Best BITs: The purpose of schooling

Authors Garfield Gini-Newman and Roland Case don’t go easy on the reader in the first chapter so I think it’s important to ease into the critical thinking with a bit of philosophy.  I have often been criticized for being quick to jump at anything shiny and new in education so I found Chapter 1 to be quite challenging as it forced me to reassert the foundational principles of why I wake up and teach each day.  Gini-Newman and Case argue that most decisions in education are based on 4 core assumptions.  When you think about your own reason for getting out of bed before work each morning, which foundational beliefs do you hold to guide your purpose? a) the nature of learners and learning b) the role of the teacher c) the nature of knowledge d) the purpose of schooling Likewise, which of the 4 components of an educational system do you think are most in need of reform? a) School and classroom practices b) Guiding principles c) Educational beliefs d) Foundational beliefs (the ones listed above!)

Inside TeachOntario we had a great talk.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Mackenzie Sayers says: “We need to be reflective of our practices, what happens if we are not meeting the needs of our learners?  It isn’t to say we haven’t tried but it’s about grit and honouring the struggle because it is important to honour where we came from, what we are doing and where we are going with our successes, especially as educators.”
  • Caroline Freibauer jumped in with: “We need to make small changes on all fronts. Rather than replace everything we are doing, we just need to “invigorate” our practices. Garfield highlights five principles which appear to be the key to addressing problems in the current system: engage students, sustain inquiry, nurture self-regulated learners, create assessment rich learning and enhance learning through digital technology. This lists seems to be simple and straight-forward but when you unpack each idea, they open into vast landscapes of learning for educators and administrators. I think that engaging students and nurturing self-regulated learners would be my personal top focus because if students are engaged and take responsibility for their own learning then they will naturally sustain inquiry and will find ways to use digital technology to enhance what they are doing.”
  • Michelle Hudon relates on a personal level: “In the past 10 years I have been in a variety of capacity building roles. I’ve worked with teachers whose instructional practice is based on the needs of their learners as well as teachers who aren’t there yet. Much of the time I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not making any headway. It makes me wonder what is happening or not happening at the system level–including looking at the purpose of schooling–to provide support that teachers need to shift their own foundational beliefs. Do we even spend enough time on discussing foundational beliefs?
  • Jess Longthorne wonders how evaluation can be reformed: “Mark Driven Culture (page 9)-this is true yet something I am not sure will ever change. Marks/Grades are still necessary to get into colleges and universities. Do students really have a desire for high marks or a desire to want to learn valuable skills that will help them to become lifelong learners? I think many students would chose a desire to learn but the pressure of getting a post-secondary education is all about marks and being the best to get that scholarship in order to afford to go to school in some cases.”

I look forward to your thoughts on the topics.

Change Agent rant

WARNING: the following response could be seen as a rant.  It probably is.

I read the Cochran-Smith & Lytle article with some trepidation.  One of the hard things about being a teacher-librarian in 2013 is that I expect any day now that some policymaker is going to make me redundant.  Ouch.  So when I read this quote about the latest developments in Core Curriculum making and standardized testing, I actually felt reassured:

Part of what these developments have in common is a set of underlying assumptions about school change that de-emphasizes differences in local contexts, de-emphasizes the construction of local knowledge in and by school communities, and de-emphasizes the role of the teacher as decision maker and change agent. (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999, p.  22).

That paragraph could have been written yesterday and still had as much impact!  Here we are 14 years later still battling to be treated as professionals or at least to be taken seriously…losing the battle to locally develop solutions for our students.  I know I’m atypical, but people ask me all the time why I’m doing my M.Ed. now….there’s no financial advantage, I don’t dream of being a principal or superintendent…I love learning.  I research because I want to know more about how to solve systemic problems that are preventing students from achieving better results.  I read this paragraph out loud to my husband this morning saying that I feel sometimes that being a teacher-librarian and an agent of change is like painting a big target on my back and I do sometimes feel like retreating back into an autonomous classroom.  But now that the veil has been lifted, and I can see clearly the larger perspective of how many compromises we’re making in public education at the expense of our students, I can’t go back.  I can’t stop trying to be heard.  I only hope that through research and my own discovery that my voice will somehow become more valid in the eyes of policymakers.


Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). The teacher research movement: A decade later. Educational researcher28(7), 15-25.