The conference in Jerusalem, Israel that Van Leer hosts each year is intended to encourage professional dialogue among educators, academics, representatives of the Third Sector, and policymakers from diverse areas and places in Israel and abroad. This year, I was asked to attend as a Canadian Teacher Representative, along with Ontario Ministry Officer, Colette Ruduck and our Ontario Deputy Minister of Education, George Zegarac.
With the theme of “Trust and Regulation” at the center of our discussions, it did not take long to realize that my context, as a Canadian Educator, a parent, and a student – was one of privilege and opportunity.
In bringing my Canadian values of equality, diversity, safety and choice with me in these talks with Ministers, education officials, principals and teachers, I found myself acutely aware of the key differences that separate our profession, here in Ontario (and Canada) from the rest. In contrast to many of the other countries represented, our Canadian context was unique in that the regulations (organizations, federations, policies, curriculum) imposed actually tie in Trust and Relationship building and partnerships as key factors to increase capacity building with a wide range of stakeholders. Our regulations are meant to encourage equality and diversity, choice, opportunity, innovation – fundamental values in our society. Many other countries examined our systems of education and were fascinated that while we hold teachers and students strongly accountable and maintain a highly regulated profession, we also have a high degree of trust for teachers, administrators and district decision makers. It was clear however, that the relationships between Trust and Regulation are directly related to the values, customs, culture of a society. These conversations, coupled with the touring, informal and formal discussions gave me a new lens to look through.
I was incredibly humbled to be asked to speak at the closing ceremony of the conference. Here, I would be the voice of not just of Canadian teachers, but of teachers from across our Globe. Left unedited, here is what I said:
“I am a Teacher. My mom was a teacher, My grandma and my great-grandma were teachers. So the perspective and story that I am going to share today is from that lens – my teacher lens.
I am humbled and appreciative for this opportunity, not just representing my fellow colleagues in Ontario, Canada – but also to talk on behalf of some of the teachers that I’ve met at the Van Leer in Jerusalem, Israel.
First, I would like to give you my sincere gratitude for welcoming me into Israel. This experience – in its entirety has been life changing in many ways. Your country is so full of history, and so many stories. I have cried- both tears of joy and tears of tremendous sorrow. I’ve toured your museums, your galleries, your shops, your places of worship and have had many authentic conversations with your citizens. I have learned how little I know and how much more I need and want to learn.
I think it is important to recognize that my reflection – our reflections together, are because we are breaking a routine, a norm, a place of comfort.
In the words of Canadian Education activist and academic – George Siemans, “Routines, the ones we personally engage in or that define our society – are the embodiment of values we’ve held and choices we made in the past. They support and reinforce the system in which they function – Sometimes, however, as he says, it is important to break the normalizing influence of routines so we can encounter new perspectives and new ideas, and this – sometimes takes a new location, or a new group of people. Times of change require new thinking.
This is what we have done here at Van Leer.
I spent the day with 20 educators from around the world. We shared our stories and contexts and compared the realities that we all face as teachers and learners. We – the carriers of the curriculum, the subjects to theory and research, the caregivers of children- together, devised a series for recommendations. First and foremost, teacher voice needs to be heard and respected. That is what we all want, regardless of our country or context – to be heard.
We need our profession to be respected, which includes paying us well, treating us fairly, supporting us with resources, nurturing our learning and leadership opportunities. We need to feel safe to make mistakes because we too are learners, especially in a profession that is changing so drastically in the 21st Century. We need to feel trusted and with that, we want our skills, our education, our talents and our passions to be respected so we -together – can become the creators of our own pedagogies.
Teachers, District Managers, Ministry officials and researchers worked together where we emphasized and discussed in length the role of high-stakes or standardized testing. I was indeed inspired to learn that these passionate and experienced leaders agreed that such tests don’t work when used to rate, or punish teachers. I heard leaders and officials agree that such tests are not always authentic and can even sometimes do more harm then good. But I was particularly inspired also, to learn that systems of education can achieve and can be highly ranked without the use of formalized testing.
Together, educationalists from all different levels made ourselves accountable. We recognized that changed can come from all levels.
