After listening to hundreds of Ontarians share their vision of education for Ontario,
we felt that there was a need for system renewal in a true spirit of continuous
improvement. We concluded that key strategic projects and carefully chosen intervention
strategies had the capacity to accelerate the process of transformation.
In the Royal Commissions report, For the Love of Learning, we identified four
engines or levers of change Early Childhood Education, Teacher Professionalization
and Development, Community Education and Information Technology and made 167
recommendations. We were convinced that, if acted upon, these levers had the potential to
change qualitatively the kind of schools, teaching and learning that are at the heart of
the education system.
We painted a picture of the education system we envisaged one that was grounded
solidly in research findings. We discussed the primary and the shared responsibilities of
schools. We identified the characteristics students need for personal, interpersonal and
career effectiveness, and responsible citizenship in the new millennium.
Action has been initiated in some areas and recommendations have been or are being
implemented. These include the establishment of an Implementation Commission, the
Education Quality and Accountability Office, school councils, the College of Teachers, new
province-wide curriculum, provincial report cards, education finance reform, secondary
reform, enhanced use of information technology, teacher education, community college
education review, apprenticeship reform, and changes to special education and the
identification, placement and review committee (IPRC) process.
Secondary education reform is well under way with many of the specific details that we
suggested teacher advisers,
community service, the expansion of career and co-operative education, literacy testing ,
four-year program, additional math and science courses, prior learning assessment and the
annual education plan, to name a few. A renewed focus on guidance and counselling, with an
emphasis on program delivery and the concomitant accountability for effectiveness, has
already been communicated through Choices into Action.
While I am delighted with this list, I remain optimistic that some day other
recommendations, particularly those related to early childhood education, adult education,
teacher education, equity imperatives, daily physical exercise, parents charter,
third language acquisition, inter-ministerial co-ordination of services for children and
fair compensation for trustees, will be considered.
For me, the establishment of the College of Teachers is a great source of pride. The
Registrar, Council and staff deserve special praise. Many of us who have had the pleasure
of visiting the College, noticing the calibre and diverse backgrounds of its employees and
the professionalism inherent in the operations and its surroundings, do appreciate the
fact that what has been established in a short time is truly commendable.
This is a tribute to the profession. The Commissioners envisaged nothing less. The
establishment of the College as a self-regulatory body signifies that the teaching
profession has come of age in Ontario, particularly in relation to other professions.
I encourage the College to continue to refine and protect the standards for the
profession and to promote the cause of education. It is also necessary for the College to
continue to work at its primary challenge that of bringing educators at all levels
of the system to a common understanding and appreciation of how the College benefits them,
the profession of teaching and their sense of professionalism.
MOST IMPORTANT KEY
In For the Love of Learning, the Commissioners wrote with passion about teachers
their professionalization and continuing development. This, we thought, was the single
most important key to any possible improvement in the quality of schooling. We identified
the characteristics of a good teacher, referred to teachers as our heroes and argued that
they should be everyones heroes.
We said that many felt unappreciated, disrespected, the focus of attacks, and caught in
an almost warlike situation. We talked about the reasons they went into the profession and
their dedication to their students. We wondered how they manage to do their jobs as well
as they do, with the myriad problems they face on a daily basis, the seriousness of their
responsibilities, the never-ending new obligations imposed on them, the need to keep up
with their subjects, new research findings and the explosion of knowledge.
Given all of this, we felt strongly that Ontario teachers deserved recognition for
their dedication and achievements.
Some countries choose to demonstrate their appreciation for teachers not only in words
but also in tangible ways. A case in point is Taiwan. In that country, elementary and
secondary teachers do not pay income tax. I hasten to caution, though, that it takes more
than extrinsic measures to bring about educational improvement.
We did not shy away from mentioning that students told us, in no uncertain terms, that
there are teachers who are unresponsive, indifferent, mechanical, inflexible and
responsible to no one. Some, they explained, had "retired on the job." And,
although we felt that one such teacher is too many, we also asserted based on our
personal experiences in the system that not many teachers fell into this category.
Because of the emphasis we placed on the need for accountability in education
throughout the report, we suggested that educators must be accountable for every student
who falls through the cracks.
SKILL AND WILL
As a profession, we are engaged in an intensely moral and enduring enterprise. As
public educators, we promote democratic principles and contribute to the life chances of
individuals. We nurture one of the strongest drives the need to learn. We therefore
cannot give in to the demoralization that is a reality in some jurisdictions today.
Admittedly, sometimes we feel like Sisyphus pushing the big boulder up the hill only to
see it roll back to the bottom. But, as professionals, we cannot succumb to cynicism or
despair. It is our duty to improve the system from within.
On the eve of the millennium, let us seize the opportunities that present themselves.
Lets remember that two key ingredients for system improvement are skill and will,
and that if we wait for perfect conditions, we will never get
anything done. I am confident that we have the expertise to assist our students to soar to
new heights of performance and achievement.
But there is a caveat for the public, politicians and policy makers. Recently, two
prominent American educators asked why the reform movement has failed miserably in the
United States in spite of the billions of dollars spent on education since the
"excellence movement" of the 80s. They suggested that it is not true that
there is a conspiracy of the educational establishment to maintain or defend the status
quo or that teachers are allergic to change, but that the advice of those who know
education best is essential for decision-making around educational improvement.
Like the Ontario Royal Commissioners, they concluded that governments and policy makers
worldwide ignore teacher input at their own peril because no real change will take place
in education without the efforts and good will of teachers.
At the same time, in order to have credibility with the public, we must demonstrate
that we are willing to participate in and embrace meaningful change, eschew self-interest
and focus on causes outside of ourselves. Teachers cannot do it alone. Alliances and
coalitions among all stakeholders are necessary to create the kind of system that we
I encourage educators to focus on accountability in its many forms, to be
results-oriented, to be advocates of children who live in poverty, to respect the rights
of parents to participate fully in their childrens education and to ensure that
schools best serve the needs of students. Share widely the exhortation of the United
Nations that children should have the first call on a nations resources in good
times and in bad.
A student who wished only to be credited as G.K. wrote an essay, entitled
"Teachers are the Reason Why
". Its too long to reproduce here, but
Ill quote the last few lines as my tribute to Ontario teachers in this time of rapid
change and transformation:
Teachers are the reason why airplanes fly, computers program, ballets
are danced, novels are written, cancers are researched, lawsuits are won, skyscrapers are
built, and art decorates refrigerator doors. Lifes biggest
accomplishments occur because somewhere, sometime, someone touched our lives and it
all began with a teacher!"
Avis Glaze is associate director of education for the York Region District School
Board and a former Commissioner on the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning.