Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fundamental EduKare... balance and adaptabilty

flickr photo by Tom Hilton

Earlier this month I attended the annual Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) Conference. The purpose of the AISI Conference is to showcase a wide variety of Education Department-funded action research projects from all over the province. It was evident that a large number of teachers in Alberta take being involved in embedded action research within their schools very seriously... a good thing. A colleague pointed out to me today as we reflected on our experiences at the conference that although he was undoubtedly impressed by the broad range of research and results teachers were experiencing, each project was contextualized locally according to the needs, goals and environment surrounding it. We agreed that some of the projects were so specific and specialized that they simply wouldn't be adaptable in different situations. This is a problem that EduKare seeks to solve.

Large scale system transformation efforts must be grounded in foundational philosophical elements so the integrity of the process is transferable from school to school. They have to possess universal qualities allowing them to find balance by adapting to unique school contexts. Two fundamental systems quality attributes of an EduKare environment are flexibility and adaptability. If EduKare is to scale effectively in different school environments, it has to be able to fit different environmental school contexts. EduKare schools must demonstrate that they routinely balance their priorities toward providing services to address locally identified social, emotional, physical and educational needs, and they also must display adaptability with respect to addressing these needs in their unique social, physical and political environments.

As part of the converging dialog around positive education reform and small shifts toward improving the system one school at a time, I commented recently at Simbeck Hampson's blog, "Business Innovation" under the post title "Education Starts Locally"...
Balance... yes, certainly not a one size fits all element. I love to be in the high mountains where you can see many lakes at different elevations. When we perceive water from our vantage point on the flat ground, it's easy to forget that water naturally finds level at any altitude, and in any volume... I would call this balance, but balance that adapts in nature according to the variables affecting it. Water is very resilient. It finds this balance within an infinite number of physical conditions.
I think people (teachers, students, parents, community members, politicians) should be spending serious time in every school and community thinking about the "balance" that is and should be found within their learning/living ecosystems. Alas, I think all would discover through their thought effort that many timeless qualities exist as positive elements of learning culture... and they, like water in the mountains, find balance in any school or community. That's how they became timeless.
I also heard Sir Ken Robinson deliver a keynote address this month. He reminded us that education is about people before anything else; people with dreams, emotions, likes, dislikes, relationships, families and lives outside of school. As I listened to this statement I was thinking it was a rather simple and true statement that teachers don't need to be reminded of... of course teaching is about people. As I thought about it further, I wondered how we could make it even more about people, and in particular, individual people with unique skills, learning styles and needs served by teachers using unique, skillful and varied strategies designed to address them.

Bell Curve statistical assessment of groups is about people, but its about aggregating toward a mean standardization of people. Placing students into categories of exceptionality based on their relative social, emotional or cognitive strength or weakness is about identifying and compartmentalizing groups of people fitting a prescribed learning profile. Perhaps we should be thinking about how to modify this process so kids can evolve as learners based on progress measured against previous levels of personal proficiency. When I play golf with my mates I don't measure my score against their scores; I measure my score against my previous scores. By focusing on my performance I inherently become more competitive against theirs without the stress of playing catch-up.

Thinking that positive change in education requires resources, money and time we don't currently possess is less about people and more about the system... it's about perpetuating a model of reform that is bound to fail because it depends on increased levels of resource, funding and time that simply isn't available. Teachers, if there is silver bullet to education reform, we are it. We have front-line contact with students and their families. We are the most well-positioned to respond to their unique individual needs. Taking an EduKare perspective allows us to shift the focus of education more toward people and less toward the system.

EduKare is about putting teachers at the forefront of education reform. It's about reforming (improving) education without the need for extra resources, money or time. EduKare is about thinking differently about what we do starting with putting people first... ourselves, our students, their families and significant supportive others in the ecosystem of a school. To counter the examples I mentioned above where education is less about people, let me explain that in an EduKare school environment...
  • The individual learning needs of every child is addressed in holistic and informed ways creating the increased likelihood that each will meet the standards by which they'll be personally measured. This is true simply because each would then be viewed as a distinct learner following a unique path to meeting externally applied learning standards. EduKare teachers take care of each individual student so their assessment performance can then take care of itself.
  • It is implicitly understood that normal is just a setting on the clothes dryer allowing each child, (not just those identified as exceptional along the spectrum of special education from disabled to gifted,) to be  perceived  as possessing unique strengths and abilities that can be leveraged toward social/emotional stability and relative cognitive success. EduKare doesn't believe in failure, only relative degrees of success.
  • People are the primary resources required to address student needs, and there is no shortage of them. Teachers, paraprofessionals, other professionals (social workers, counselors, health representatives), parents, community volunteers, mentors etc. are the reflective mirrors kids need so they can look at all of us and see a positive and supportive message reflected back. We already have funding and time to do what we do for kids... we just have to think differently about how we spend both.
These are twists of the lens that focus on the child instead of the system. They are responsive instead of reactive. They depend on our ability to re-purpose ourselves, our funding support and our time toward perpetually improving ways to teach and learn.

Every school building is different, and every school culture unique, but all three of the responsive paradigms I mention above can be applied to any school because of the nature of the shift. Each school environment is like the rocky mountains possessing infinite variables of terrain, shape, size, orientation and location. Transformational EduKare reform is the water that finds balance in these mountains no matter what the variables. EduKare reform responds to the needs of individual kids and any school environment by being flexible and adaptive in process, but solidly grounded in philosophical principle. 
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