Who Gets Hired in Ontario’s Education System?

Most of my friends are teachers. My wife teaches grade 7 and 8. I feel that I am a strong advocate for teachers and I did whatever I could for the teachers I worked with while I was an administrator at four elementary schools over a twelve-year period.

I feel I need to put this right out in front when writing about the topic of hiring and seniority.

I know this is a very thorny issue, especially in Ontario where government regulations have restricted who school boards can hire based on seniority. I am taking part in a debate on Voiced Radio this morning on this topic, so I am using my blog today to prepare for this session.

While I write, I am also checking out a Twitter conversation on seniority and hiring. Here is one comment that gets to the point – a hard thing to do using Twitter!

As an outsider, I can’t help but feel there should be a middle ground. I’m instinctively uncomfortable with the idea that you get hired because it’s your turn. But I also see scope for abuse in a free for all situation

The writer is not an educator, he is a concerned parent and he makes a great point. While the old way of hiring was open to abuse, do we really make things better by putting in place an arbitrary system that blindly imposes limitations on school board when it comes to hiring talented people?

School boards are terrified of teacher unions so there is no way to get around regulations that are negotiated between boards and the government. They know to do so risks legal action. So boards and more specifically principals follow the mandated hiring practices without criticism.

If I was still a principal I wouldn’t be writing this. Criticizing provincially mandated hiring practices, no matter how ill-considered is a really good way to get you sanctioned by your employers.

If you have read my blog, you know that I have a big problem with large public institutions, school boards in particular. Unions are big organizations as well and while they do great things for their members, they are susceptible to the same foibles as school boards.

Unions sometime promote policies that are great for their membership without seeing how these policies do not serve students. In Ontario, they are now using seniority as a blunt instrument to protect their membership. It is blunt and blind. There is no guarantee that you are getting an excellent teacher when you rely on seniority to hire.

Excellence, however, is what we should be demanding from our education system. Our kids deserve it.

The obvious retort that I will be hearing soon will undoubtedly be – well what would you replace it with.

To this, I don’t have a good answer, but that is no reason to make seniority the main factor in deciding who gets to teach our children. Sure there were abuses in the past. People got hired who shouldn’t have. This was because the people who were doing the hiring were abusing the system. It was dishonest and wrong.

But, this is not a good enough reason for developing a policy that is also wrong and protects a particularly privileged group of people.

We need excellent educators and excellent administrators who do not abuse the system. Maybe we get the system we deserve, but I have to argue we could do so much better than this.

 

Are Educators Talking to Themselves?

Every day I start by reading the paper. It is a longtime practice and it grounds me before moving on to other projects. This is not something I started in retirement, I did this almost every day while I was actively involved as an educator.

Now I have more time to check out social media as well and I spend time every day going through my networks on Twitter, Facebook and Discovery Education (The DEN).

There is lots of good stuff going on. An online conference planned for the May 5th weekend, an educators summer book study, a new education news show on Voiced Radio lots of conversations between educators involved in Discovery Education on a variety of edtech (mainly) topics.

There is something unsettling here.

If I contrast what I read each day in the paper with what I see educators writing about there is a very discouraging disconnect.

The world is in crisis. Last week we had the Western Alliance hurtling cruise missiles at targets in Syria with the potential of initiating a world conflict between the West and the Russians. Sea levels continue to rise as the Globe and Mail continues to report in an excellent series on global warming and sea levels. In Ontario, we are heading into a provincial election with stark choices between a populist right-wing party and a corrupt moribund government.

Yet, when I look to comments from educators, I see a group that seems oblivious to what is happening in the world. I see a group that seems comfortable remaining blissfully neutral to what is going on.

Maybe educators on social media need to wake up. Maybe the inclusion of a book like American War recently published by former Globe and Mail writer Omar El Akkad would be a useful inclusion in a summer book study too heavy with technical manuals on teaching.

I am watching the excellent series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. This would be a great topic for educators to discuss! One of the most compelling characters in this documentary is a man who was a young professor in the early days of the war. He is compelling because he was so committed to protesting against an unjust, wasteful war, years before this became the popular thing to do. Where are these voices today?

Richard Flacks was, in the 1960s, teaching at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was a co-founder of the famous Students for a Democratic Society.

 

Where are we now? Why do we never seem to raise a voice of protest or even criticism of our system? Are we afraid for our jobs? Is it not the right thing to do? Do we even have an opinion?

A few weeks ago I took part in a training in South Carolina with American educators. Not once did we ever talk about politics. The whole world is coming apart because of a rogue president who takes his marching orders from Fox and Friends and we don’t even discuss this over a beer at the end of the day.

This is a problem. I realized this while I was at the training, but it seemed almost impolite to talk about this stuff. It is almost like educators are above this now and we have higher, better things to talk about.

This is distressing. I don’t think this is right. As educators, we have a higher purpose and we can raise the dialogue beyond complaining about testing which seems to be the best that we can do.

Can we do better? Should we do better?

Yes, of course we should.

Fashionable Ideas in Education – suiting other’s agendas?

I read an incredible post today on Twitter – not everything you read is equally useful.

Coordinating a session today about growth mindset… “Allowing yourself to learn from others, not on what you want to learn from them but instead on what they have to teach you is demonstrating a growth mindset!” Do we sometimes sabotage our growth because we want to control it?

I responded with this – ‘I think we need to control our own learning. Learning based on someone else’s agenda is what has always happened. Spent too many years listening to what other people thought I should know.’

How do terms like ‘growth mindset’ get subverted to take on meanings that suit other people’s agenda?

Maybe it has always been this way. How many terms in education do you know that have been subverted to take on a more corporate definition?

Here is one of my favourites – PLC – Professional Learning Community. There was a time when you could go to a three-day conference and hear Richard Dufour and others make really interesting presentations on the importance of personalized learning and collaboration. The books they wrote on PLCs were complex and really useful. Setting up a real PLC was a complex process that followed an outline developed by Dufour over years of trial and error as a high school principal.

PLC’s eventually became something that was used to define any meeting that took place with educators present. There became little distinction between Dufour’s carefully laid out process and a coffee klatch.  Superintendents in an effort to remain current and relevant used the term without any apparent understanding of the research behind the PLC. Recently, I heard a teacher complain (rightly) that her principal had taken all their planning time away by insisting that everyone at their school take part in a PLC.

This is not what should happen. The PLC is a great way to personalize teacher learning and encourage collaboration amongst educators. It should not be something that happens everyday everywhere. It should not be a way to show how ‘current’ you are in your instructional leadership practice.

The implementation of ideas and practices needs to be flexible and intuitive. They need to be pursued in an intelligent manner and they can’t be used to fit every situation.

Maybe this is a problem for all education institutions. Too often we all want to jump on the latest bandwagon – whether this is growth mindset, PLCs, social-emotional learning or half a hundred other fashionable ideas out there that suffer from mass adoption with very little critical consideration.

I am only focusing on two here – what would you add to the list?

Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.