As researchers, we have a responsibility to translate these complex messages to the public. We need to think critically about the research and what it is telling us. We need to engage the social justice movement and include many stakeholders in forums and discussions around the issues of learning and teaching within our communities. We need to re-empower our teachers and principals to to rebuild capacity, because, as stated so well by author, Robin Alexander, CAPACITY BUILDING IS A PRE-condition FOR TRUST.
As principals, we need to empower our teachers and community. We need to continue this conversation with our colleagues, in our districts and also take risk to advocate for a fair and just system that puts student learning above all. I can tell you, that in my teacher group, the importance of the teacher/principal relationship came up over and over and over. I even wrote down some quotes on this, ” I don’t care about authority, but I get a good amount of Trust from my principal”, said one teacher. Another one said, “My principal will be the filter for the authority, for the leaders”; and yet another, “Trust – allows me to teach in my style, developing my own curriculum…Leadership is very important in my school.” One proudly voiced,”I am very dependent on my principal – he is a dynamic supportive leader”.
So I wonder if there is a correlation between that supportive, trusting principal and the fact that we have incredibly dynamic teachers here, at Van Leer from all over the globe? I am sure that it is no coincidence.
As Director Generals and Deputy Ministers, we need to recognize the efforts of the grassroots. I had some great talks with my own Deputy Minister, George Zegarac about how important it is to never ever forget what it is like in the classroom. I believe strongly that if the leaders and officials here could stay in touch with the realities of teaching and student learning, change could happen and teacher voice would be heard. I hope you
all find time, after this conference to go visit some of your teachers and tell them how proud you are. As a teacher, I can tell you – it really does mean a lot.
As Teachers – it is possible for us to make change. We too need to think different because change can start with us. We need to make our voices heard by be socially active. By sharing and reflecting our learning openly and even by sometimes being vulnerable and asking for help and challenging the status quo. As teachers, we need to recognize that our learning environments are changing and are very different from how we were once trained and educated. We need to remind our leaders that we are not just teachers of academics but we teach the whole person. This is something we discussed in length in our teacher group.
Many of us struggle, without supports – to help impoverished families, students with mental health disabilities, learning disabilities, students that speak a different language, large class sizes, violence, inequalities. This is common to all of us. This morning I resonated strongly with Michael Bilton on the panel who spoke about his own experience as a student and the importance of a caring teacher that fed him, nurtured him and made him feel safe.
While many of us are charged with teaching a standard driven regulated curriculum, we know, as teachers, that we are dealing with so much more. And I would bet that there isn’t a single teacher in here that would sacrifice a students safety or health for the sake of a single test. I challenge the teachers and leaders in this room to use both face to face and online social networks in order to stay current, motivated, and strong. Tools of the 21st Century
(and even 20th Century) have given us the gift to extend our learning and communication beyond our own environments as we see here with all these international delegates. Many of us here, in despite of some difficult times, are leaving feeling refueled because we know that with a bit of risk taking and determination, our
voice does matter and in the end, we know that every single person here, really has the same end goal – to help children succeed in our world.
I end with a thought that we discussed in our teacher group which is how very much teacher voice, teacher talent needs to be trusted and valued and that our policies and structures need and can reflect and support that. To quote John Lennon – “they expect you to pick a career, When you can’t really function, you’re so full of fear, A working class hero is something to be, a working class hero is something to be”, – I think being seen as a working class hero is often how our governments justify taking away from our profession “for the greater good”. This is, perhaps the greatest dichotomy we are faced with, since our children really are OUR greatest resource.
Again, I thank you for this incredibly humbling opportunity. I also thank my own schol district, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board and the Ontario Ministry of education for supporting my own growth as a teacher and learner and giving me the opportunity to be here with you today.
I challenge you now, to think of one thing – one doable action that you will make happen after this conference. Will you write about it? Will you join a blog and start advocating? Will you keep your connections created here alive? Will you change how you treat teachers and students? Will you empower your colleagues? For me – I promise that I will take responsibility for not only what is happening in my world of education, but also for yours. I will continue to use Twitter, my blog and other avenues to learn about your classrooms and I will give all of my students a wide perspective of what is happening in places around the world.