Thursday, July 8, 2010


The Minister’s Report Card has been delayed by the handing in of a very late assignment. While the timing of this has caused significant administrative inconvenience, the assignment has some merit and we felt compelled to wait for it and evaluate it as part of his final grade. UnFortunately , this has resulted in recalling some staff that had already left for the year, or possibly longer.

Also, two major assignments, one designed to inspire, the other more of a direction-setting piece, were handed in later than expected during the term and are of such length and potential impact that they too had to be weighed in terms of the final mark.

Therefore, while we regret that the Report Card has been delayed, we know that in order to fully reflect this student’s ability and achievements, this was a necessary step.

The Minister’s Report Card will be available by end of the day Monday 12 July.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bill 44: A reality in our schools this Fall

Bill 44 will be implemented in schools this coming Fall.
I have dipped into the archives again, and share with you these poetic thoughts.

Bill 44: So much to Abhor

With the passing of Bill Forty-Four
There is so much more to abhor
With a government that will sponsor a bill
That muzzles our teachers, but pleases the preachers
Of a small but influential group more.

What will our students then learn?
Will textbooks they next burn?
Is this censorship pure and simple?
No, this is the way that the government of the day
Finds to distort the “parent knows best” principle.

Using prior notice and parental dissent
To reduce controversial content
Of classroom discourse to the point of eventuality
That students are driven insane by the parade of mundane
Facts that never descend
Into discussion of religion or sexuality.

What kind of a world
Into which our kids are hurled
Does NOT allow ALL to hear
What others may think or believe is distinct
From what our parents hold dear.

Despite all the twitters and tweetings,rallies and meetings
Against the bill the government was SO bent on delivering
They’ll shut down debate in the classrooms of this state
Of things that might upset God, which is really odd
As by most accounts he is really forgiving.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From the Archives : Previous Report Cards for Ministers of Education

Hi All

It is awhile since I last blogged, but that doesn't mean that I have forgotten how to do it, just that sometimes life gets in the way.

However, this has been a HUGE year for public education in Alberta, and it is time to resurrect the Annual Report Card for the Minister of Education.

Some of you may not be familiar with this ritual. In fact, our current Minister of Education, the Honourable Mr Hancock, got a free pass last year since he was a newbie, yet to make his mark. A year later, one has to say he is a fast learner, and covering the curriculum at such a rapid pace we are having trouble keeping up and think he might do well on the track team as a 200 m runner (a bit slow to start but has a kick for the last 50 metres that would surprise even Usain Bolt.)

So I have delved into the archives and am posting reports pertaining to the former members of the Education Ministerial relay team, Ron Leipert and Gene (Who?) Zwozdesky and will be imminently publishing the Annual Report Card of the new baton carrier, Mr Hancock (altho I heard rumour he can also do a bit of baton swirling aka cheerleader style too).


Report to the Provincial Board of Expulsions, June 2008

Dear Sir:

You have asked us to make a recommendation in respect of the application to have R. Liepert expelled from his place of Education.

We have the following observations to make, and our recommendation follows.


At the beginning of the term, his dad (Steady Eddy) was very clear about the hopes he had for Ron, and in fact gave him a mandate that he could have followed to the letter. There were three assignments:

1) Work collaboratively with teachers to ensure there were no un-fun responsibilities when they retired;
2) Increase his access to early learning opportunities; and
3) Develop a strategy for his high school completion.

Observations & Findings:
There are no report cards on file for Ron as he failed to hand in any assignments for the term except one in the last week or so of the term. It was his first assignment. While that assignment was excellent, a cursory glance showed that it was not his own work, but that of his dad.

In fact, when his teachers offered to work collaboratively on the assignment, he got angry at them and stomped out of the room. This occurred very early in the term, leading his teachers to think that there was no likelihood of negotiating a positive relationship in the future thus potentially leaving them on the hook for stuff that wasn’t their responsibility in the first place. Very un-fun indeed.

