How is this normal?

True story. This is what I have witnessed over the past 2 weeks.

Students stress, get upset, cry or just give up and check out – there’s more than one way to deal with stress.

Teachers stress, get upset, cry – at least those who care about being accountable for how they report on their students’ progress. Others smirk, throw a dart and submit their marks on time with no lost sleep (those are the ones who give up and check out).

How has this become normal?

We are all connected.

Don't tell me we are not connected. Don't even try.

Don't tell me that we are not connected. Don't even try.

Education reforms say they focus on process (espoused theory – what we say we believe in, we value), that curriculum is student-centered, favouring communities of learning, communities of practice.

Yet professional development related to Education reform is focused on assessment and evaluation (theory-in-use – what we actually do, not what we say we do), we focus on the end product. We spend so much time focusing on it that process is entangled in the end product. When PD is all about evaluation, then our professional lives become obsessed with it.

Don’t tell me that students are not stressed because their teachers are. Don’t tell me you wonder why students always ask – will we be graded on this? Will this be on the test? Don’t tell me that there is no relationship between our obsession and theirs.

Don’t tell me that the system is not sick, is not creating learning situations wrought with anxiety and frustration, wrought with obsession with the end result.

Don’t tell me that because I won’t believe you.

How is this still normal?

How can I reframe this to generate change?

How can I change this true story?

Thanks to @monarchlibrary for introducing me to Alan Watts and this video, Music and Life.

The Curious Case of Ped Days in Quebec

Minister for Education Michelle Courchesne flips through the new English history book while visiting École Père Marquette. Photograph by : DAVE SIDAWAY, THE GAZETTE  (click image for source)

Minister for Education Michelle Courchesne flips through the new English history book while visiting École Père Marquette. Photograph by : DAVE SIDAWAY, THE GAZETTE (click image for source)

Apparently Quebec teachers have it made. We have 20 pedagogical (PED) days throughout the school year. Quebec public school teachers work 200 days, 180 of which are teaching days spent with kids.

School’s out, and parents wonder: Why so often?
Quebec teachers have more than those in any other province; say they’re essential
BRENDA BRANSWELL, The Gazette Published: Wednesday, September 24

Reader response to the article (and these are some of the…nicer…ones):

…I understand that teachers need a few days to learn new material and teaching techniques but do they really need so many of them when they have 2 weeks off in December and 1 week at March break? I know of one school that has 4 ped days in November…. 4 days!! Whats that all about? Cut out the field trips, movie watching and general time wasting in school and teach the kids instead. As ZORA wrote, if we had an excellent public education system then okay, but out kids aren’t doing as well as kids in other provinces.

…I’m a teacher and all I’d like to say is that we may have 20 ped days, more than any other province, however, every other province has a set of province-wide standards and curriculum. Québec has no such curriculum. Our curriculm is teacher-created. On ped days, teachers meet with other teachers and not only decide but also create what they will teach next. Parents should inform themselves before criticising their child’s teacher. Parents should also be reminded that school is NOT a daycare. I am so insulted by all these comments for all the care I put into teaching my students. Thank goodness we are rewarded everyday from our students, because adults often seem to forget just how much we do for their children.

Yup, we sure have it made.

Oh, by the way…were you aware of the reform? Or, as it is has started to be called by the Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, Pedagogical Renewal?

This year is the first year that English schools in Quebec have received teaching materials in English for the new courses that are mandated under Pedagogical Renewal in Quebec. Last year our grade 8 (Cycle 1, year 2) teachers received the History and Citizenship student course books in May. For real.

Quebec delivers Grade 10 textbooks
History, Math. Courchesne promises she’ll do even better for English students in September ’09
BRENDA BRANSWELL , The Gazette Published: Friday, August 29, 2008

If you read the article above you will notice that not all of the materials have been made available and that no teacher guides have been made available. The Honourable Minister Courchesne is happy that 2 math texts and one science text have been made. The texts are meant to cover the curriculum up until January – assuming that everyone teaches the same parts of the curriculum at the same time of the year. The other high school in our district teaches their courses intensively over one semester – not very helpful for them. She neglected to mention that there are 3 math courses offered in Sec. IV (aka grade 10, now known as Cycle 2, year 2) In fact, some Sec. III courses (aka grade 9, Cycle 2, year 1), which were taught for the first time last year still do not have teaching materials available in English to support these courses.

Imagine teaching without curriculum.

This could be a very good thing. If one wanted to design curriculum for their students, if the courses being taught were not subjected to standardized testing in the form of 2-3 week long Evaluation Situations (ES) at the end of the school year.

It could also be a good thing if each teacher were teaching one course at one grade level. Personally I teach English, Math, History (to be replaced by Economics in January), Ethics and Religious Culture (formerly SIS, Student in Society) at two grade levels.

Last month the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) wrote an open letter to Michelle Courchesne regarding text books for English schools in Quebec.

On October 1, 2008, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) sent an open letter to the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport, Michelle Courchesne, regarding QPAT's ongoing concerns about the lack of English textbooks.

On October 1, 2008, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) sent an open letter to the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sport, Michelle Courchesne, regarding QPAT's ongoing concerns about the lack of English textbooks.

