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by Dr. Jenni Donohoo, Research and Program Evaluation Consultant with the Greater Essex County District School Board, and is contacted half-time with Literacy GAINs (Growing Accessible and Interactive Networks)
The Ontario school system is one of the best in the world (McKinsey & Company, 2010). Ontario’s students are among the world’s best readers (PISA) and Ontario is a world leader in its sustained strategy of professionally-driven reform of its education system (OECD, 2010). What can districts across the world learn from this? Can the case of Ontario offer guidance to districts in low-income contexts?
How has this happened?
Invest in employees and transformed professional development structures: Over the past few years, models of professional development offered in Ontario have improved significantly. Rather than devoting personnel and money to system-wide top-down TPD, school teams are engaging in collaborative inquiry driven by an identified common student learning need. Structures have been put into place to connect peers to peers and enable within school and across school networking. As professional development is becoming more relevant and contextual, teachers are placing greater value on the time and opportunity to learn from and with each other.
What remains to be done?
While powerful designs for professional learning are in place, some teams are only beginning to touch the surface when it comes to developing a common understanding of the cognitive needs of their students and how to best support student learning. In addition, those who find themselves in the role of instructional leader are looking for guidance in how to “intentionally interrupt” (Katz & Dack, 2013) and overcome barriers that get in the way of adult learning.
What steps can districts across the globe take?
Maintain strong connections between district leaders and school-based leaders. In terms of dependence, this does not mean a heavy reliance on outsiders as experts, but rather trusting relationships between central office staff and school based leaders. Learning communities often require the assistance of an outsider who may be in a position to push teams to a deeper level of learning (Levin, 2008). In addition, an outsider can support school based leaders by assisting them in developing their leadership practice. How the outsider carries this work out is of utmost importance.
Invest in building relationships with and between all stakeholders. District leaders need to consider how to foster trusting relationships between consultants and administrators. In addition, central office personnel responsible for supporting those who lead the work in the schools need to constantly examine and reflect on their practices. Superintendents, consultants, and staff development coordinators would benefit from identifying, examining, and reflecting on their own problems of practice. Networking with others in similar roles while considering how to enact their practice skillfully will further assist in launching Ontario to the next level of performance.
Jenni holds a doctorate in education from the University of Windsor, Brock University, and Lakehead University’s Joint Educational Studies PhD Program. Her classroom teaching experiences include elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. Jenni is the Past President of Learning Forward Ontario. She recently published, Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement.
Click to read more about the Teacher Professional Development in Crisis series.