In respect of his second assignment, his work was clearly inadequate - he didn’t seem to learning anything early on and all he did was throw in a little French. This really didn’t change a thing from the assignment of the previous student. In any case, the outcome of this assignment was nothing compared to the outcomes for him AND many other younger students that could have resulted if he had fully invested his resources into doing it properly. Nobody ended up with access to anything, except the occasional “Je ne sais quoi”.

In regards to his third assignment, it is obvious Ron has not cracked the nut of how to complete his high school. While we were hoping he would go public with his strategy, instead he seems to prefer a more private approach to completing his high school (both in “Building for Tomorrow” and the educational sense). He seems much more interested in the 3 P’s than the 3 R’s. This will cost him and us taxpayers all very dearly in the end.

On the question of deportment, he creates problems rather than trying to solve them, and he picks fights rather than working through issues and differences with others.

We regret to have to conclude that based on his poor track record with his three assignments and associated attitudinal issues towards our teachers and younger students, taken together with his penchant for demonstrating his interest in education privately rather than publicly, he is a risk to others and will take those risks at our expense. Therefore, our strong recommendation is that he should be expelled immediately from his place of Education.

Yours Sincerely

Name: Mr Gene Zwozdesky

Classroom Behaviour & Attitude:
The Education Minister’s strong social skills and the ability to listen to those around him has not helped him tackle major assignments this year. In fact, what he has turned in to date is both lacking in substance and in tangible support. While we maintain great optimism that the Education Minister will in future years follow through on his good intentions, it is apparent that he requires strong leadership to reach his admirable educational goals. He undertook a very small portion of his homework on school buildings so we had to mark this assignment as “Not Completed” and he failed to hand in anything at all on staffing and classroom conditions. While the groups (ie School Boards) seem to be turning the heat up, the Minister isn’t prepared to cover the heating bill, or indeed the lighting, cleaning or maintenance costs. The roof is threatening to fall in. All of this will lead to the school closing down the road.
We have had to talk to him about his reversal of supporting the completion of some of his high school credits (CEUs). It is simply unfair to withdraw support once the work has been completed and seems contrary to his values around collaboration in his group work.
Finally, despite all his research, and while continuing many worthwhile community-based activities, the Minister suddenly abandoned the early learning program, leaving many young children in “learning limbo”. This was very unfortunate and does not bode well for the future.
Grade: C

Numeracy Skills:
The Education Minister is displaying good effort in these areas but continue to struggle with math. He continues to gloss over the concepts of annual indexing and has not mastered the basics surrounding averaging despite many hours of remedial teaching. As a result of his sums being wrong, many groups are experiencing negative impacts and they are having to cut back on members. We are trying to help him to make adjustments to his formulas but it may be too late to see positive results next school year.
Grade: D

Literacy Skills
The Education Minister is an excellent reader but continues to completely miss the main theme in the reports he is asked to analyze. We think he should be assessed to determine the nature of the problem, but there isn’t enough money in the budget to do the testing. And while we would like to recommend a reading recovery program, it is unlikely to be staffed next year so he may continue to struggle or simply give up. The librarian has quit and the counselor went south a long time ago. Perhaps the custodian (whose time has been cut back) can multi-task.
Grade: C-

Second Languages:
The Minister took a step back from his commitment to a Second Language this year, which disappointed all those who were eager to take the class with him. He said it was because he couldn’t find the teacher, but many others didn’t have that difficulty. We encourage him to sign up again next year.
Grade: D+

Social Studies & Economics
The Minister has not learned his history from four years ago. If he had read that chapter, he would have known that teachers earn more every year and that supply (of dollars) needs to meet demand (of services). We are hoping that he can take summer school and gets a better result leading into the next school year.
Grade: D+

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reboot-ing Alberta: an exercise in hope

I last blogged on why I was going to Reboot Alberta.
I returned from Reboot Alberta with many images and thoughts in my mind, but all focused around one idea: “the politics of hope”. When over 85 people come together, diverse in age, interest and political stripes for a common conversation, hope is both a motivator and greater reason to hope a product. Many people know Alex Steffen’s 2008 article, The Politics of Optimism, but for those who don’t, here is a key extract:

“Optimism is a political act.
Entrenched interests use despair, confusion and apathy to prevent change. They encourage modes of thinking which lead us to believe that problems are insolvable, that nothing we do can matter, that the issue is too complex to present even the opportunity for change.

