Some Suggestions and more responses on what to do with Education in Ontario – a rolling blog

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This image has been updated from July 7th. This wordl includes some of the key words in the 148 responses to our survey.

This past week a very interesting article was published in the Hamilton Spectator by a retired teacher, Ken Durkacz –  An open letter to Premier Ford on education

So, I have to say I find all of his suggestions appealing and it would be interesting to see what others think. Here are the author’s main ideas, I will paraphrase, but you can click on the link above to get the details:

1. Eliminate standardized testing. It would save tens of millions per year, which could be reinvested.

2. Move to one publicly funded school system. It would save millions in the duplication of services.

3. If you must cut from boards, cut from the top. There is a widespread feeling among front-line workers in schools that boards are bloated with people in positions that have little to nothing to do with the day to day education of students.

4. Reintroduce principals and vice-principals back into teacher unions.

We tried to survey people interested in issues during the election and it did work a little. You can read how people responded to an open-ended survey I wrote here. Thanks to Google, the 44 responses to the survey are summarized here. If you ignore the obvious overrepresentation on Regulation 274, there is no clear consensus on what the major issue in Ontario education is. So, I think Dan is heading in the right direction by making some very practical suggestions on how to improve education in this province. People who took the survey certainly echoed what he wrote.

Rather than giving my opinion on what might be the most popular ideas, let’s open this up to others who have an interest in public policy and education in particular.

Here are some ideas:

  • a survey (who doesn’t like a good survey) on what are the best ideas to pass on to Mr. Ford
  • a series of podcasts on some of the key ideas in the article. We will take care of that using our series – First Hand Stories on VoicEd Radio.
  • (a postscript – here is the first of our podcasts  and here is our second podcast
  • our third is here
  • a summer panel discussion – what are the key ideas that the new government should be considered in education? I think this would be a great discussion for VoicEd Radio. Maybe one episode per idea?

Summer is a great time for wondering about new ideas and initiatives. Maybe the new Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson could be a special guest on one of these shows? I will certainly share the survey with her.

We will start with number 1 – a survey for all of you. How would you rank the four suggestions? Do you have your own suggestion? Let’s see if we can generate some interest in education issues here in Ontario for the summer.

Postscript:

After 59 responses in less than a day, the results can be seen here

It is a little hard to interpret the results except to say all four issues seems to be important to respondents. What is most interesting so far are the comments at the end of the survey.

It is unfortunate that most are dominated by the Regulation 274 robots. This is to be expected, but what is a bit disappointing is that other educators in the Twittersphere are not all that willing to enter the debate, retweet or even like this discussion. I do hope this changes, the debate on the future of education deserves to be joined by more education opinion-makers.

We have completed our first podcast on our response to the article – you can listen here

A follow-up podcast is now out here

Our third in the series is here

A Manifesto for Changing how Canadians can Help People in the Global South

I am writing a series of articles on the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. I am doing this because a good organization that has worked very well for change in the Global South is in deep crisis. Times are tough for social justice organizations, and they don’t all survive. They certainly do not survive if they cannot adapt to the changing climate in the 21st century.

Development and Peace was formed in 1967 by the Canadian Catholic Bishops. It was certainly a different time. The organization was based on Pope Paul’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio. In it, he said,

Development is the new word for Peace. Peace cannot be seen simply as the absence of war. It must be built daily, and it must strive towards a more perfect justice among human beings (Populorum Progressio, 76).

This is even truer today. The world is fractured by violence and an increasing amount of hate fueled in large part by the almost daily rantings on social media by leaders like Donald Trump. For true peace, we need intelligent development programs here in Canada.

At the same time, some Canadian dioceses are making the decision to withhold money raised for Development and Peace through the yearly Share Lent collections.

Interesting – they are using the same argument that is causing such a backlash in the Halton Catholic School Board. Apparently, there is pushback by some dioceses that the programs Development and Peace are supporting in the Global South are not ‘Catholic’ enough. This is not progressive, it is not helpful and we need to stay clear of such initiatives.

