As we were working on the articles in this issue, rallies were being held across the province to protest the Ontario government’s second try at introducing a new sex education curriculum. Despite the fact that its content had not been updated in almost 20 years, and that the new curriculum contained material important for helping young people negotiate their brave new world more safely (with, for example, discussions around sexting, social media, and consent), this was still a contentious move.
Sex, of course, is one of those trigger topics that invites strong reactions. It’s hard to imagine similar protests to, say, a new Phys-Ed curriculum. Still it seems an apt illustration of the challenge of change.
How much more challenging, then, to bring about a true “sea change” rather than a mere update, to change a whole system, full of differing viewpoints, agendas and priorities. In a world where everyone, from politicians to bank CEOs, from media to special interest groups, has an education agenda to push, where does (and should) the defining vision for change come from? How can one get buy-in at every level of the school system? How do you ensure that valuable innovations are shared widely, and provide mechanisms for evaluation and improvement? These are some of the questions we asked our authors to tackle.
Their responses ranged from Michael Fullan’s discussion of the critical role the district (or other system “middleman”) plays as a fulcrum of change (p. 22), to John Murray’s vision for a new Canadian science curriculum (p. 18). Simon Breakspear argues that we need a shift in educational culture that empowers teachers as learning designers and innovators (p. 14), while Megan Webster (p. 8) suggests a strategic approach to improving teaching across the system.
At the large media corporation I used to work for, we all became rather cynical about change, because whenever we started getting pep talks about “embracing change” it generally meant layoffs and an increased workload for those who were left. Not all change is good, after all – as some experienced teachers who’ve endured too many ill-conceived, top-imposed “improvements” can attest. But we can’t afford to be cynical – or overly fearful – about changing education, not if we are serious about engaging all students in learning, now and throughout their lives.
We all know the world is changing at a dizzying speed. Schools, of all places, should be keeping pace, preparing students to meet the challenges of our evolving society. In the words of our editorial advisory board member David Price, “Failing to change is failing our students.”
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Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, December 2015