Optimism, by contrast, especially optimism which is neither foolish nor silent, can be revolutionary. Where no one believes in a better future, despair is a logical choice, and people in despair almost never change anything. Where no one believes a better solution is possible, those benefiting from the continuation of a problem are safe. Where no one believes in the possibility of action, apathy becomes an insurmountable obstacle to reform. “

To me, Reboot Alberta was about discussing the possible, affirming that there are better solutions and a brighter future and that we are prepared to pursue both. Much has been written already about the tenor and content of discussions, some of the possible paths for action. So I want to leave the one image that this event summoned for me – a demonstration of and the perpetuation of hope – a political act. To join us in that act, join in at

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turning the ship around…

I spent 2 days at the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta’s annual conference last weekend. It was a fascinating learning experience and I left with two words dominating my thinking. Opportunity. Dignity.

Every child enters this world under very different circumstances, with distinct heritage, parentage, genetic makeup and areas of potential. But with a common yearning – to find their role within society. Through the processes of nurturing, socialization and education every child ought to be able to reach their potential and find their place in the world. Yet on any measure, Albertan children are not all getting to where they could go – doors are shut through poverty, dysfunctional parenting, developmental challenges or physical or mental illness, failure to learn or have access to an environment in which they can.

None of the answers to changing their story are easy, or solely the responsibility of government. But they are largely understood, much studied and possible to address. The research base is there. The returns on investment in our most valuable resource are clear to any economist or humanist. That is, if we value the concepts of collective and individual opportunity and dignity for our citizens.

I have advocated for and been involved with the fields of education and social services for the past 9 years. Many positive policy initiatives have been proposed, debated, and some championed, funded and implemented with limited success. But many others have been cast aside as too costly, not politically important or have been ideologically hijacked during the process of implementation. And that is why I am going to Reboot Alberta. Our political system is failing a fair number of our children, not to mention other marginalized populations.

I wish I knew what the solution is. I don’t. I have read many other blogs suggesting possible solutions. The one I tend towards is the need to engage the silent majority of Albertans in a discussion about our political system – it is overwhelming to me that the majority of Albertans simply don’t vote, nonsensical that political parties expend so much energy and dollars on getting out their apparently committed voters, the opposition once elected is constantly marginalized, the roles of local politicians (councillors and trustees) are not recognized, respected or valued, and finally, having a political discussion at the dinner table is simply not the norm here.

Coming from a country where voting is compulsory, has a preferential voting system, where governments change on a regular if not frequent basis, and political happenings are grist for the mill at many social occasions, Alberta is a democratic dinosaur. Yet it has all the elements required to be something so very different and better– an underlying commitment to public education and healthcare, a potential revenue base that many small nations would envy, and a rich and diverse physical and intellectual landscape.

Its time to turn the ship around – the icebergs are now within view. The concept of, and enthusiasm surrounding Reboot Alberta from players across the ideological spectrum has already sounded the alarm in political circles – our current course is leading us into dangerous waters. Hopefully Reboot Alberta will play a part in plotting a new course.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Techno-teaching - how far should we go?

A question raised by Inspiring Education is how can we appropriately use technology in engaging students in learning?

I have to say that like most parents I am a little fearful of an onslaught of technology in the classroom. I still value cursive writing and good grammar, although struggle with both myself. (Its got to the point that I can’t actually think about writing without a keyboard in front of me.) I limit my teenager’s computer game time, have given him an email address but not allowed him to start with Facebook yet. He is one of a small percentage of his peers that doesn’t pack a cellphone to school. The logic is, he goes to a school in the neighbourhood, needs to be able to problem-solve his own issues since my work does not always allow me to take phone calls at random times of the day and finally, in a real emergency, he can use the phone in the school office where there are also adults who can help him if required.

