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Dialogue with Alberta Education

Dr. Garry McKinnon

The members of the Calgary Science School leadership team (Superintendent, Garry McKinnon; Principal, Darrell Lonsberry and Assistant Principals, Phil Butterfield and Scott Petronech) were invited to make a presentation to the Deputy Minister, Assistant Deputy Ministers and senior Alberta Education staff in Edmonton on October 15. The purpose of the dialogue session was to share some background information in regard to the Calgary Science School with a specific focus on exemplars in learning, teaching and leading relating to the Inspiring Education agenda. The Calgary Science School leadership team members invited Dr. Pamela Adams, professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge to join them for the presentation. Dr. Adams is completing the second year of a two-year Naturalistic Inquiry research dealing with innovative practices to promote learner engagement, instructional leadership and professional learning.
Dr. Adams shared some insights based on her research with reference to the strong culture of collaboration among members of the school community and the rich evidence of exemplary practices relating to the Inspiring Education key goals of facilitating the development of students as engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit. The leadership team members used the charter goals of the newly approved 15-year Calgary Science School charter as a framework for dialogue. The presentation was enhanced with a video prepared by Calgary Science School teachers, Amy Park and Deirdre Bailey, which presented the school story using the Calgary Science School Exemplary Teaching and Learning dimensions as a framework. A feature video presentation prepared by Apple Canada highlighting the use of technology in the school to enhance learning and teaching was also included in the presentation. Throughout the presentation specific reference was made to the Calgary Science School guiding principles, vision, mission and charter goals as outlined below:

 Guiding Principles 
• We value our unique culture characterized by a strong sense of caring, teamwork and mutual respect among our students, parents and staff members.
 • We strive to build on the sense in the Calgary Science School that, “this is a good place to be and we are all in this together” as a school community.
 • We commit to bringing learning to life and life to learning.
 • We promote innovation within an active, inquiry-based learning community.
 • We foster the authentic engagement of students and teachers as learners.
 • We embrace collaboration. We share what we do. We learn from others and others learn from us. We create relationships beyond the walls of our school to bring a positive benefit to our students and the broader educational community.
 • We provide leadership in the transformation of education to bring a positive benefit to our students and the broader educational community.

Vision - Preparing our students as extraordinary citizens

Mission - Promote innovation and the ongoing development of exemplary learning, teaching and leadership practices within an active inquiry-based learning community

Charter Goals 

1.     Promote exemplary learning, teaching and leading through a disposition of inquiry.
2.     Enhance learning and teaching through the appropriate and effective use of technology and maintain an intentional, authentic and innovative perspective in the use of technology.
3.     Engage students in meaningful, real-life learning activities in a variety of rich learning environments, with a focus on mind, body, emotions, creative spirit and ethical citizenship.
4.     Provide environmental, outdoor and global education learning opportunities for students to experience and appreciate the world outside of the classroom and to develop social, leadership and stewardship skills.
5.     Foster a culture of collaboration and caring relationships of mutual respect with students, staff members and parents sharing a passion for learning; together and from others, in the classroom, within the school and beyond.
6.     Nurture thriving classrooms and other learning environments where teachers are informed by research and where students and teachers explore and develop deep understanding as active researchers.

The Calgary Science School presentation team made reference to some of the unique opportunities associated with being a charter school. It was emphasized that the school community embraces the mandate to serve as a centre of research, innovation and the development of exemplary practices in learning, teaching and leading and what was described as a crucible for change and innovation. Appreciation was expressed for the open, consultative process that was used in developing a vision for transforming education in Alberta through Inspiring Education and the emphasis on creating a culture of collaboration at all levels of education from the classroom to the Minister of Education. It was noted that there is a sense of excitement among educators and educational leaders and a strong commitment to the transformation agenda, as the new Inspiring Education action priorities are being implemented through a number of Alberta Education initiatives related to developing competencies for students as 21st century learners and the personalization of learning to enable each and every student to experience success as a learner. The subject/discipline competencies: collaboration and leadership; critical thinking and problem solving; creativity and innovation; social responsibility and cultural, global and environmental awareness; communication; digital literacy and lifelong learning, self-direction and personal management serve as a framework for action in setting a new direction for education in Alberta. It was emphasized through the presentation that in consideration of the competitive nature of the global context, leaders need to make every effort to work with all Albertans in developing a shared understanding and commitment to this new direction in education in Alberta and the ultimate goal of having Alberta recognized as a leader as a knowledge society.

 It was pointed out that there have been over 250 visitors to the Calgary Science School in the past six months and there are over 500 hits daily on the Calgary Science School Connect! Blog. This demonstrates the commitment of teachers, students and parents to share their experiences relating to learning, teaching and leading in the Calgary Science School and the manner in which they embrace the opportunity to share ideas and exemplars and to learn from others through making teaching and leadership practices very open and public. It was observed that teaching no longer is a solo activity where teachers operate behind closed doors in isolation, and through collaboration and teamwork it is possible to accomplish so much more than what an individual can do alone. Throughout the presentation a number of initiatives to support collaboration and the professional learning of teachers, including the following, were presented:

  • a modified school year to provide 16 days of job-embedded professional learning opportunities; 
  • provisions in the timetable for teachers to work and plan as teams; 
  • funding of a full-time Professional Development and Collaboration Coordinator position to enhance and promote collaboration within the school and beyond; 
  • the allocation of time for teachers to work as learning coaches with colleagues in developing and implementing effective pedagogical practices;
  • joint ventures with agencies such as the Galileo Educational Network Association , the Calgary Regional Consortium and the Science Alberta Foundation and collaborative working relationships with teachers and leaders from other school jurisdictions such as job-embedded professional development programs;
  • the establishment of a Calgary Science School Research and Innovation project fund which provides opportunities for teachers to conduct action research projects and to share with others what they have learned and developed and 
  • the provision of funding for Calgary Science School teachers to learn from and with colleagues in other schools through a short-term (5-day) exchange program. 

