Reflections on a Canadian experience

Of the many professional learning experiences not too many reflect the time spent in Toronto. The school district (Catholic and public) are doing some truly great things. The district leaders shared the journey they have undertaken over the last ten years and can now look back with some pride on the achievements made. They say that they have turned their systems around and have the evidence to prove it!

In the late 1990s teacher morale was low, there was suspicion and mistrust of the system administration, low student achivement and some considerable public concern about the quality of schooling in the districts. The districts are now seen as some of the best performing in Ontario. There are strong system/school relationships, high levels of trust and collaboration with school leaders and administrators. Good learning and planning frameworks focus on improving student achievement and ensuring there is strong investment, building both capacity and sustainability.

It is great to spend time with educators who are driven by enthusiasm and passion for their work. They are honest and open about the journey and the time it takes to bring about such change. They also recognise the value of transformation that has taken place.

It is easy to oversimplify how this was achieved, or to reduce it to a basic formula. People like Bill Hogarth from York District Public District and Susan DeRosa from the York Catholic District give an honest picture of the hard work, complex planning and single mindedness in the face of opposition that such changes demand.

Their advice is:

  1. be precise about the nature of the problems
  2. use data to inform planning
  3. don’t ‘drive’ change
  4. build a collaborative culture among the district leaders
  5. place student learning at the centre

yorkdistrict.pngOne of the most significant initiatives was to use critical friends external to the system. Michael Fullan has filled this role for sometime and has provided solid feedback continuously for the districts (see left Unlocking Potential for Learning).

I think it is critical to get the right relationship between system administration and the schools. Each acting by itself cannot provide the direction, support and strategy to deliver the change. Together they become a powerful learning network.


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