Keynote speakers Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves established the symposiums
common ground when they talked about what educators seem to know intuitively and
policy-makers seem to misunderstand continually education is an emotional
enterprise with an overwhelming emphasis on human interaction.
Fullan is dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
and Hargreaves is director of the International Centre for Educational Change at OISE/UT.
If public education is to survive relentless and accelerating changes, they said, then
teachers and principals need to select wisely the issues they can address successfully,
and by doing so, attack the incoherence that unrelenting change brings.
Attacking the incoherence of change requires everyones involvement. Principals
and administrators cannot and should not act alone. Fullan and Hargreaves believe that
administrators responses are not related directly to teaching and learning and that
their solutions are often ad hoc. The process demands that all stakeholders in the school
community participate and become involved in improving student learning.
With so many problems, challenges, and pressing concerns, teachers have to choose the
issues they take on. And Fullan says that identifying the issues is easier at a school
level than at a district level.
He said there is no simple answer, but that external restructuring is not as important
as internal reculturing. The teachers have to address the issues in their own schools:
What kind of culture do they have in the school? What kind of culture do they want? How do
they move from what they have to what they want?
TECHNOLOGY AND ASSESSMENT
Technology, for some teachers, is dangerous and discomforting. Fullan and Hargreaves
recommend confronting the danger. Teachers must work through their discomfort because the
more important technology becomes in education, the more important the teacher will be in
helping children learn how to use it effectively. To that end, teacher education
both pre-service and in-service should address the infusion of technology into the
teaching and learning process.
Confronting the danger also means learning about assessment practices. Fullan said that
teachers must be assessment literate: they must understand the data, be able to develop
plans as a result of it, and be comfortable explaining their assessment strategies.
The point that both Fullan and Hargreaves were making is that an organization like the
Ontario Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is not going away. External
assessment of students is a growing reality in education regardless of what individual
teachers may feel about the quality or purpose of the tests. In fact, the new Grade 10
literacy test being developed by the EQAO changes the role of the organization from an
arms length accountability and assessment agency to a credentialing body, since
passing the literacy test will become a prerequisite for high school graduation. Fullan
and Hargreaves urged teachers to learn more about structures like the EQAO: teachers have
to be articulate about how the tests work, how they were developed, how the results will
be used, and how the tests affect curriculum and student learning.
PURPOSE, PASSION AND HOPE
Fullan and Hargreaves spent some time on the importance of emotional intelligence in
teaching. At a time when educators know that one caring adult can be the difference
between a student completing secondary school or dropping out, more effort must be spent
in making emotional connections with students.
The 1990s have seen what Hargreaves called emotional downsizing by parents
spending less time with their children as both parents and children are pulled different
ways by careers and societal stresses. Parents have taken to emotional outsourcing for
their children daycares, after-school programs, organized school or community
activities that free parents for other priorities.
Emotional understanding is essential to effective teaching and learning. It is achieved
through relationships. Teachers have to bond with their students, and schools should build
the capacity to strengthen that emotional bond.
Hargreaves referred to the proposed secondary school advisory system as an example of
emotional understanding. An advisory system whose aim could be to help establish emotional
bonds has to be part of an integrated learning program and therefore part of a
teachers teaching load and responsibility.
Unfortunately, Hargreaves said, government policy rarely relies on research to make its
decisions. If it did, Ontario would have fully-funded pre-kindergarten programs and
teacher advisory groups would be considered part of an integrated teaching assignment.
Most other symposium speakers, whether addressing the entire 350-person audience or in
workshops, dealt with the themes laid out by the keynote speakers.
In the workshop on the Manitoba School Improvement Program, MSIP co-ordinator Maxine
Zimmerman and Lori Wilcosh, principal of Mulvey School in Winnipeg, discussed the MSIP
method of bringing coherence to change. In the MSIP, school teams are asked to focus on
student learning. Their own internal research will reveal whether the issues are literacy,
information technology, curriculum integration or other challenges. Reaching out to
teachers, students, parents and the larger school community is the next step.
The key element is people: catalytic teams of teachers, parents, and students will
determine the success of the change. Looking in to find and collect the empirical data is
an important element in the reculturing of a school. Teachers have to engage in ongoing
inquiry and reflection as they use their school as a laboratory to collect the data to
discover if their change process is having results. The involvement of the school
community creates a coherence and integration that increases the internal capacity for
Assessment is built into any method of change, and teachers need to learn how it works.