But my thinking around technology in the classroom is thawing. The first nail in the coffin was a compelling presentation by a professor in Library and Information Studies at U of A at Literacy & Learning Day last year. She described her research of interviewing young adults about their experiences when gaming, reading and watching a movie. They were gamers, but as it turns out, also avid readers. They described how they got very different things out of each experience, but most identified reading as the richest experience. She also analyzed “strategy-based” computer games in terms of the information inputs and the complex, strategic thinking and problem-solving involved. Finally, she pointed to indications that many gamers are also avid readers and when gaming is in the mix, TV viewing, not reading, is the victim. Almost sold.

Next, the propositions put by various speakers during Inspiring Education about what sort of thinkers our children will need to be to be successful in the future is aligned with what I have experienced. That is, people who can take in a lot of disparate information and make sense of it all will be sought out, highly valued and lead a fulfilled, productive life. And the role that technology plays in that? The internet is the gateway is a vast amorphous sea of information and opinion. What we know or think we know is not containable in textbooks any more. Those that can find a sustainable path of action in the morass of fact and fiction will lead the rest. Sort of like a strategy-based computer game – lots of inputs, its all about what you do with it. We can’t therefore exclude it from the classroom – it’s the world they are entering into.

But the caution is, they need to be avid readers and scribes first – they need to experience the richness of imagination that books and the well-constructed written word allows. They need to understand the human condition, the social tapestry. They need to understand that often answers are not instant - even if information delivery might be. That solutions are not constant- they need to evolve. Their success will lie in taking time, contemplating and coming up with a measured response – using both logic and intuition – with technology as the slave, not the master.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Inspiring Education: some postscripts….

Some things are still nagging me after Inspiring Education. So here is my final blog related to the 2.5 days we spent on that journey (maybe!).

Change itself is neither a good thing or a bad thing – it is neutral until the content of change is defined. That’s why the direction and content matters so much. While technology and global citizenship might be the imperative for change, the changes to be implemented that are identified are more important than the mere fact that change needs to occur. During our discussions at various tables, I heard a number of assumptions on what needed to change, untested against reality or research. Here are some of them:

Assumption 1: In order to change the role of teachers (which was generally thought to be a required element of change), we had to remove tenure.

I think this is a dangerous direction without much careful thought. A workforce (unionized or not) will move along with a change that is necessary when they buy-in and have the right kind of leadership and support. And if individuals decide they don’t like the destination they will almost always self-select out of the frontline provided there are some clear exit options (and circumstances) or alternative career paths. Its just that it’s hard work and requires leadership and collaboration at many levels, including the ATA. There may be another path other than the most radical one.

Assumption 2: Teaching going on at schools currently is bad or deficient or backward.

Some learning environments and many teachers are in fact already leading us into the future right now. I have seen some stellar examples of incredible teaching and learning going on – that often go unnoticed by formal programs such as Excellence in Teaching Awards etc. or by Administration (too focused on test scores thanks to the government’s emphasis on this) and parents alike. But its happening and the students know it.

Assumption 3: Without great diversity in programming and “choice”(code for private and charter schools) , things will go awry in the public (and I use the word to include separate) system.

This is largely, for want of a better word, “piffle”. The Alberta public school system has embraced many different ways to deliver education. Much creativity and experimentation has occurred over the past 20 years. It is time to consolidate what has been learnt and drive it through a common, equitable public system so all Albertan children have similar opportunities regardless of where they live, and regardless of the unique strengths and challenges they face. Dividing resources according to a “market” mentality rarely brings equitable results in any public good and subsidizing alternatives to public delivery is not an efficient use of taxpayers’ money.

AISI was seen as a way to encourage experimentation and research-based practices. Why has it largely failed? In my opinion, the largest barriers to the ability to capitalize on initiatives like AISI have been:
- the ‘boom and bust’ and compartmentalized approach to funding by the provincial government (not allowing the system to develop resources to be used across all classrooms when a promising practice is identified, failing to fund technology infrastructure across all classrooms etc);
- the inability of the government to allow autonomy of schools boards who authentically engage their community and embrace research-based practices and in turn encourage communities of learners in a wholistic way. (Note: this might exclude some school boards!)
- stereotyping of people who are or should be attracted to teaching, ‘70’s style teacher training and belief that a singular pedagogy is king.

So, in order to fix things we need to decide what is truly broken. That’s a tricky but important task.