Alberta’s Inspiring Education: The Black Hole of ‘How’

Photo by Ute Kraus /CC -BY-2.5

Photo by Ute Kraus /CC -BY-2.5

Some of the educators that I work with have been teaching for multiple decades.  They have taught through ‘revolutionary’ educational developments such as the Open Area Classrooms of the 1970s, the introduction of Standardized Testing in Alberta in the 1980s and the Whole Language revolution of the 1990’s.  When the topic of Inspiring Education, Alberta’s revolutionary vision for education by the year 2030, is discussed, they are somewhat sceptical: “In five years, nothing will really have changed”; “I’ve seen ideas like this before, but what we’re doing now works best, so we’ll end up back where we started”…..

Inspiring Education does, however, seem to be everywhere. The Superintendent of Schools referenced it in his opening day address in September, (yet fewer than half the teachers in the Division indicated that they had heard of it!) The principal of our school tells us that “it’s coming” at every staff meeting.  School leaders have been to seminars to discover exactly what it is.  Professional Development leaders and facilitators are referencing it in their learning days and discussions.  Professors in both of my Masters classes this semester have covered it as a significant part of their lesson agendas.

In our Masters class, the following statement was made regarding Inspiring Education:  “we have to believe the ‘why’ before we can figure out the ‘how’.”  In my opinion, the ‘why’ is the easy part.  It is not difficult to believe and even by inspired by the ‘why’ statements in the Inspiring Education document and website propaganda. Listening to the ‘why’, can even make an educator’s heart flutter with excitement. It is easy to see that the world is moving toward a knowledge-based economy with an accelerating rate of change; we don’t want to be left behind.  It is easy to see that as our population grows by 80 000 new people every year, it is becoming increasingly diverse, requiring more open-mindedness and cross-cultural awareness.  It is easy to see that world markets are increasingly eager to buy natural resources from sources that are developed in environmentally sustainable ways. It is easy to buy into the idea that keeping only the status quo of our current excellent education system will not propel us to be world leaders by 2030 in a rapidly globalizing world.  It is easy to believe that “Alberta’s place in the world will be determined by our ability to anticipate and navigate change” (p. 13).  And even though it is a criticism that hits close to the heart of educators, it is easy to accept that many Albertans do not “believe today’s children are learning in a manner that responds to current or emerging realities” (p.13).

So, when I hear all of the ‘why’s’, I am on board.  The future sounds exciting – inspiring even.  And then comes the ‘how’.  As it turns out, the ‘how’ is still a nebulous mystery. It is at this point that I am ready to climb under a rock, to return to my career as a restaurant server, to let someone else do it.  From 2007-2010, I persevered through the implementation of the vastly re-configured High School Social Studies curriculum implementation in Alberta. We took risks; we did some un-conventional things; we didn’t use a textbook. In the end, my colleagues and I produced some incredible lessons and resources, fully integrating ‘new’ SMART Notebook technology along the way.  But that change was so vast that all I can do is think back and shutter at how it sucked the life and soul out of me at the time.

Alas, when I peruse the Inspiring Education document and listen to administrators echo the sentiment that the ‘how’ hasn’t really been work out yet, my heart sinks.  People are describing the change with words like ‘radically different’, ‘profound’, and ‘complete transformation of the system’: on one hand this is exciting, but on the other hand, it once again sounds like a black hole of time and energy. In many ways, the seemingly open-endedness of the ‘how’, with catch phrases such as ‘learning anytime, any place”, does evoke a world of endless possibilities: a world where all of the “some day I’d like to try” dreams, could suddenly receive a “why don’t you go for it”, instead of a “here are the reasons we can’t”. As inspiring as this all seems, so much of me wants to just wait on the sidelines until someone else has done the ‘how’ work.  I want to tell my school leader to “Give me a call when you’ve got it worked out”. I want someone else to pour their heart and soul into brilliant planning and share it with me when they’ve figured out “how” to make it work.  That’s what I want.

As it turns out, I’ve already started wading in, deeper and deeper.  A committee here. A project, a conversation there. Those sidelines where part of me wants to be sitting—I can’t even see them any more. Black hole, here I come. Again.

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2 thoughts on “Alberta’s Inspiring Education: The Black Hole of ‘How’

  1. I really liked your post, Cammie – you echoed a lot of the same sentiments that I have heard and even felt myself, most notably the question of “how” and the “black hole of time and energy”. The advanced education level is even struggling with the thought of what inspiring education means at that level! Its been very ominous, in my opinion, this notion of what exactly inspiring education really means for teaching and the students in our classes. Thanks for the great post, Cammie!!

  2. Although I think some people have the “why” I’m not sure everybody has it! All of those “excuses” are not likely time sensitive and could have (although slightly modified) been used 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. The why I believe comes from the fact that our system is now expected to educate EVERYONE and not just some and our current system cannot handle this period. As professional educators, we should not allow ourselves to sit back and watch students fall through the cracks!

    Now about the how! I want you to reflect on your experiences with the SmartBoard. Were you engaged? Were you excited about your products? Were you a better teacher? My guess is an affirmative on all of them. And now, did you drop anything along the way or did you just add to your current load? The “how” has to be about doing things differently and not necessarily more!

    I’m also excited about the “how” because we are in a position to co-create that future. We get to really act as professionals and drive the vehicle as opposed to being an often unwilling passenger. The vision is clear, the roadmap is ours to navigate!!!

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