Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Day the Learning Died

A terrible thing happened a few weeks ago and it has taken me awhile to sort out how I feel.  As part of cost-cutting measures made necessary by budgetary constraints to the school district, ten helping teachers lost their positions, five of them from the IML (Information Media Literacy) department. This means the complete elimination of this department, and a move away from supporting teachers and teacher-librarians as they attempt to update their practice, embrace inquiry learning and use technology effectively and purposefully in their classrooms.  I don't get it.

In the past year alone, our school district has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars providing technology, resources, professional development and support to teachers, students and schools working towards innovative and effective learning.  More money has gone towards the creation of learning commons in many of our school.  At the heart of this movement are +Kevin Amboe, +Shelagh Lim, +Orwell Kowalyshyn, +Lisa Domeier and Sarah Guilmant-Smith. They are the public face of educational reform......and they walk the walk.   Surrey is the proud owner of a Twitter hashtag and iTunes U account that is widely respected throughout North America.  Surrey teachers publish and share and innovate and collaborate and on and on and on.  This team of educators are our cheerleaders, mentors and the ones that push us onto the public stage.  They make us better than we are.  We cannot afford to lose the good ones.

It has taken over ten years for us early adapters to see shifts in the educational landscape to the point that 21st century learning is becoming widespread and necessary.  Even the new BC Ed curriculum stresses the obvious:

One of the core tenets of the BC Education Plan is that there will be increased emphasis on the teaching of 21st century competencies like creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, emotional literacy, interpersonal skills, and collaboration. Many people want assurance though, that this doesn’t come at the expense of foundational skills.

And now, what?  There is evidence that professional development makes an incredible difference to the effectiveness of teachers. The loss of these helping teachers is going to mean, at best, a significant slowdown in the acquisition of essential skills by students and teachers alike.  One of my biggest fears hinges on knowing that without significant changes in teacher pedagogy, tech integration is ineffective.  I fear that three years from now, someone in charge will look at the expensive technology deployed in 2013 - 2014, realize it had little impact on student achievement and decide tech integration wasn't worth it after all.  They will embrace instead the standardized test.  They will ignore what I know is true - that tech integration needs creative teaching, risk-taking and courage to work.  That students can be engaged and connected and achieve and create and learn.  That all students can be included.  That knowledge is at every students' fingertips.  That... as Albert Einstein reminds us......creativity is intelligence having fun.  That hurts my spirit.