Monday, November 7, 2011

Kathy Olmstead on changing education in Alberta

Kathy Olmstead
Here is a quick summary of Kathy Olmstead's talk on curriculum and transformational change in Alberta education . She is Associate Superintendent, Education Services, Livingstone Range School Division No. 68, Claresholm, Alberta.
  • All students can access curriculum according to their strengths and interests.
  • Inclusive learning environments need to be in place that mirror our heterogeneity of our society. This is one step in moving our society from a culture of disability to one of strengths. We spend way too much time focusing on our deficits and disabilities and not enough on our diverse abilities.
  • Teachers must build relationships with students. They need the spaces to do this, and this means small class sizes.
  • We need to redefine and broaden our current narrow definition of success. We need to move away from the norm-referenced tools that we have used for so long to 
  • We need to rethink and focus intensely on curriculum design. Teachers are going to need time to do this. We need to abolish "teacher-proof" supplies that sells teaching as something that anyone can do. 
  • First and foremost, we have a responsibility and accountability to students and families. Not to jurisdictions, corporations or government.
  • Decisions are best made by those who are closest to those who the decision affects. The further away a decision is made from the student, the more stupid the decision is.
  • Hierarchies sabotage collaboration.
  • Humanity prospers when people work together. This is not about compliance to someone else's rules. 
  • Collaboration cannot be done on found time.
  • We need to learn to love the messiness of learning interactions and not manage them away.
  • "We need to reformulate learning difficulties as a problem for the curriculum rather than a problem of the child." Mary Drummond
It was this last point that truly resonated with me. For too long, school has established curriculum as this fixed round hole of content and delivery that children of all sizes and shapes must be made to fit. When curriculum is framed in this rigid, inflexible and inhumane way, drop out rates of 25 to 50 percent suddenly make a lot of sense.

It's time we see curriculum as a kind of clothing that needs to fit the child. This means curriculum must be far more flexible, personable and humane. 

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