Since 1967, Canadian Catholic churches have raised money to fund development programs in the Global South and education programs here in Canada. Both are vital. Canadians need to learn more about what effective development looks like. It is simply not good enough to send over shoe boxes with school supplies in the hope that somehow this will lead to effective social change.

Effective change means empowering women, supporting organizations working for democratic reforms, developing local economies and strengthening youth networks. Development and Peace does all this and much more. It deserves the support of all Canadians. However, government support for Development and Peace continues to fall. It is one area that has not recovered from the challenging years of the Conservative Government in Ottawa.

As a result, the organization is cutting back on its support for programs in the Global South and probably education work here in Canada. The traditional funders are pulling back from their responsibility to help others in the wider world.

I worked closely with Development and Peace for six years as a National Council member. I have met many partners from the South who do really effective work to bring about social change. I really think if more people knew about the work of Development and Peace they would support their mission.

What is needed now is some sort of manifesto for change. The need is greater than ever before – but we continue to see a diminishment of organizations like development and Peace.

At the same time, more schools – public and Catholic are teaching about the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. This is truly encouraging, but there needs to be an associated outlet for actions coming out of school initiatives. For example, the third goal calls for the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.

Development and Peace is uniquely positioned to do this kind of work.

So what could change look like? Here are a few steps to consider:

  1. gather a group of Canadians with public policy and development experience to reform the organization allowing for more flexibility and growth in the 21st century. Keep its Catholic, democratic roots, but give it a more effective management structure that allows for a national governing body that relies more on development professionals and individuals that can attract funding from various sources.
  2. change the nature of fundraising – Development and Peace has always relied on funding from Canadian Catholic dioceses and the Canadian Government. Having only two sources of funding is unreliable and results in a boom and bust cycle (generally, every three years). One of the primary goals for reform must be to develop a broader base for attracting funds including inviting major funders to sit on the managing body of the organization.
  3. emphasize Canadian over Catholic. Canadians have a real interest in helping others, but there are few organizations that reach out to them with intelligent, effective ways to support people and organizations in the Global South. It is fine to keep the Catholic roots of the organization, but an overreliance on formal Catholic institutions.

Maybe there are more steps to be considered. But right now three would be a great start. Can we really afford not to do our very best to assist the aspirations of people in the Global South who want to bring about change?

Can we turn our attention away from ourselves long enough to make a difference?

I really hope so.

How Can Canadians Get Involved in Supporting our Sisters and Brothers in the Global South? Part II

So, I think it is important to write a follow-up to this week’s post on how to create a more effective organization to connect Canadians to authentic development projects that really aid the Global South.

To me, there is a moral imperative here. That is why I am writing this series. The world is rapidly becoming a colder, more dangerous place. People who want to push aside the ‘other’, whomever that might be seem to have the dominant voice. We really need effective ways of connecting to those in the world who need our support.

So, how do you develop a more effective organization? How do you involve more Canadians in peace and development?

Development and Peace has been around since 1967. It is an arm of the Canadian Catholic Church and most of the people involved have been part of the traditional church structure.

The management structure, virtually unchanged in more than half a century is hierarchical. In this, it models the Catholic Church.

Local priests and parishioners are responsible for raising money for the organization through one big fundraiser – Share Lent – every year.

However, in some jurisdictions, this money is held back by people who feel the money is not being spent on projects that are Catholic enough. In this sense, this is similar to what went on with the Halton Catholic School Board who voted not to allow fundraising for projects and organizations that did not fit their narrow view of what was acceptable according to Catholic values.

This is an organization that has lost its way. Its management structure weighs it down while its reliance on traditional Catholic institutions cuts it off from the majority of Canadians who are open and willing to support intelligent development policies.

The managing structure of Development and Peace is dominated by an elected National Council. While it is noble to have a totally elected board of directors, there is no requirement for these directors to have any management or development experience. Like many boards constituted in this way, they are captive to the managers of the organization. In a very true sense, they are incapable of being independent managers of the organization.

