It’s a big world at Alcuin College

G6 in Stanley ParkOn any given school day, Alcuin College students can be found out in the community, inquiring, exploring, experiencing, discussing and reflecting.

Students are frequently off site, learning from the real world, in the real world. We collaborate with businesses and professionals who voluntarily share their knowledge and skills to educate our students in situ. This provides context and skills in ways a classroom cannot, and enriches our academic programs.

We are fortunate to have many opportunities readily at hand in the Lower Mainland for students to truly engage with their learning in a variety of environments. Teachers actively seek destinations where students can engage intellectually, emotionally and physically to further their learning in a highly personal way. Recent activities include our grade 5/6 students participating in a wilderness survival program at Stanley Park, as part of an interdisciplinary unit tying together elements of studies in literature, science, outdoor education and aboriginal culture. [pullquote]On any given school day, Alcuin College students can be found out in the community, inquiring, exploring, experiencing, discussing and reflecting.[/pullquote]Under the umbrella of Habitats, our grade 3/4 students travelled to the Wildlife Rescue Association to experience the impact that society has had upon local animal habitats, and to speak with people who are passionate about their mission. Grade 7 students visited a game development studio as part of their literature study of Heir Apparent, a science fiction/fantasy novel. Investigating deep sea environments and robotics, students from grades 3 to 11 toured Nuytco Research to hear first-hand from lead scientists who shared their excitement about their projects. In all field experiences, students are encouraged to pose questions, construct meaning and reflect, to personally synthesize their learning.

Going beyond the four walls of our school is integral to the educational program at Alcuin College. Student interest helps guide our teachers in seeking authentic learning experiences both locally and abroad. We are looking forward to our next destination!

Dialogue: Challenges and Change in Education

I have the great privilege to work with a forward-thinking organization, Action Canada.  A leadership program for young Canadians, Action Canada explores topics of national interest and investigates ways to make improvements for Canada’s future.  This year, their theme is:  Does Canada have the education systems it needs to meet the economic and societal challenges of the future?

Today, at the Wosk Centre, Action Canada presented a Public Dialogue on Challenges and Change in Canada’s Education Systems.  The task forces brought together panels of experts to spark conversation on three topics:

  • Standardized Testing in Canada
  • Teaching Questions Not Answers
  • Who Cares About Young Caregivers?

Fortunately, I was able to take part in the second session:  Teaching Questions Not Answers.

This particular task force explored the subject of adapting Canada’s education system for the 21st century.  At the end of September, the Fellows had come to St Alcuin College, a liberal arts K-12 school offering a 21st century skills-based program.  They were especially interested to experience firsthand our unique learning environment, and how that was different from mainstream education.  After speaking to the faculty and students about what it meant to be living the learning revolution, one Fellow observed that at St Alcuin, changing education was a movement.  We can attest that education reform is a movement that requires intense energy, as stated today by Mr Rod Allen, Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division.

It was not a surprise to hear that the panellists were espousing the principles upon which we are founded at St Alcuin:  highly personalized education, community partnerships and an emergent curriculum.  One question posed to the panel was why it was not easy to implement this educational reform in schools across Canada.  One of the panellists, Dr. Roland Case, executive director and co-founder of The Critical Thinking Consortium, identified five “winning conditions” for educational reform.  As I understood them, they are:

  1. Students are engaged in their learning.  Instruction is not transmission from the teacher.
  2. There is sustained inquiry for learning.  This is a regular practice.
  3. Students have self-regulated control of tools.  They don’t just produce the action when required by a teacher, but know how and when to use the skill.
  4. Assessment is timely and supportive.
  5. Learning is digitally enhanced.

At St Alcuin College, in keeping with our studies in Big History, we recognize that these are the five ‘Goldilocks conditions’ to educational change.  These are our guiding principles in our daily teaching.

Thank you to Action Canada and the Fellows for bringing us together to discuss Canada’s education systems and the challenges to change.  It is a subject that so many are passionate about, and it is this passion that continually drives us to create these ‘Goldilocks conditions’ at St Alcuin College.

On Pedagogy

I have known some teachers who, without realising it, saw their classroom as an accident of location. There is a classroom, in which there happens to be one knowledgeable adult amid a group of ignorant children. It almost goes without saying that these classes were as much of a burden to the students as they were to the teacher, and in them I learned precious little. By contrast, I have also known some teachers who consciously view their classroom as a place of relationships, in which there is a teacher in the midst of a group of students. These classes were a delight, and I carry much from those classes with me in my mind and in my heart to this very day.[pullquote]So essential is this deep thought and tender care to the teaching profession that it has its own name, that of pedagogy[/pullquote]

That which separates these two extremes of a poor experience and a very good one is this: the first teacher acts as though ‘teacher’ were merely his job (or, worse, his burden); the second acts as though each relationship between him and a student is significant and important. The former does his work grudgingly; the latter, with much thought and care. So essential is this deep thought and tender care to the teaching profession that it has its own name, that of pedagogy.

As a student of language, I cannot help but go in search of the root of this word. It is, in fact, the Ancient Greek word for education, and is formed from the two root words παίς, (pais, a child) and ἄγειν (agein, to lead); thus, it may be said that one who practices pedagogy is one who leads children. Similarly, the word ‘education’ comes to us from the Latin verb educare (to raise a child), which is itself from the verb educere, to lead forth. So a good education involves being led … but whither? The answer is sweeping in its implications, for he is being led into adulthood, and into the future.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto (tutor to Marcus Aurelius)

In his classroom, a teacher demonstrates love for his students and for his field; a teacher demonstrates thoughtfulness in reading as well as in writing; a teacher demonstrates honesty in academics, and in life generally. In short, in a world that has the technology we have, and in a world that relies as much on skills (as opposed to knowledge) as ours does, it becomes imperative that the teacher be more than a mere transmitter of information. It is crucial that the teacher model how a scholar and a human being thinks and behaves. For it is becoming increasingly clear that all of the planet’s resources are finite, and that there is no way that the cutting-apart of our home will cease nor that poverty and violence will be acted against unless the academics, activists, politicians and citizens of the time to come are filled with passion and compassion, with thoughtfulness and honesty.

This, then, is the great and noble work of the teacher: to lead, with deep thought and tender care, the young ones entrusted to him into the future with the skills and moral resources they need, that they may play their part in the betterment of the human race and of the little planet they inhabit.