Teaching is a profession that continues to grow and evolve. As our understanding about how we learn changes, and the focus of our culture shifts, it’s important to review AQ guidelines to make sure they accurately reflect the current needs of teachers and students.
By Melissa Campeau
Photo: Ontario College of Teachers
To capture a wide range of perspectives during an AQ guideline review, the College welcomes individuals with different experiences (in responsibilities, language, communities and geographical locations) to focus groups, workshops and open sessions. That collaboration results in changes that better represent and support our teachers and students, no matter where they live or what challenges or circumstances they face. It’s an essential democratic process that includes students, parents, teachers, supervisory officers, professional partners and stakeholders.
REVISED GUIDELINES FOR KINDERGARTEN AQ
Last fall, the College reviewed the Kindergarten AQ guidelines during an open session with 80 participants (parents, early childhood educators, kindergarten teachers, principals and board staff) who oversee early learning and parents.
Large group discussions and smaller breakout conversations revolved around the “Inquiring into Early Learning: Principles, Pedagogy and Partnership” theme. Participants spent the day sharing ideas about the policies and practices that support inquiry-based teaching and learning.
“Groups explored such topics as supporting Indigenous ways of teaching in early learning, effective practices that encourage inquiry, professional collaboration, and the importance of exploring your own biases, assumptions and beliefs,” says Déirdre Smith, OCT, the College’s manager of Standards of Practice and Education. “They looked at how to create an inquiry-based learning environment and engage parents as partners in the process, and how to have students co-create the learning goals and learning activities.”
“It was an empowering and enlightening session,” explains Debbie Dasios, OCT, a kindergarten teacher with York Region District School Board. “Despite having different perspectives and experiences, we were united by a common purpose — and having that shared understanding is really important.”
Participants moved from group to group throughout the day, pausing and sharing. “We commiserated, compared notes. It was empowering, and an ideal reflection of a student classroom,” recalls Dasios. “We had an opportunity to build on ideas in a mutually respectful way.”
Early childhood educators (ECEs) are vital partners in kindergarten classrooms, so their input is fundamental to the process. “There was so much openness and sharing that day,” says Sharon Hack, an ECE with the Toronto District School Board. “It’s all about navigating those two experiences — that of being a teacher and being an ECE — and working together collaboratively for student success. That’s what it comes down to.”
Hack, who mentors other ECEs, anticipates changes in the revised guidelines that will reflect the group’s discussions, as well as nine years of in-class learning since the partnership between ECEs and teachers began. “We are respecting each other’s backgrounds and perspectives, and building that relationship in the classroom,” she explains. “If we build it, student success will be there.”
A 16-member writing team is now working to incorporate their feedback into the guidelines, as well as focus groups findings from across the province and a survey of more than 600 College members.
“There was such tremendous interest in this review process, it shows the profession’s commitment to learning,” states Smith. “It’s an example of self-regulation in action and it illuminates the importance of collaborative policy development. The profession contributes significantly to these policies for continuing teacher education and professional learning.”
NEW INTENTIONAL DESIGN RESOURCE FOR AQ DESIGNERS AND FACILITATORS
The College is working with members to develop an online guide that focuses on intentional design that will help course writers, AQ instructors and teachers adopt inquiry and anti-oppressive stances.
“The ‘intentional’ part is the way of thinking and behaving that’s grounded in a set of values and approaches to teaching and learning,” says Janet Markus, OCT, Masters of Teaching Program teacher in the curriculum, teaching and learning department at OISE/UT. “It sets up how we proceed as educators.”
Until now, designers have worked with AQ guidelines but there hasn’t been an explicit framework to help them write and teach the courses from an inclusive, inquiry and anti-oppressive stance. Typically, the AQ courses were written by content area experts, says Markus: “Content decisions were a reflection of the writer’s experiences, values and level of knowledge, as well as Ministry guidelines and College expectations. With the new resource, there’s a focus on social change and real-life implications.”
Markus offers an example of how intentional design shifts views. As a former high school visual arts teacher, she points out that the convention in art history is to focus on famous artists and styles. “Using the intentional design process, you start to ask questions,” shares Markus. “You’ll start to notice the number of cultures, countries, perspectives, and genders that are not included.” The resource also helps AQ course writers identify the common themes, challenges and frameworks that envelop any course, regardless of which institution provides it and who designs it.
The team that was assembled to develop the resource brought diversity to the process, as well as experience in developing AQs and occupying leadership positions in their respective boards or regions. “For example there was an educator and vice-principal there from the W. Ross Macdonald School, which is a provincial school for the blind and visually impaired,” explains Charmain Brown, OCT, York University’s faculty of education course director and practicum facilitator seconded from the York District School Board. “Some were coming from areas north of Thunder Bay and had experiences with Indigenous communities that may differ from those of educators who work in other areas of the province.”
The finished resource will help course designers plan for and model equitable, diverse and inclusive practices and pedagogy, no matter what the AQ course. “This was one of the most interesting, meaningful and purposeful projects that I’ve ever participated in,” says Brown.