Is there a way out of this well?

There has to be. Development and Peace does excellent development work and they have a great team of talented and experienced program officers who work with partners throughout the year. The organization has always been well-respected by the Canadian Government and receives millions of dollars every year to support their partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

For any organization to survive for 50 years is a challenge. For an organization to thrive, however, it needs to question itself and look for ways to remain vital and relevant.

Development and Peace is in need of renewal. Canadians need a more effective organization to channel their resources to those in dire need. At a time of such darkness, a little more light is needed.

The question is, will they have the courage to make the necessary changes.

 

How can Canadians Get Involved in Supporting our Brothers and Sisters in the Global South?

Usually, I write about education issues, but development assistance is something that I have cared deeply about for many years going back to trips I used to organize for students to the Dominican Republic.

Recent events in the United States and their unethical attacks on immigrants has propelled me to dive back into the complex issue of how best to lend assistance to people in the Global South.

We are a very wealthy nation with clear connections to poor countries around the world. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) is a unique organization that works actively to improve the lives of people in many poor countries. They are unique because they have always made a good effort to involve Canadians in their work. It is an organization that is faith-based, but more importantly, it reserves a role for Canadians to get involved in raising money and setting policy on how best to assist with development assistance. It has also always had a strong educational mission which is essential if we want to be involved in social change in the world.

Over the years, the organization has lost its way due to the influence of right-wing elements in the Catholic Church and its inability to sustain an organizational approach that allows for meaningful participation from ordinary Canadians.

Development and Peace needs to be refashioned to reach the grassroots in Canada. It needs to develop a structure that opens itself up for renewal and it needs to broaden its appeal beyond the narrow confines of the traditional Catholic Church.

What it needs is a manifesto for change.

So what are some of the pillars of a manifesto? I would suggest the following as a start.

Stewardship – the preservation of a forward-thinking, faith-based development community.

Participation – an inclusive organization that respects and encourages the diverse voice of Canadians. For all people in Canada that care about the plight of people in the Global South.

Respect for excellence in development policy that puts the empowerment of people in the Global South as its primary motivation. When organizational ineptitude gets in the way of good work a reboot is called for.

Human Dignity – everything that is done must place the dignity of all people first – people in the Global South for sure, but also fair-minded people in Canada who want to help others and who are willing to participate in a dialogue that includes more voices, opinions and mindsets.

What else is needed? How can a large institution be renewed? How can an organization that has been too exclusive become one that welcomes new voices?

I hope a dialogue can be started. There is too much to do in this troubled world to remain behind old barriers and prejudices.

Let’s move on and try to do something new and effective. Let’s work on development and involve as many Canadians as possible. Let’s think way outside the traditional box.

 

Climb for Kids Senate Send-off Fundraiser is on Friday (June 22)

Hello everyone

As always, I want to start off by thanking all of you who have bought tickets or donated directly to my fundraising page. Now I also have a fundraising page on this blog, but if you want a tax receipt, it is much better to go to my Canada Helps Page.

We have raised close to $17,000 and are well on our way to breaking past $20,000 – a great accomplishment for the first year of Christie Lake Climb for Kids.

In a few weeks, we will be announcing what we are doing for Year Two.

Friday, June 22nd is our last fundraiser. We are hoping to raise another $4000.00 through ticket sales and silent auction items. It would be great to see some of you out at this event.

If you can purchase your tickets online that would be truly wonderful.

Finally, our wine auction ends June 30th. Online tickets are still available for $10.00 and you have a chance to win over $300.00 in great wine.

Thanks to all those who have supported Year One of Climb for Kids.

We truly appreciate your support and will be climbing for you as well as the kids who benefit from transformative recreation programming throughout the year!