I am not alone in feeling that we are unprepared to teach our students. I am a constructivist teacher. I create learning materials based on the individual learning contexts in which I work each year. The learning contexts are a combination of student interests, abilities, and styles and course curriculum. All elements of the learning context, or environment, are essential to ensure that learning takes place.

Without curricular support, my task becomes quite enormous.

So, about those PED days… Even with 20 PED days scattered throughout the year (4 of which occur after the end of the student’s school year in June, 3 others are often used up for snow days – we do live in Quebec!) I scramble to design learning evaluation situations (LESs aka formative assessment), problems, worksheets, projects, learning how to report out to parents (we assess with a 5 point rubric, but must convert to % to report out to parents…no comment…), creating rubrics, writing IEPs, combing through 3 different grade levels worth of text books to find material that is suitable for the new Math course I teach… oh, and then the regular day-to-day lesson planning, correcting, communication with students and parents, collaboration with other teachers…

Yeah, we’ve got it made.

History, Oh History…

At the bottom of this post is a link to a series of question and study sheets, including some sample essay questions, for the Secondary 4 History of Quebec and Canada course in the province of Quebec. I’ve only uploaded the questions and study sheets for module 4 so far. The rest should be up soon – 2 wee things called report cards and final classes are taking up some time this week :).

I love teaching this course, though I absolutely abhor the end of year exam that is attached to it. It is a high stakes exam – without it you just can not graduate from high school in Quebec.

The course and the exam are supposed to change with the education reforms in Quebec, though now that teachers and parents are calling for a moratorium on the reform who knows when that might happen.

For now, students (and teachers and parents) still need to suffer through the injustice of the course and its exam, with the convoluted questions that can drive even the most knowledgeable history student crazy. The course has a bad reputation because of the testing. Unfortunately this dulls the short, though vibrant, history of Quebec and Canada for our students.

Gaining focus in reform

I really think that we are focusing on the wrong things in education reform.

Recent education reform in Quebec – and I am sure it is similar in other areas – has focused on creating new curriculum for students.

Technology reforms focus on how we can best use technology in the classroom to improve student learning and to make it more authentic.

Today I responded to John Brandt’s discussion thread in the TeachingFutures wiki about his passion for making all teachers good teachers. What he wrote got me to thinking about how to do that. Is it really through curricular or technological reform? In both cases I hear proponents of the reforms saying that teachers need to change what they are doing, that they need to become more in tune with ‘the reform’.

What if we were to become more in tune with teachers? Instead of focusing on curriculum and tools with which to teach it, what if we were to focus on the teachers who will be working with the children?

In a recent post of mine I quote Senator Barack Obama when he spoke in his 2005 speech, Teaching Our Kids in a 21st Century Economy, about the influence a teacher has on a child’s success. He said:

From the moment our children step into a classroom, new evidence shows that the single most important factor in determining their achievement today is not the color of their skin or where they come from; it’s not who their parents are or how much money they have.

It’s who their teacher is. It’s the person who will brave some of the most difficult schools, the most challenging children, and accept the most meager compensation simply to give someone else the chance to succeed.

Each time I read or hear that I repeat to myself

It is who the teacher is

There is a lot of ‘after the fact’ professional development for teachers. I call it ‘after the fact’ because it seems to come after curricular reform in answer to panicked teacher response to having to deal with change in how they teach.

It seems to me we are going about it backwards. I think that the reform that will finally take place that will actually stick will be when we reform the way we support and nurture teachers.

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Preparing the waters for change.

St Lawrence River
Image: photo of the St Lawrence River taken by me, available on flickr.

mrsdurff introduced me to Class 2.0 in a recent comment on Understanding the Machine.

I love the idea behind this site, and behind different workshops that places like LEARN in Quebec offer teachers.

How do we negotiate the space between resources on the one hand (PD seminars and workshops, online tutorials, peers, books…) and teachers on the other?

I asked some of these questions in an earlier post called Creating a Whole Brain Model for Education Reform

* How can we create a ‘mashup’ of left and right brain tasks and environments that make sense to kids as learners and teachers as educators?
* How can we create professional development experiences that not only teach these ideas but model them as well?   

* How can we manage the transitions?

It is that last one that I find so delicate and integral. We can create all kinds of curricula and workshops to share them with teachers, but unless teachers want to learn about them and use them..well, not much will change.

I think the answer lies in sustained professional development. PD that spends a lot of its time, at first, with teachers in conversation about what is important to them, their values. Time spent rediscovering (for some) and fueling their passion for teaching and looking at how Web 2.0 fits in to all of that.

When I say sustained I mean not one session at the beginning of the year, but each month throughout the year – throw away the %$#@! monthly staff meetings and replace them with teacher development time, where the community gets together to share, talk, and grow. Invite a student every once in a while to keep us on our toes as well! Make sure parents know what is going on and are involved in learning sessions as well, to keep the school accountable for the change.

This requires a leader with a strong vision who recognizes the needs of his or her teachers at the same time as the students.

As you can see, this is something I think about a lot. I have begun the process at one school I work at and we are seeing change in small yet integral areas. It is infectious and exciting. The waters are flowing.

We will surely be using Class 2.0 with some of the teachers at this school!

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