Schmaltz, Wyant share observations from ARC summit
Saskatchewan was sitting at the table with some rather select company while attending the recent Atlantic Rim Collaboratory summit held in Wales.
The ARC’s vision is to establish a global group of educational systems prioritizing democracy and human rights for all students with high-quality, professionally run systems. While still in its relative infancy, the members include primarily countries from northern Europe as well as Uruguay, with Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia as the provincial participants from Canada.
Those attending from here included Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive Director Randy Schmaltz, Education Minister Gord Wyant and Deputy Minister Rob Currie, as well as Saskatchewan School Boards Association Executive Director Darren McKee and Executive Director of Education with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Deloris Netmaker.
According to Wyant, he was impressed with how the Saskatchewan delegation were “genuine contributors” to the conversations, which included exchanges with ARC founder Andy Hargreaves and some internationally recognized education thinkers like Pasi Sahlberg.
Schmaltz noted how it was invaluable to gain insight into what other nations are thinking when it comes to delving into “what good education reform looks like, and to contemplate how we can look at reforming our education system. It was very helpful to have those conversations and for the folks around the table to maybe challenge each other’s thinking.”
“It was pretty powerful to hear some of the different perspectives when you put it into the context of where we need to go in the future,” Wyant said. “It’s always helpful to not have too narrow of a focus. One of the most important things I came away with was the need to create coherence across the whole system.
“We [Saskatchewan] are not unique in seeking to have that cohesion. It might be difficult to define, but it starts by all the partners sitting at the table and having the connections we need in trying to develop a clearer vision.”
It was not by coincidence that Wales was the chosen venue since many in the global education reform movement have lauded Welsh Minister for Education Kirsty Williams for her courage and insight in reforming the country’s school system, including sweeping changes to the curriculum.
Schmaltz came away impressed with the “reform journey” which Williams has helped spearhead. He suggested that one of the keys to success was that the system has emphasized the importance of principals and teachers leading the way in implementing change, which he suggested has been sorely lacking in Saskatchewan in recent times.
For his part, Wyant observed that the reason this has been accomplished to the degree it has in Wales was due to the fact that the Ministry, school leaders and teachers all took responsibility for its implementation.
“There was a real sense of trust and that’s the first thing that has to happen in Saskatchewan if we’re going to have system-wide change. My hope is we can do that because I’ve always said that meaningful change can’t come from the top down. You could see in Wales how there was real buy in from the teachers and administrators because they took ownership of the process. So, it’s much more likely that you are going to have participation from everyone. Change can’t be imposed,” Wyant noted.
An area where Schmaltz and Wyant concurred was the fact that there has been a growing tendency of administrators and teachers spending so much time collecting data because of the accountability measure, that their devotion to teaching is diminished.
“It came out pretty clearly that it can’t be just about accountability measures. We can’t overlook best practices, and there was lots we could take away from the conference and that was one of the themes for sure,” Schmaltz offered.
Wyant acknowledged he has heard the same refrain from teachers and administrators throughout the province. Not for the first time he also heard the message delivered from Sahlberg, who is a staunch critic of an overreliance on data.
“School boards certainly require a certain amount of data, but if it doesn’t lean toward meaningful change, then you have to say it’s not working,” Wyant said.
“There were certainly some examples of Wales having been very progressive. I think some of what they did can be emulated in Saskatchewan. Sometimes change isn’t the easiest thing, and there’s no question we have a lot of work to do, but you could see from their example that there were tangible signs of success. There is something to be said for the notion that sometimes what is hardest can also have the best results.”
In summing up the overall experience, Wyant said it was valuable, “but I have to say nothing changed my mind in terms of where we need to go.”
Schmaltz underscored the fact that “90 percent of the Re-Imagine Education initiative aligns very tightly to what we heard and what we are looking to accomplish in terms of what makes a good education system.
“It is going to require considerable political will and commitment. I think this conference reaffirmed what the elements of success look like. This has to be about empowering teachers and administrators. Restructuring has to be above improving learning and not about saving dollars. We would like to see self-assessment as opposed to good PISA scores, and we heard that time and again in what I believe were sincere and genuine conversations about what’s best for kids,” he stressed.