I was fortunate enough to attend the recent CEA (Canadian Education Association) conference in Calgary Alberta last week, with a team from my district (Delta – in British Columbia, Canada). I say fortunate because the question we were being asked to ponder/interrogate/delve into (see title above) is one of interest to many of us in education who are looking to help education “grow forwards in a positive direction”… and I am particularly interested in larger and broader educational system change.
A quote by John C. Maxwell comes to mind in regard to this, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” The key here is, as a society we are undergoing vast changes, yet in education, while there are pockets of positive forward growth, these pockets are not widespread or systemic. This perception comes to us from a variety of sources (for example the What Did You Do In School Today? data – see http://www.cea-ace.ca/programs-initiatives/wdydist)
Some of the following ideas were discussed/presented at the conference: the explosion of technology in mainstream society and how this impacts society generally and therefore meaningful experiences in schools as well (see thoughts of Charles Fadel here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHCliGPByf4), how the brain works, the importance of ethics and social/emotional learning, the impact of student engagement on the success of learning….to name a few).
Alma Harris, a leading education writer and international researcher from the UK recently wrote the following ( http://t.co/AcRkExwN16 ). In a nutshell, she recommends that we consolidate rather than innovate in order to have successful educational reform at scale. She has a point in that educators have been engaged in the “change” conversation for a while.
At the conference there was time devoted to examining and discussing the desire to move forwards and the barriers in place making it difficult to do so. This information is being collated and will then be the focus of further discussions and hopefully action as well. I humbly suggest that a more living systems( http://summit.sfu.ca/item/11268 ) way of moving forwards (developing interconnected learning communities that involve individual educators, students, parents, schools, broader communities in which schools are embedded, districts, provinces…in an iterative process – more inquiry focused in nature) will be more helpful than a mandated way of moving forwards. This would allow those who are part of the education process to consolidate as needed (Harris) as well as to move forward in a way that makes sense within the particular system….to encourage continuous positive growth. (Halbert & Kaiser’s Spirals of Inquiry For equity and quality  is a good Canadian source in regard to positive growth using an inquiry stance.)
In moving forwards, it is important to not destroy those patterns that are helpful (life giving). The following words from Capra are illustrative of this notion within a living systems lens.
I shall argue that the key to a comprehensive theory of living systems lies in the
synthesis of two very different approaches, the study of substance (or
structure) and the study of form (or pattern). In the study of structure we measure
and weigh things. Patterns, however, cannot be measured or weighed; they must
be mapped. To understand a pattern we must map a configuration of
relationships. In other words, structure involves quantities, while pattern involves
The study of pattern is crucial to the understanding of living systems because
systemic properties, as we have seen, arise from a configuration of ordered
relationships. Systemic properties are properties of a pattern. What is destroyed
when a living organism is dissected is its pattern. The components are still there,
but the configuration of relationships among them–the pattern–is destroyed, and
thus the organism dies. (p. 81, 1996)
While my words above do not explore all that was discussed at the conference, this is what is resonating with me at this point in time. I look forward to continuing to be a part of helping education systems to move forwards in a positive, growth oriented way, and welcome the thoughts of others on this topic as well.