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How can we harness the conditions for sustainable improvement?

“If theories of action do not include the harder questions – ‘Under what conditions will continuous improvement happen?’ and, correspondingly, ‘How do we change cultures?’ – they are bound to fail.” (Michael Fullan, November, 2006)

It is a challenging time in Ontario Education…again. For those of us who have lived through decades of change efforts and different change goals as educators, it feels a lot like ‘Deja view’. Without shared sustainable goals for improving schools and instructional practice across political divides, systems, schools and educators are left to swing from agenda to agenda, it seems.

I began this posting with a quote from a paper by Michael Fullan who is never lost for an impactful articulation about change and change theories. In considering the present reality in Ontario, I believe it will surprise no one that uncertainty about the impact of cutbacks and clearly perceived assaults on the value of Ontario educators generally does little to nothing for the school improvement efforts that continue despite the swirl of concern that has been growing in the province. Dedicated efforts continue because of the professionalism of classroom teachers and school leaders in this province.

Let’s consider the issue of improving Mathematics pedagogy and student learning. What we do know about change and improvement remains vital to the present context. We must, as Fullan suggested consider both educator knowledge building in both the content of improved mathematics instruction as well as the instructional strategies that will reach those students who are struggling or not yet reaching desired levels. Add to these two important areas of change management, the skill sets and experience of individual teachers and school leaders supporting teachers. Under what conditions will improvement happen and be sustainable and what kind of a learning culture will best nurture long term learning goals for both students and staff is the leadership question that needs to be expressed. We must consider all three areas of managing an improvement strategy and that requires a long-term view and the support to go with it. If political leaders cannot yet grasp this, we must model this understanding for them through our collaborative work, perseverance and commitment.

Recently, I was fortunate to spend the evening with inspiring panelists, participants as well as Dr. Carole Campbell who was our guest keynote for a networking dinner and discussion that Learning Forward Ontario hosted on April 30th, 2019. Our topic was how to move learning forward in turbulent times. Despite turbulence around us, these speakers and educators know the value for their students and for themselves of sticking to their long-term goals and are working on being creative in managing more demand with variable support. This positivity is why I am very proud to be a member of this profession and continue to be inspired by those who lead and teach within it. Wise and dedicated educators keep students and learning at the center of what they do every day despite turbulence and uncertainty. Without the needed support, we still do the work despite rather sapped energies. Harnessing improvement requires a leadership vision across divides. May that leadership vision please step forward now.

Fullan, M. (November, 2006). Change theory: A force for school improvement. Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper No. 157.

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