Deep, meaningful change seldom comes easily.
When Alberta high school principal Tom Christensen and his teaching staff envisioned an education environment that demanded students take more responsibility for their learning, some of the teachers he most respected left because they felt the changes would take them out of their comfort zone.
“Those are pretty much tipping points,” he told Education Canada, “where you wonder are we going too much for what this community and this district can handle? … I think that’s what causes a lot of people to not make the change. They realize that friendships could be affected, you’re going to be challenged and it’s almost safer just to hide, not to change.”
That willingness to confront the status quo is a common thread that runs through this special theme issue of “From Rhetoric to Reality.” Whether it is a Mi’kmaw community in Nova Scotia fighting for its own high school or a Toronto high school teacher dreaming up an innovative alternative program, their stories are powerful reminders about the central purpose of education: to equip the next generation to play its full role in society.
For Tom Christensen, change was inevitable. “It’s just such a different world from the one we were living in even 10 years ago,” he says. “I don’t want to be that guy who 20 years from now they’re cursing … because he just created a school that looked the same as the one built in 1905.”
In Winnipeg, Seven Oaks School Division Superintendent Brian O’Leary knows that meaningful change requires patience and resolve. Three years ago, his school division opened Met School, a school-within-a- school. Progress is slower than he had hoped, but the school has opened new paths for learning. “We underestimate how much work it’s going to be and overestimate the results; if we didn’t have that capacity for self-deception, we’d never start anything.”
Toronto high school teacher Craig Morrison was convinced he could re-engage students with an alternative program that taught them to design, build, and market skateboards. Mr. Morrison and an unlikely group of supporters, including the small-business owners of a skateboard shop, shared a belief that young people, in the right academic setting, could find their feet.
In Kelowna, B.C., high school teachers Graham Johnson and Carolyn Durley had successful teaching practices. But they “flipped” their classrooms upside-down because they wanted their students to experience math and biology in a deeper way.
Elsewhere, education leaders are rethinking school design and trying to get a handle on technology to better serve a new generation of learners. These inspiring trailblazers, sensitive to the needs of today’s young learners, are quietly, steadily turning rhetoric into reality.