Saturday, October 12, 2013

Editorial: Doing it with us or doing it to us?

This was written by Jonathan Teghtmeyer who is with the Alberta Teachers` Association. Jonathan tweets here. This post first appeared on the Alberta Teachers` Association website. I also wrote about Alberta's new Task Force on Teacher Excellence here.

by Jonathan Teghtmeyer

If Education Minister Jeff Johnson is serious about educational change, he could learn something from past experience—Johnson served as cochair of the Inspiring Education committee.

In 2009, then education minister Dave Hancock embarked on an ambitious project to listen to Albertans about their hopes, dreams and aspirations for public education in the 21st century. The project generated rich conversations about the goals and purposes of public education to create a vision for education, which is articulated in the Inspiring Education Steering Committee Report.

Many of us were at the table during the regional consultations—we completed the online survey and participated in open discussion boards on a variety of topics. The engagement process took time, but it was meaningful and authentic. When I read the steering committee’s report, I heard my voice in it and I heard the voices of others, some of whom I don’t necessarily agree with but the voices were there. In fact, if there’s one criticism, it’s that the report is so broadly worded that everyone can find ways to support competing ideas on where to take education.

However, it’s precisely because of careful and purposeful engagement that the process and the resulting document enjoy so much support. Minister Hancock (now Alberta’s minister of human services) is a coalition builder; he ensured that a variety of people and organizations would commit to the process and champion it. To that end, one of the first groups to guide the process was the Inspiring Education Working Committee. This group of 29 diverse people represented 13 ministries within the government and 12 education stakeholder organizations. The diversity of voices included government officials, ranging from a deputy minister to a crown prosecutor. Stakeholders, sometimes with competing interests, were brought to the table, including private schools, school boards, superintendents and teachers. These people found a way to work together on a project they all believed in.

I suspect that at the time, Minister Hancock realized that educational change could only happen if the people most responsible for implementing changes were actively engaged in the process.

The Inspiring Education Working Committee defined the processes and provided input into the tools needed, and committee members reported to their representative groups on the success of the initiative.

The open-arms invitations, collaborative spirit and clear window into process that stood as hallmarks of Inspiring Education stand in stark contrast to the approach adopted by the Task Force for Teaching Excellence.

First, information about the task force isn’t readily available. What is available is housed on the servers of a private contractor that does marketing and branding work. Second, stakeholders weren’t invited to participate in developing the project and were told about it just days before it was publicly launched. Third, information about dates and times for regional consultations were released less than a week before the first public meeting occurred. Last, the survey tools and focus group questions were developed without any input from stakeholders.

It’s puzzling why the Task Force for Teaching Excellence would exclude the voice, input and buy-in of teachers. It’s unconscionable that ATA President Ramsankar was excluded from speaking at the launch of the task force, yet the president of the Alberta School Councils’ Association was invited to bring greetings. Puzzling indeed—after all, this isn’t the Task Force for School Council Excellence.

The absence of clear and readily available information raises many questions, the first of which is, “Is the Task Force for Teaching Excellence about bringing about change with teachers or bringing in changes toteachers?”

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