Leading to Learn initiative might have stalled, but remains very much in the picture

Sask Bulletin
April 21, 2021

Similar to just about everything else in the world, the year-plus global pandemic has thrown a major wrench into the ambitious Leading to Learn initiative as face-to-face workshops have not been possible during this time.

However, to suggest that things have come to a complete standstill or that the program has been dissolved would be well wide of the mark; albeit that there is some uncertainty regarding how things will unfold in the future as this is the last planned year of the initiative that was launched in 2018.

Its original intent, when rolled out by the Ministry of Education, was to utilize the format of principals and administrators as the key components. The aim was ultimately to focus on the goals to improve on-time graduation rates for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students by 2020. It was to be a cornerstone of the Ministry’s Education Sector Strategic Plan.

The overall aim was that the principals and administrators, by learning from each other, would be able to put a model in place in their respective schools to make First Nations, Inuit and Métis students feel more comfortable and included in their own education.

Susan Nedelcov-Anderson, assistant deputy minister, has been there since the outset and has experienced the triumphs and the inevitable speed bumps, none more so than having to deal with COVID-19.

She explained there were originally six school divisions involved and that grew to 10 the following year with a second cohort consisting of another five divisions and a First Nations education authority when they began their facilitator training.

Another three divisions and two First Nations education authorities were scheduled to mark their participation in the current school year although those plans have been put pretty much on hold.

“You can’t replicate the face-to-face learning. But because of the excellent work being done by the first two cohorts, they are still able to learn from each other and so they have been able to carry on some of what has already been shared,” Nedelcov-Anderson said.

Nedelcov-Anderson cited one example of how an impromptu arrangement was made between Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and Northern Lights School Division in terms of working closely together.

“It was not planned, but it’s been exciting to see. It’s just a perfect example of when we talk about it not having to look the same in all the divisions; but it allows space for good conversations and so there is good thinking that is happening.

“We have been trying to make as many connections as possible as we look to the future and that includes beyond the classroom. One of the main reasons that there is such rich potential with this is that the teams are experiencing this journey and they are living it in their schools, so it resonates as a result. This is not a prescribed model, but it is about people coming together and learning from each other.”

Nedelcov-Anderson stressed that having the administrators act as facilitators has proven to be especially helpful.

She noted the importance of the collaborative work being done by Elders, Knowledge Keepers, First Nations education authorities, school divisions, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the Saskatchewan Education Leadership Unit, the Ministry of Education and STF Professional Learning.

According to the Ministry’s website, the learning outcomes identified for system teams are described as a learning journey with five identified “signposts incorporating self-reflection, leading teams, learner needs, community and celebration.”

Shaun McEachern, director of STF Professional Learning, lauds the distributive leadership model as key to the initiative enduring.

He concurred with Nedelcov-Anderson’s comment about the flexibility.

“What I love the most about this is the contextual component of the work. It’s about building community and then each division coming up with the supports that will work in their own situation. As we move forward, the divisions share their successes and struggles. For those divisions who are already involved, this has become part of their day-to-day school environments,” McEachern said.

Gazing into the future, McEachern said ideally Leading to Learn will continue to be a Ministry initiative funding wise, but there might be other options including STF Professional Learning continuing to offer professional development.

“It’s too important for us not to continue to try and learn from each other and have that cultural awareness and engagement so that all our students can thrive,” he offered.