Appreciation and support was expressed for the leadership that is being provided by Alberta Education. It was emphasized that the new Calgary Science School charter is very consistent with the Inspired Education transformational agenda. It was acknowledged that through the years there have been many attempts to promote innovation and bring about change in education which have not been successful because they did not engage teachers at the classroom level in sharing the vision of what could be. The dialogue session highlighted the belief that the consultative process associated with Inspiring Education has been effective in hearing the voice of teachers, students and parents and the conviction that there is strong support among all stakeholders for setting this new direction in education. With reference to the experiences as members of the Calgary Science School community, the following action plan for transformation was presented.

Action Strategies for a Transformation in Education 

1. Develop and Articulate a Shared Vision for Implementing the Inspiring Education Agenda – We need to engage everyone involved in and impacted by the work of our schools including Alberta Education, universities, school and school jurisdiction leaders, teachers, students, parents and community members in a process of making meaning of the Alberta Education Inspiring Education agenda. Traditionally, education has been left up to the educators; we now realize that the transformative agenda for creating a knowledge society impacts everyone and should be everyone's priority.

2. Make Teaching Practices Open and Public - If we are going to move beyond the celebration of exemplars and best practices and to establish new practices, we need to move away from the idea of teaching as a solo/isolated activity, to a more public, collaborative model. We need to open the doors of our classrooms, take the roofs off our schools and seize every opportunity to explore best practices and to learn with and from each other.

3. Provide Well-informed, Supportive Leadership - Certainly it is critical that leaders in education at all levels develop a deep understanding of: societal changes; the impact of digital technologies; the increasing diversity of learning needs; the challenge of authentically engaging all students and providing opportunities for success and the need to provide leadership in learning globally. Leaders in education at all levels will need to be very good at telling the story and working collaboratively with others in developing a shared vision and commitment to action.

4. Actively Involve Students in Directing Their Own Learning - We need to develop new approaches for hearing the student voice and actively involving students in sharing feedback about their learning experiences to enable their teachers to develop and implement diverse pedagogical strategies designed to better meet their needs. As well, students should be encouraged to take ownership for their learning as active members in the process.

5. Create a Culture of Collaboration at all Levels in Education – We have seen the tremendous benefits for teachers of: having open classrooms with frequent visitors and opportunities for pedagogical dialogue; mentoring student teachers; collaborative planning and team teaching; sharing best practices and learning from others and having opportunities for participating in rich professional development activities with an emphasis on co-learning and co-creating through job-embedded learning experiences. In fact, creating a culture of collaboration at all levels in education is the key to successfully achieving the transformational goals articulated in Inspiring Education.

6. Partner with Universities in Enhancing Teacher Preparation and Professional Learning Experiences – If we are to bring about significant changes in education, schools and school jurisdictions, we need to partner with university teacher preparation programs to provide learning experiences for our future teachers in classrooms similar to those we have highlighted as exemplars. Universities can serve a major role as change agents through providing teacher preparation experiences and supporting ongoing, job-embedded, professional learning opportunities and establishing new structures to build the capacity of teachers and school administrators.

7. Recognizing the Important Role for Technology as a Means to an End Rather Than an End in Itself – We need to recognize that technology in itself is not the change we are pursuing, but technology can certainly change how teachers teach and students learn. We have seen many rich examples of learning and teaching being enhanced through the appropriate use of technology for communication, research, collaboration and learning.

8. Celebrate Diversity as a Feature of our Classrooms – We need to think not only in terms of addressing the diverse needs of learners, but also promoting diversity in teaching practices designed to intellectually engage and meet the needs of all learners.

9. Work Together in Making Fundamental Changes in Curriculum and our Approach in Developing Learner Competencies – Educators should work together in making structural changes relating to curriculum and the competencies for 21st-century learners, which address the problems of fragmentation and enable teachers to explore the curriculum in a meaningful, engaging manner and to use a variety of teaching strategies to meet the diverse needs of their students.

10. Promote Research and the Development of Research-informed Pedagogical Practices – We have seen the efficacy of conducting various forms of research and fostering research-informed practices. There is tremendous potential for more actively engaging teachers as action researchers and working closely with universities through opportunities such as the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) to conduct research related to new approaches to learning and teaching in keeping with the spirit of Inspiring Education and to openly share the learning experiences and the findings with others.

We welcomed the opportunity to share some of the Calgary Science School story with Alberta Education and appreciated the dialogue which was generated through the experience. We would like to keep the dialogue going and would invite comments and suggestions from the readers of this blog.

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