Paul

And now this…

 

Facilitating Student Voice in the Classroom

 

finishing a podcasting session with Heather Swail’s Grade 7-8 class

I started out today watching a conversation between Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Washington press corps. I shouldn’t really call it a conversation. The reporters asked on three separate occasions about the current US policy on separating children from their parents when they cross the border. There was no response, just a lot of avoidance and some pretty insulting retorts.

Nothing was resolved, no questions were answered, no problem was even acknowledged. Both sides scored points, but an injustice is still being done.

In contrast, I have spent the last week listening to grade 7-8 students talk about social justice. What a difference!

I  got involved at the end of a month-long process that saw students choose a social justice issue, research the issue, debate the issue with peers then finally develop a persuasive piece that they then blogged about.

Their blog posts are all attached to their teacher Heather Swail’s blog and can be found here.

I really encourage you to read a few of these great pieces. The topics range from residential schools in Canada to water issues in South Africa, child labour, gun violence and racial profiling.

Little did I know that Residential schools were a lot deeper of an issue than just boarding schools that were wrongful to a misjudged people. They literally destroyed Indigenous culture for generations to come, and what really surprised me was that even after everything we did them, Indigenous people are still being treated unfairly today.

excerpt from student blog Residential Schools Revisited

All the posts are well-considered and intelligent. What makes the real difference is that this was a facilitated process. Students did not simply strike off on an issue, they had to go through a deliberate process with identifiable steps.

This is a well-known process that starts with the head moves to the heart and finishes with the hands. What is the issue, how does it make you feel, what are you going to do about it? A version of Heather’s methodology can be found here.

We took one final step by doing a series of five podcasts where the students talked about their issues. You can hear one of these podcasts here more will be coming out on VoicEd Radio soon.

It is at times like these that I really wish I was back in the classroom! My visits to Room 201 and to the student blog posts were a refreshing break from the media wars that are going on everywhere right now. Well considered opinion, well expressed, backed by evidence and part of an intelligent thought process.

When I see the faces of these children and when I read their words, I do think there is hope for the future. When students learn how to think, research and write well thought out pieces I know there is still room for intelligent debate and discussion.

My hope for all of these students is that they carry these valuable lessons into the future.

 

 

Response to George Couros’ Post: We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.

We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.  I have noticed that the schools where teachers are doing incredible things have leadership that innovates inside the box. They do not just encourage different thinking and action, but they model it through their own process in supporting teachers within the constraints of the system.

I wrote this in response to a great post by George Couros today. Goerge does challenge and he asks questions that are difficult to answer. His post prompted me to respond on his blog. I have written an extended response below.

Hi George

Yes, your ideas make a great deal of sense. It seems to me that there is a creativity barrier in education. We want our teachers to be creative, we want them to empower students and we want an engaging learning environment.

However, when we pass over the Rubicon into administration, we mostly value compliance. You are now an ‘officer of the board’ whatever that means and what is most valued is your ability to do what the senior admin wants to be done, sometimes at the risk of suppressing the creativity of staff members.

Creativity can be a liability. In administrators, it is seldom valued and to remain creative is a risk that sometimes will lead to disapproval or even sanction.

This is a big problem in our education system, one that I don’t know how we will break out of.  How can a system that devalues innovation survive?

Every day I see creative work being done and shared by educators. But not from administrators. Their voice is more muted and their contributions often fall into the category of ‘cheerleading’. This is a shame because administrators can be innovative too.

Maybe they are at their best when as George Couros writes, they are supporting the innovative efforts of others. Is that the best that we can do?

There seems to be a great shift that that takes place when we become school administrators. We enter a world where compliance is the main value. To question and to innovate is not acceptable and is seen as risky.

Thanks to George Couros for writing this piece. It takes courage to question the status quo and I appreciate his efforts to do this. I really think we need more educators with the ability to call into question some of the failings of our public education system.

How can we ever have an honest public debate about the quality of public education if many of the main actors feel that they play no role in commenting and questioning how we are educating our children in 2018?

If not us, who are we leaving this to?

