Alberta and Victoria: separated by two great oceans but close in educational thinking.

I have just finished rereading a 2012 research paper on transforming education in Alberta Canada. I found it a great read. I didn’t know for example that Alberta has been Canada’s highest performing province for over a decade.

Andy Hargreaves wrote in the foreword the paper seeks a “more sophisticated and more demanding process of assessment for learning”. Readers of this blog will know of my interest in this whole area of assessment for learning for I see teachers as inquirers or researchers collecting and analysing data, providing feedback to students, using evidence to alter instructional strategies and then measuring the effect of that innovation.

The paper did suggest that a tipping point is “expecting students to develop a broad range of competencies while continuing to measure their progress on a few core skills is a set up for failure”. While this is not new thinking the challenges for schools in measuring a broad range of student activities are many.

One such challenge for schools as the paper suggest is “Teach Less Learn More” where high performing systems like Finland ask their teachers to teach 600 hours per year as opposed to places like Victoria where we require our teachers to teach upwards of 900 hrs per year and Alberta even more – 1,000 hrs. If we do not provide the time, culture, process and systems for teachers to inquire into their practice then how can we hope to improve student learning – certainly the use of assessments for learning requires that time.

We at EPS are continuing to restructured time within the working week to both maximise our use of time across the week which also includes reducing our teaching loads to 850 hrs per week.

The paper sets out 12 dimensions for transforming education in Alberta – many of these I found similar to those in Victoria. A few for interest sake:

  • Curriculum Development: reducing the number of specific outcomes and promoting inquiry based learning that require discipline knowledge, the ability to synthesise information, critical thinking and the ability to design.
  • Professional Development and Autonomy: where professional learning must be based on research, implemented through a practice base model and designed to take pedagogical risks if we are to promote a greater sense of teacher self efficacy to help student learning.
  • School Leadership: with a significant number of school leaders due to retire in the next 5 years and the need for the school to become the locus of control for system improvement  new models of leadership and supportive programs are required.

I’ll conclude my notes on this informative paper saying that any sustainable innovation needs a relentless discipline, perseverance and complete indefatigability. Could not have said it better Andy!