BC ED Plan Advertisement or a boot to the head

So the script (narrative) for the advertisement I ran into (while streaming CTV shows I missed) goes something like this: BC teachers are doing a very good job. BUT. Our students deserve the best to prepare them for a changing world. How students learn has changed. We need to change our teaching practices to meet the needs of the 21st Century. The government needs to ensure that professional development days really are used in such a way that they can meet this challenge. We need to put students first. 

It would seem that no right thinking person could argue with any of the above ideas. Heck, I mostly agree with them. I find it funny, and not in a ha, ha kind of way, that I am going to be on a ‘withdrawal of services’ (we aren’t allowed to call it a strike) for ideals I believe in.

Back to the advertisement:

1. Take a look at the image below. The image runs while the narrator informs us that world has changed, that teaching has to change, too. The conversation taking place in the education field is that the sage on the stage style of education does not create the kind of lasting learning and engagement that we need. Recently, I read this article on a Harvard professor who has changed his teaching to address this issue and I think it captures it nicely. I blogged about it here last month. Here is another blog by a West Vancouver Superintendent of Schools, Chris Kennedy, that also discusses how teaching is changing. Here is another blog I wrote about how I think we should not be too quick to throw out the sage on the stage.

Here’s one of my worries. When the Government talks about how education needs to change, we need to be very careful that we are not talking about many, many more students taking courses online, in isolation. It can be great in some situations for some students, but the best learning is collaborative and socially constructed. Nothing about learning has changed. The spaces and the resources and some of the skills are different, but good learning and teaching are as old as the hills.

2. The Government is telling us that teachers need to develop the skills to help students in the 21st Century. Yes, Pro-D days are one aspect of our learning, and critical. One of the areas that we are in disagreement over is teacher control of professional development. The Government would like to have control over what we do. Teachers have long said that we know what we need, just get out of our way and let us do it. A good team functioning at a well-run school will be making these decisions together some of the time.

Now here is some irony; look at the image above. In the advertisement the teacher walks out of the classroom and sits down at this desk to receive her professional development. Apparently how the teacher in the top image is teaching the students is no good, but then she heads off to her Government controlled professional development. This man teaches her how the ‘new’ teaching should look, by teaching her in the ‘old’ style way. Also, she reads a book (below). Love it.

The absolutely best professional development happens…..wait for it….. in a lot of ways, just like all learning. Sometimes, we listen to an accomplished educator in her or his field. Sometimes we read a book. Sometimes, we stand in the hallway of the school and chat with a colleague. Sometimes we organize workshops after school. Sometimes, we engage in research-in-action projects. Always, we are learning as work with students.

Many of us, teachers, administrators, parents and trustees, are now engaged in 21st Century professional development through the blogosphere and the twittersphere. It is the most exciting advancement in my own professional development. It has accelerated my own learning incredibly. This year, I am blogging every single day as part of my professional development. I learn when I write.

I don’t need the Government to ensure I am using my professional development days properly. I am developing professionally, every day, all day.

If some teachers are not using their 5 days appropriately, their supervisors need to deal with it. That is not my job, and I should not pay the price for them not doing their job.

Also, this drive toward improvement in education is not this Government’s fresh idea. Incredible work is already being done across the world, and we are talking to each other every day.

3. One of the images that I did not manage to capture from the advertisement was when the teacher’s book in the image above turns into a computer. The Government informs us that they want to give us the training and the resources we need to move education forward.

This is another moment in the advertisement when I have to breathe. Teachers and administers across the province have fought for every dime we can to integrate technology into classrooms and schools. PACs have fundraised at bake sales to get more technology. It is not as if the Government has been trying to get us to use it and we have been reluctant.

We don’t have enough money, enough time, enough teacher-leaders released from classrooms to help other teachers get up to speed. Most of us are doing it off the side of our desk, and with our own money.

In my classroom right now, I have students using my Mac laptop to make movies, students using my iPod to listen to audio books, students watching lectures from MIT, movies, TV shows and audio books I have purchased with my money through iTunes. I maintain and pay for several Web 2.0 tools (sometimes Voice Thread, Bitstrips for Schools, two class blogs/websites).

Of course, teachers supply a lot of old school technology with their own money as well. I give out at least 10 pencils a day. My baskets are full of high lighters, glue sticks, pencil crayons, felt pens, craft supplies, coloured paper. I have a back book shelf loaded with books that I have purchased for my classroom. I am not alone in this.

4. Finally, the Government ad suggests we put students first. Yes, indeed. I agree. It is the suggestion that we are not doing this already in so many ways that concerns me. Of course, there are teachers, administrators and EAs that are not doing this. But, the vast majority of teachers, administrators and EAs are, as well they should.

We do need to put students first. We need to know what they need to learn best, we need to figure out how to help them develop their passions, we need to listen to their voices, we need to teach students, not curriculum. Of course. Assessment for learning, integration of technology, assistive technology, differentiated instruction, project-based learning, authentic products…. we have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn. Giving teachers more time in the day to learn these skills does not seem to be on the agenda because it would cost too much money. However, it is not because we don’t want this time.

Education is messy, complicated, hard, wonderful, exciting. It is a great profession to be in, especially when we are all working together, focusing on the good work that is being done, being a team that is focused on doing the best we can for students. A team.

At a very basic level, this kind of advertisement is pure propaganda. The Government has to figure out how to spin this “withdrawal of services” better than the BCTF. Both groups are engaged in a PR war now, and the Government needs to make us look bad. I love it when my leadership, in the form of advertisements and sound bites, treats my hard, passionate work like a political football. It feels like a boot to the head.

Of course, the BCTF wants us to look the best we can. There are aspects to how we train, certify and supervise teachers that need modification. However, I would ask you to remember that teachers do no hand out degrees, nor do we hire, and nor do we supervise. If we are hiring people not suited to the profession, that problem started long before the person is part of a collective agreement.

I am sure there are steps in the contract that need some work. Neither side should have absolute power – that’s the point of collective bargaining. Let’s get to work on that.

The really unfortnuate part is that the Government has tied this topic of 21st Century learning to the labour dispute.

There are many, many more things to write about and clarify. That’s it for today, though. The sun is shining, my family is waiting.

Trying to boil the ocean

Today, cruising the Globe and Mail, and contemplating getting up to make a cup of tea, I ran into this quote from Ann Snowdon. The quote is from an article on health care reform, Why not try after-hours care the Dutch way. It entirely captures how I feel about the current ‘climate’ of education in BC at the moment:

Last year, I was very excited to attend a conference on RTI. The main message I brought home from that professional development was that we need to be much more systematic in our approach to intervention when students don’t learn. There was no prescription, aside from the types of questions we should be asking over and over as we build, LOCALLY, the responses our students need, at this time, in our school.

We know who our students are, and who we are as a staff. As a school and community, we exist in this culture, in this time, in this space. Solutions built elsewhere, based on research and best practice, can and must provide us with fodder and direction for our local collaborations. However, the best solutions will be designed here, implemented here, on the ground, if we are given the time and the tools to do it.

My training and experience also tells me that when solutions are grown locally, through collaboration, buy-in will be more likely to happen. Student buy-in, administrator buy-in, teacher buy-in, community buy-in.

Instead, I see a government working hard on an imposition of a new plan. I see provincial bargaining that cannot, by its nature, address local issues.

They are trying to boil the ocean. It’s painful.

Better still to make a pot of tea. Sit down together as a school and community, with time to think, with time to act, with time to ask what is working and what is not. Time well spent. Many pots of tea.

Time to put the kettle on.