Response to: Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I read a great post today by Aviva Dunsiger on compliance and self-regulation entitled Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I really suggest you read it. Aviva is writing about something we don’t talk enough about – the pressure for adults to conform. Again, this is something we do in education, we are expected to do everything in our power to respect the student’s need to self-regulate and possibly opt out of difficult situations, but on the other hand, we expect nearly blind compliance from the adults in the system. She ends her post with this question:
Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.
At the end of Aviva’s post I added this response:
Great question. I think as adults we need to get much more comfortable with noncompliance. Especially when we work for large organizations like school boards noncompliance is healthy and necessary. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to comply especially as a school administrator in a Catholic school system. The pressure to comply was always tremendous. To not comply was seen as disloyal.
To question ideas was not encouraged and loyalty to the party line was a value that was rewarded. Cheerleading of board initiatives was seen as the best way to use Twitter and other forms of social media.
I wish this was not the case. Noncompliance should be encouraged. Noncompliance is a way to promote independent thought which is what I always thought we were supposed to be teaching our children to do.
Aviva is making an excellent point here. To opt out, to question, to take a different path is just as important for the social-emotional health of adults as it is for children. It is dangerous however because it will put you at odds with the vast majority of people who are comfortable with or unwilling to question the status quo.
When we discourage noncompliance and independent thought, what does an organization lose?
To call for strict compliance means that decision making is left in the hands of the few in the highest positions of authority. To question their ultimate authority will lead to sanction. This means that alternative positions are not encouraged by teachers, consultants and especially school administrators.
Consequently, adults in school boards are reduced to ‘cheerleading’ tweets. While there are many educators that go beyond cheerleading, it is seldom that they seriously question the status quo – something that is established by a small group of people whose authority is never questioned.
I have seen this demand for compliance with other large organizations. The Catholic Church and its agencies and large education corporations are two I have had some experience working in. It seems the larger you get the less room there is for thinking outside the box. It makes me wonder how innovative thought and action ever takes place!
When it comes to opting out there are not a lot of options. You simply cannot dissent if you work for a large school board or other big organization. This means that your social-emotional well-being is secondary to the well-being of the organization.
Adults always have the right to opt out, but that comes down to leaving the organization. In my case, speaking critically about my school board meant that I would be suspended without pay. So, I complied.
This was not a good situation, but I did have the option to opt out and I did. I left the organization and I started to write. From a social-emotional perspective, this is a good thing.
It might have been better if independent thought and initiative had been encouraged while I was a school administrator. You really lose something when you demand blind compliance. Opting out is good for adults, it would be even better if we could do this more while remaining members of the organization.

Responses to Education Election Issues: Are we creating the optimum learning environment for our students?

Over the past two weeks, I have been collecting ideas and suggestions on what needs to change in Ontario’s education system. Clearly, there are lots of issues that are on the minds of voters and it would be great to see some of these important ideas debated during the current campaign.

Obviously, some issues are overrepresented by people who really have a bone to pick – Regulation 274 being one – but we can still get a sense of what some of the major concerns are, none have to do with returning to a ‘kill and drill’ math curriculum.

So what are some of the big issues?

School safety and mental health are related issues. There are several comments on the need for better mental health supports in schools and for the need to protect students and staff from violent outbursts. The safety of students and current class sizes comes into this. One respondent wrote that they did not feel that having potentially 36 students in a kindergarten class was safe for their child.

I think you could wrap all this into one overall issue – the quality of care in the classroom. Do we have enough support for children in our schools and are we creating the optimum learning environment for our students? Are schools really equipped to adequately deal with mental health challenges and the complex needs of children?

I don’t have a good answer to this question, but it is certainly asked a lot in the survey.

My daughter was supposed to be entering JK in the Fall and we’ve chosen not to enrol her, because 36 kids stuffed into a play-based program with limited resources and objects being thrown at the teacher’s head is not my idea of a good learning environment for ANY child. It fills me with sadness that as a public school teacher I don’t feel safe enrolling my own child in my local public school.

