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.

Outward Bound Canada and Blyth Education: Sustainability for the 21st Century

Outward Bound (OB) has established itself as a pioneer in raising our collective consciousness about the world, developing self-awareness and leadership, and offering challenging programs of adventure and endurance. [pullquote]Time is not on our side, both personally and environmentally; we need to look beyond our intense personal educational needs and embrace hands-on partnerships …[/pullquote]Not only has OB done this in exemplary fashion since their founding by Kurt Hahn in 1941; in this country, Outward Bound Canada (OBC) has an impressive track record over the past 43 years of changing the lives of countless young people (and adults) that have participated in their programs. Several leaders and environmentalists that I met over the years had found their ecological roots in an OBC program. The “who’s who” of OBC participants includes a multitude of global change makers (educational, political, environmental and economical).

A number of weeks ago, courtesy of Sam Blyth (Founder of Blyth Education and Chair of Blyth Academy) and Patrick Shaw (President and Managing Director, Blyth Academy), I was fortunate to visit the OBC location at the amazing Centre for Green Cities, Evergreen Brick Works, Toronto. The whole experience was unexpected, I have to say. Not having been to the Brick Works before, while driving there, I couldn’t help but question the oddity of an OBC inner-city location. Given their previous home to the north, the urban setting seemed out of sorts. I couldn’t have been more mistaken … the vibrancy, energy, passion and vision for environmental and leadership education at OBC was amazing and the unique distinctiveness of the Brick Works was inspiring. While I have always had the highest regard for OBC and what they have achieved in wilderness exploration, it was an eye-opener to see the type of urban experiential programs they are offering in conjunction with Blyth Education. Sarah Wiley, Executive Director of Outward Bound Canada, describes the urban adventure as “an experiential journey that will connect [students] to the local environment and community on multiple ecological, historical and personal levels”.

An authentic model for 21st century learning cannot ignore the value of experiential partnerships of this nature. If we as educators are going to facilitate meaningful change in this world, we must inspire students to become true global citizens.  Time is not on our side, both personally and environmentally; we need to look beyond our intense personal educational needs and embrace hands-on partnerships as Blyth and Outward Bound Canada have done. The experience of the “Urban Discovery” is real, and it is relevant to the students in their immediate physical environment. The successful partnership between Blyth Education and Outward Bound Canada is a strong example for educators seeking meaningful hands-on learning opportunities.

So, what was my ‘take-away’ from my day at Outward Bound Canada? The message was clear … the 5 key elements for an authentic experiential learning program are:

  1. sustainability
  2. accessibility
  3. relevancy
  4. quality
  5. safety

I wish to extend my sincere thanks to Lindsay Cornell (Eastern Canada Program Director, Outward Bound Canada) and the team at OBC for the warm welcome and for enlightening me; and to Sam Blyth and Pat Shaw for sharing their innovative and dynamic program.
[pullquote]”It is really important for children to make that contact with our environment … and if you can provide that opportunity for them, it is the best thing”.[/pullquote]
Partnerships worth exploring: Ducks Unlimited