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  • Marie Snyder

Strategic Plan: What about Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic??

This isn't a response to a question directed at me, but some people are questioning trustee campaigns like mine that speak to equity and student well being without mentioning how to improve academics, and there are many concerned voices on Facebook addressing the board's new Strategic Plan. Here's a sampling:

  • "I don't like vague promises."

  • "Ford government continues to make cutbacks to education, so how can the Director say they will provide them with the resources they need? What exactly does that entail?"

  • "This board has never mentioned the Right to Read inquiry going on."

  • "This agenda that's taking the next generation to a wishy washy sphere."

  • "Strategic plans lack the how that most people require in order to understand the impact."

  • "We can't keep aiming for the lowest common denominator. We should be shooting for the highest possible results and then look at the ones who didn't achieve."

  • "'Skills and knowledge needed to excel in the classroom' seems to be an afterthought."

  • "Bring back cursive writing, how to budget, how to grow food..."

  • "There's no math, science, reading... in the goals."

What IS a Strategic Plan?

The plan is not what will be taught in classes, but a list of what's necessary for student learning to begin and continue. The aims are there to drive positive change that's foundational to learning. The plan is a write-up of what's needed to ensure a strong education system based on hearing from people in the region who responded to a survey on what they think is most important for learning. About half of respondents were students.

This year, in their "Strategic Directions," they want to encourage teachers to listen more to student concerns, provide more mental health resources, make sure everyone's treated fairly, work more closely with families, help students engage more with learning by connecting curriculum to things that already interest them outside of school, and help students to positively affect the world.

They came up with an ideal "Learner Profile," which can help to better notice any barriers to learning in specific students. They want to help students to have solid critical thinking skills, understand their own strengths and limitations, have some curiosity about the world, understand the experiences of others, find their own voice and how to use it, develop tools to work with others, find connections with others, and care about the world.

That's it in a nutshell!

Where's the Math and Reading?

Curriculum taught in classrooms is unaffected by the Strategic Plan. The schools boards have minimal effect on curriculum with the exception of a few locally-developed programs (e.g., Fast Forward). It's not that the skills and knowledge of academics, the three 'R's of our youth, are an afterthought, but that they're the main course! The plan looks at how to better support student learning while they learn to do math or write their letters. Any concerns with what's being taught needs to be raised with MPPs who can take them to the Minister of Education for consideration.

So, for an example from my teaching career, I listened to student mental health concerns and added a doc of resources to my email sign-off that was above and beyond the courses I was teaching, and I always looked for examples and current issues to add to each lesson. Regardless the subject matter, we clearly need to help students work with each other and express their ideas respectfully. It's impossible to have any learning happen if the classroom environment isn't made for learning. What that looks like is what the Strategic Plan is all about.

I hear the need for specific strategies, and some will be more thoroughly developed as the year progresses. I'm confident that the Right to Read inquiry will also be discussed. If I'm in the loop, I'll keep everyone else in the loop as well!

I'm also very concerned with student academics, and have been for decades. I proposed real-world curriculum modules five years ago, but it went nowhere. Over my 31 years of teaching, it has been impossible not to notice a steady decline in expectations in some courses, particularly my own. One problem is the competitive nature of secondary elective courses that takes us on a downward spiral. If the other elective courses don't have exams or essays, then nobody will take my course if I do, and the courses will no longer be offered! The pandemic has exacerbated this even further as we shifted gears with compassion overtaking rigour as a key buzzword. I think we misunderstood what compassion really looks like, though. It's not giving students unlimited time for assignments and reducing the skills and knowledge required for completion of the course, but unwavering and very fair boundaries that work to make our classes predictable for students. But that's a story for another day.

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