This is actually something that can happen. When we had half-day kindergarten, there was a hard cap of 20 students in the classroom. If you went over 20 students, there was a good chance that another class would have to be created. That cap really disappeared once we went to full-day kindergarten. Sometimes you will be able to split a class of 32 to 36 children into two classes, but there is no guarantee that this will happen and if it does take place it is usually a month into the school year.

Yes, there are other issues that need to be addressed based on this survey. EQAO, teacher hiring practices, the overlap caused by funding Catholic and Public schools, EQAO etc. But let’s start with this issue. Are we doing our very best to ensure a high-quality environment inside the classroom? Are we living with less?

If we could be doing better for our students in very concrete ways why are we not doing this? Why are more educators not saying anything? This is the time for debate, let’s hear more from parents and educators in our province.

People Respond: Education Issues in the Ontario 2018 Election

 

We are heading into an election here in Ontario. I am always really interested in election debates, especially how the discussion circles around education issues.

So far, we seem to be talking about sex education and how we need to return to some other time when parents and the church were the arbitars of essential information.

Oh yes, and there is the old rallying cry – back to math basics!!

Can we do better than that? Are there other issues that we should be discussing?

Really, we only get a chance to do this every four years and public education is vital to the maintenance of democracy. Actually, we need democracy to flourish and we have to step up and declare how our schools can best do this. At its heart, that is what education is all about.

So, I am conducting my own little survey. What are the issues that are important to you? Especially if you are an educator, what should we be talking about as we lead up to June 7th?

We only get to do this once every four years so it would be great to weigh in and record your answer.

Let’s let this survey run and see what we come up with. I will summarize the answers in this blog.

Let’s use this time wisely – just so you know, you can fill this survey out as many times as you want!

After five days, people are beginning to respond. Here are some of the issues that people are writing about:

Why are we publically funding Catholic educational schools and no other religious educational schools?
Standardized testing.
Class sizes (especially kindergarten) and resulting violence and behaviour issues.
Mental health support
Violence in the classroom

On Twitter there are more comments

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

We need to see this kind of discussion, these are essential issues and it is really important that politicians listen and respond to these comments.

Each of these points deserves to be addressed, no matter how uncomfortable it makes politicians.

Publically funding only one religion in a publically funded school system is blatant discrimination and against the Human Rights Act of the Province of Ontario. Catholicism should not be promoted as the major religion in Ontario, and yet it continues to be provincially funded as such. Why?

The money spent on EQAO from start to finish, as well as release time for staff, could be put to better use in teacher training, lower PTR, resources and engaging families to support learning. There is little research backing the educational benefits of standardized tests. But they have to be replaced with what does work and in an equitable way.

My daughter was supposed to be entering JK in the Fall and we’ve chosen not to enrol her, because 36 kids stuffed into a play-based program with limited resources and objects being thrown at the teacher’s head is not my idea of a good learning environment for ANY child. It fills me with sadness that as a public school teacher I don’t feel safe enrolling my own child in my local public school.

Because students with and without learning disabilities, with and without strong home support, with and without basic math skills and reading skills….everyone may at some point in their school career need mental health support. Our part time counsellor is a former EA with little training. She is trained to support children with small grief issues, or those how need help with social interactions or managing their parent’s divorce. Instead, she is spending all of her time supporting kids with some really big mental health challenges. There isn’t anyone else who can support them at school. We need full time counsellors, even in elementary schools

Many occasions of violence towards other students and staff with no consequences

This is becoming a really long post, but it is important. There is a lot of excellent information here and I hope someone takes a look. All of these are issues that have caught the public’s eye in the past. Collectively, they are a call to take a hard look at our current system and seek out ways to make it better and more responsive to the concerns of parents and educators in our province.

We can do so much better than a few sound bites about ‘new math’.

Update – the responses to the survey continue – you can go to this summary to see what people are writing

Of all the issues what are the most important? You can have your say here