To assist educators in confronting the challenge of assessment, Joan Green, CEO of the
Ontario Education Quality and Accountability Office, explained its role and operation.
She affirmed that not everything that counts can be counted, and that accountability is
not just accounting. She said the EQAO values the well-being of learners above all other
interests, which is why, for example, accommodation policies for special education
students are in place. The EQAO values only that information which has the potential to
bring about constructive change and improvement. In other words, the mission of the EQAO
is not to create destructive or demoralizing comparisons between schools even though the
media are often quick to make such use of EQAO results. The role of the EQAO is to give
teachers assessment data that will help them improve student learning.
Alan King, director of the Social Program Evaluation Group at Queens University,
talked about assessment on another level. In an international comparison of student
attitudes toward school, researchers found that Canadian students think they are doing
better than they are. King said that international test results indicate that Canadian
students are performing as well as students in other developed countries but not better.
King focused his comments on those students who are officially disengaged from
schoolthose students in the smoking area. In a recent national study of 2,468 Grade
10 students, King found that 20 per cent smoked daily; 28 per cent had been really drunk
at least four times; 31 per cent smoked hashish or marijuana; and 28 per cent had done all
three. More girls than boys were part of those statistics. King found 49 per cent of the
students with average or below average marks are smokers and 69 per cent have negative
relationships with their parents. He pointed out that these students are very difficult to
reclaim once they become part of the disengaged crowd that lingers in the smoking areas at
the fringes of school properties.
In a related study, King asked Grade 8 students what they look for in a high school.
Girls number one reason for going to high school was meeting new and having more
friends. When asked what they were afraid of in high school, the students made a list:
marks, violence, the workload, not having friends, and the size of the school. Clearly,
addressing the emotional needs of adolescents remains critical.
Creating reasons for students to become engaged with their education in secondary
school goes beyond academics. Emotional intelligence indicates that a caring adult can
make a world of difference to an adolescent. King said that in Ontario, the system is
losing at-risk students after Grade 10 because there are few programs left for them. If
there are no programs and no extracurricular activities, then the system has a recipe for
social unrest: disaffected teenagers lead to gangs, which lead to violence. King said that
the new secondary school curriculum, in its current form, will result in about 25 per cent
of Ontario students being cut loose from the system. Ontario is the only place in the
developed world where at-risk students are being abandoned to this degree.
Student disengagement with school, as educators know, often means that students will
leave school without graduating. Students will "cruise" school if they are not
engaged, and what that disengagement means is that there is no emotional attachment to the
school, to parents, or to the community.
Bernard Shapiro, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, had the unenviable
task of reflecting on the Quest Conference. Although trying to sound dispassionate, and
cautioning against the glibness of those who preach passion, faith and caring, Shapiro
nevertheless ended the conference with his own version of a hopeful message.
The only sure thing, according to Shapiro, is ambiguity. Count on it. Technology will
always have unintended consequences, and educators will have to learn to cope with them.
He said that the term "distance education" is a misnomer: schools should stop
worrying about distance education and focus on proximity education. Disengaged teachers
are as bad as disengaged students, and he feared that too many secondary schools had
teachers who were engaged in distance education with the students in front of them. The
future is inevitable but unknowable. Students are a sure thing and the proximity of their
learning is the most crucial issue affecting education and educators. Shapiro reminded the
participants that public education has much to be proud of and that teaching is a moral
profession because it has a direct effect on people. Finally, he said that education is a
myth, something that one has faith in when all the empirical evidence is not present.
Faith, he said, should be flaunted, now more than ever.
Whats worth fighting for, as demonstrated at the Quest Conference, was a
reaffirmation of the importance of the human element in education. Competence must be
wedded to passion. Knowledge must be tempered by love. Strategies must involve caring.
Leadership must be collaborative. Commitment to students and student learning must be
Symposium co-chairs Avis Glaze and Sylvia Terpstra think their next Quest will push the
educational agenda to the horizon. In October 1999, the conference will explore new
possibilities for the human enterprise of teaching and learning. The emphasis will be on
whats worth working together for.
Rick Chambers taught English for 27 years before becoming a program officer in the
Accreditation Unit of the Ontario College of Teachers.
The Quest Symposium was sponsored by York Region District School Board in
co-operation with the Northern Centre for Instructional Leadership, the Peel District
School Board, the Simcoe District School Board and the Toronto Principals Centre.