
Our latest scan of education news in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, and Canada, shows considerable attention to teachers: shortages of teachers in Scotland and England; “redundancies” and elimination of teaching positions in Northern Ireland and Wales; contract negotiations with the teacher unions in Ontario; and efforts to improve teacher training in Wales and address teacher turnover in Alberta.
The blog from the Institute of Education at the University of London has also had a series of post over the past month addressing key issues in England including income inequality, a new plan to penalize schools that are “coasting” (failing to increase student outcomes), a recent report on the (possible) effects of “free schools”; and the latest reforms related to initial teacher training.
Teacher autonomy – which refers to teachers’ ability to develop their own curriculum and instruction – has sometimes been seen as a way to support teachers’ professionalism. However, in a recent conversation, Won-Pyo Hong, an Associate Professor at Yonsei University, described how teachers may not always see “autonomy” as a positive development. He talked with me about a study he conducted with with Peter Youngs, Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, titled “Why are teachers afraid of curricular autonomy? Contradictory effects of the new national curriculum in South Korea.” That study focused on teachers’ experiences with the new national curriculum (designed in 2009), which was supposed to allow for teacher autonomy. As Hong explained, the reality was more complicated:
“Policymakers insisted that granting curricular autonomy would provide more freedom to schools from the central controls and encourage them to develop varied curricula according to their local conditions and student interests. However, it needs to be noted that the curriculum revision in 2009 was made under a conservative government who pursued a market-based approach to education reforms. So, the curricular autonomy embedded in the 2009 national curriculum had conveyed dual meanings; on the surface, it seemed to empower teachers by giving more curricular discretion to individual schools. On the other hand, it reduced government interventions over curricular issues which could cause competition among schools and widen the gap between schools of poor and better conditions in terms of the quality of school curriculum.”
While the prior curriculum presented a sequence of study in each content area and grade level, the new curriculum set a total number of instructional hours for a given subject over three years. Additionally, the number of subjects that a school could offer was reduced to eight or less in a semester (down from ten), and schools were encouraged to offer intensive courses. As Hong explained,
“if a school previously offered both music and visual arts for an hour per week throughout the year, now it had to make a semester-long course to offer only one subject per semester. This change was made to reduce students’ workload and thus make learning more engaging and comprehensive. Schools were also allowed to reduce or increase the number of instructional hours for each subject up to 20% in general schools, 35% in self-managing schools designated by provincial authorities. This was quite a substantial change, as it was the first time that trade-offs became possible across the subject areas. For instance, schools were allowed to teach more hours for a certain subject area as long as it maintained the total number of instructional hours by reducing hours assigned to other subjects. Therefore, teachers in a school were required to work together to determine how to adjust instructional hours across the subject areas, considering the local context and student needs.”
Hong and Young found that when autonomy was built into the curriculum the teachers questioned its authenticity, as they felt that the autonomy had been provided as an expectation, rather than obtained through their own efforts. Hong explained that another notable finding was that “teachers worried that schools would abuse the given autonomy to teach major subject areas more often, further marginalizing other subject areas. This is because student performances in Korean, English, and math carry the most weight for the college admission process, thus becoming primary concerns for parents and students.”
As a result, Korean teachers did not feel more empowered as the autonomy felt artificial. The authors noted that “curriculum scholars need to examine more closely when and how teachers’ curricular autonomy promotes positive results in practice.” They also noted that teachers who participated in the study felt that autonomy was impossible when subject area content standards remained unchanged.
While the current government in South Korea is pursuing a new revision of the national curriculum, one that focuses on cross-disciplinary thinking, attention to teacher autonomy is quickly waning. As Hong explains, the Korean cases illustrates some of the complexities of government-initiated curricular autonomy and raises questions about what it might take to support teachers’ autonomy in productive ways.
Teacher autonomy around the world
The conversation about teacher autonomy in South Korea was particularly interesting given recent interest in issues of teacher autonomy in a number of different parts of the world. In the US, in particular, the word “autonomy” is used frequently to describe what some educators believe is lacking in the teaching profession today. For example, recent Global Teacher prizewinner Nancy Atwell, noted for her innovative and playful pedagogy, has called for a more “autonomous, creative and thoughtful” approach to teaching, which she fears is now impossible in U.S. public schools. Atwell caused a bit of a stir online when she said, “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”
In addition, this past month NPR in the US presented a series in which they focused on the teacher pipeline, noting in one segment that enrollment in teacher training programs is down as much as 50% in some states. The reporters followed up in another segment with Richard Ingersoll, a Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the topic of teacher retention for decades. As Ingersoll explained, his research has shown that the problem of teacher retention is related to teacher autonomy, and few opportunities for teachers to have “input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job.” Ingersoll says, “One thing we’ve found is that the shrinking classroom autonomy is now the biggest dissatisfaction of math teachers nationally.”
Similar concerns about teacher autonomy have been echoed in news reports from around the world as well. For example, one report from Canada decries the country’s lack of support for teacher professionalism, and provides a comparison with Holland, Finland, Switzerland and Japan; teachers in British Columbia call for greater control over their own professional development; leaders of the Labour Party in the UK have criticized what they see as an ‘exam factory’ approach to schooling, and call for more teacher autonomy; and, a new national curriculum in Wales has been designed to allow for teacher autonomy. However, is everyone talking about the same thing?
Does “autonomy” = more responsibility?
One report from Hong Kong presents an example that shows that when “autonomy” is linked with “professionalism,” it can mean that teachers are expected to become stakeholders in their schools. The South China Morning Post writes that since Hong Kong introduced a school-based management policy, teachers must “participate in groups such as student academic affairs and pastoral care committees to help keep the school functioning effectively.” The article goes on to commend these changes, but it also notes that in other countries teachers might expect to be compensated for these additional responsibilities – rather than have them incorporated into a newly defined “professionalism.”
Does “autonomy” = innovation?
In another article from the UK, Labour Party leader Tristram Hunt criticized what he called the “exam factory” approach to schooling, and called for changes from the “bottom up, ‘through giving teachers and school leaders the freedom and autonomy to deliver an exciting education.’” However, as with much of the discussion on teacher autonomy, there is little attention to how teachers and schools interpret what the term “autonomy” means, and/or what it is that teachers and schools want to do, or will be expected to do, with this autonomy. Will teacher autonomy lead to the excitement and innovation that many hope for? Or, will it leave teachers alone to address the needs of the students and the community? For example, in Shanghai, teachers are expected by parents to prepare students for high stakes exams. As one article explains, student performance on such exams is so important that parents are willing to attend school with their children so that they can learn the material and reinforce it at home. Lacking support, teachers might feel pressured to do more of what they feel they need to do, which might be more test prep.
With graduation rates below 50 percent, Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations hoped to see a legislative joint action plan by 2014, but the plans dissolved after three days of deliberation.
National Chief Shawn Atleo said, “The instructions that you have afforded here by this resolution are very clear and that is to reject, to say no, to federal legislation.”
Ottawa wanted legislation to establish school-boards that would give native governments control over their own education, but chiefs questioned the federal decision-making process and a “one-size-fits-all law that would not work for reserves whose rights are defined by treaties.”
The decision of the chiefs on Wednesday to walk away from that process is a major blow to the relatively peaceful Crown-First Nation relationship of the past few years.
The Toronto District School Board has decided to eliminate middle (sixth through eighth grade) and junior high (seventh and eighth grade) schools. The decision is based on findings about the academic achievement of students who are educated in a school housing kindergarten through eighth grade: “We know students who write the (province-wide) Grade 6 test at the same school they attended for Grade 3 do better than those who are now at a different school — especially in high-poverty areas,” said superintendent of research Roula Anastasakos. (A recent report from the C.D. Howe Institute has also concluded that students who move to a middle or junior high school “underperform compared to similar students at other elementary schools.”) Yet, some are concerned about the impact that eliminating middle and junior high schools has on weaker students. “We’re finding huge negative effects in math and reading for students at the bottom half of the achievement ladder who go to middle schools,” warned University of Toronto economics professor Elizabeth Dhuey. “We’re not sure why, but the worry is that at age 13 and 14 — often not a great time of life — to add a structural break at school can be bad for students who struggle.”
Response: Factors Behind The Success Of Ontario’s Schools — Part One and Part Two Ferlazzo, L. Education Week (21 May 2012 & 22 May 2012)
What’s going on in Ontario’s schools? Part One contains responses to this question from a teacher, an administrator, and two parent leaders; Part Two includes contributions from Professor Michael Fullan, a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and current special advisor to the premier and minister of education in Ontario, and readers. Professor Fullan writes, “Unfortunately some countries in a hurry to address the issues get the solutions wrong. I call these mistake ‘wrong drivers for whole system reform’. Drivers are policy and strategy instruments designed to ’cause’ improvement in the system. A wrong driver is one that does not work; a right driver is one that does produce improvement. In our work on system reform we have been sorting out what drivers work and which ones do not. This is our conclusion: excessive accountability, individualistic strategies designed to increase human capital, technology and ad hoc policy solutions waste valuable time and resources and often make matters worse.” Other respondents point to support for teachers and involving students in the creation of assessments as reasons for the success of Ontario schools.
The following video provides an overview of some of the items discussed in Part One and Part Two of “Factors Behind The Success of Ontario’s Schools”:
The newly launched EdChat program “offers an informal way for small groups of students to gather in person or online, discuss British Columbia’s Education Plan and share their vision for the future of education. Participants work within the five themes of the plan: personalized learning for every student, quality teaching and learning, flexibility and choice, high standards and learning empowered by technology.” (Find EdChat’s “Face to Face Tool Kits” here.) When speaking with members of BC Student Voice, Minister of Education George Abbott said he hopes to hear from students because they “have the greatest stake in our education system and we want to hear from them about what we are doing well, what we can improve and what they would like to see done differently. By participating in EdChats or joining the discussion online, students have a chance to be actively involved in the decisions that affect their future.”
According to new regulations in British Columbia, “teachers who have more than 30 students in their classes next year may opt for extra pay, additional preparation time, more professional-development money or extra funds for classroom supplies.” Under Bill 22, which passed last month, teachers will earn $2,000-to-2,500 for each additional student. Some tout the cost-saving measures of the bill. For example, the president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association wrote, “If an extra 29 students can be spread around into oversized classes, that will be $2,000 less than the salary of an additional teacher.” Others, including many teachers, believe that the plan will not lead to improved student learning outcomes. (See how some teachers feel about Bill 22 here.)
As the video below shows, Bill 22’s imposition of report cards has caused confusion in British Columbia: