Tips for Facilitating Professional Learning at School and System Levels
Starting with Mathematics in September 2021, the Province of Ontario will launch a de-streamed, Grade 9 curriculum. This curriculum and its implementation will help educators to create the conditions for all students to be successful both personally and academically.
For example, many secondary school students, in general, have had few opportunities to experience the joy and wonder associated with learning mathematics--through culturally relevant and responsive teaching approaches that emphasize the human side of the side of mathematics--much of this due to a number of systemic barriers.
A successful implementation will require school boards and authorities to properly address each of the following aspects with rhythm and frequency, and together: identifying and confronting inequities at all levels; helping build the capacity of all educators to teach and lead in culturally-relevant and responsive ways; ensuring that conditions that support successful learning are in place and in use (e.g., for wellness, for building universally-designed learning environments); and increasing all student learning outcomes--engagement and achievement.
How we build and sustain quality continuous improvement efforts for the implementation of de-streamed curricula will require that we re-imagine, and in some cases, reinvent, the way we approach teaching, learning and leading for learning across all levels of our organizations--from the classroom to the boardroom.
What we know about successful implementation is that year-over-year, short-term and cyclical cycles of monitoring and evaluation are necessary for schools to experience improvements in student learning (Hattie, 2015; Huber & Conway, 2015; Reeves, 2007). Improvement efforts marked by infrequent monitoring of strategies taken and impact on student learning result in either negligible or no improvements. When it comes to the strategies taken, educators need high-quality teaching resources, pedagogical supports, and professional learning that engender and communicate respect for equity and inclusion.
The remainder of this post presents a framework for a sample activity--a professional learning activity that you might find useful when thinking about your approaches to a successful implementation of de-streamed curricula. No matter your role in Education--teacher, school or system leader, trustee, parent council member--challenge yourselves to see a way forward through an equity lens.
What might it mean to:
- Enact; and
- Monitor Progress ...
Facilitation Tip: Create an opportunity for your participants to code responses for themes and trends, as well as creating spaces for further thought. For example, facilitators can activate thinking by encouraging participants to extend their thinking--i.e., to a scenario that invites them to think beyond the/their current state.
Facilitation Tip: What might you now do to engage others in thinking further--more precisely--about various aspects that will help to ensure a successful implementation of de-streamed curricula?
Using an article, a study, or video, etc., have participants read/review, reflect and discuss what resonates with them. In the context of Mathematics Education in Ontario, great examples include:
- Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusive Education in Mathematics (Curriculum Context, Mathematics 2020, Grades 1 to 8)
- High-Impact Instructional Strategies (Videos)
- Asking questions and making comments; and
- Encourage coding comments through the use of highlighting.
- Highlighting and sorting can act as a way of getting ready to identify aspects worthy for monitoring implementation.
Based on theory, practice, and taking a praxis approach to improvement, we can imagine three broad categories that will comprise much of an approach to supporting quality continuous improvement for the implementation of destreamed curricula.
For example, we might refer to these as Starting Points - Unlearning for Learning, Getting Messy - Understanding Contexts, and Navigating Messiness - Supporting Boards & School Authorities (see Fig.2).
When it comes to authentically addressing inequities, we must start with identifying and confronting our own beliefs and biases--the ‘confrontation’ is our growing critical consciousness (us) standing up for human rights, breaking down barriers that are oppressive for so many in our Educational systems.
Another key element to a successful implementation of any improvement effort is that of understanding contexts. A single, great idea never maps well into all contexts; nor does a single context specify the best approach. Approaches that are effective take into account an understanding of current needs, goals, and proposed ways of achieving system goals--e.g., Why this goal? Why now? Why is this approach important? What research is influencing your choice of approach?
It might seem logical to address these in order: Unlearning for Learning, followed by Understanding Contexts, and finishing with Supporting Boards and School Authorities. The reality is that there are a number of internal and external factors pushing systems in particular ways. Currently, there are many institutionalized practices that must be confronted for de-streamed curricula to support students as it’s intended. These practices are ingrained in the very way we engage addressing problems of practice.
Recognize that authentic learning is messy; it’s not linear in its approach. With all improvement efforts, our goals (and processes for attaining them) are influenced by varying degrees of learner readiness. They also intersect--none of them greater than all of them. In fact, to get to deeper levels of learning, all aspects need to be monitored together, with rhythm and frequency, to have an impact on learning (student, educator, leadership, system).
The table, below, provides an example of the relationship between these three aspects.
Student and educator identities are not static; they are always evolving—sometimes shifting in significant ways; and at other times, becoming more nuanced. Contexts change as identities develop and the capacity of the classroom community shifts. Both Starting Points and Understanding Contexts are necessary at all times, are interdependent, and are marked by increased levels of autonomy and agency.
When Navigating Messiness, the fidelity of our programs to attaining goals is only as good as the questions we ask and use to guide our decisions and processes we take to answer them. Supporting students with a praxis approach to teaching and learning is not something that we ‘do’ once a year or at the end of a term; rather, it’s done continuously over the year (see Fig. 3, below). The only way to properly know that we can reach outcomes with fidelity is if we’re paying attention to how student identity and classroom community are challenging the questions we’re asking and how we go about answering them with students.
- Step 1: Have homogeneous and role-specific groups participate in a jigsaw activity to help mobilize thinking, inspire further collaboration and deepen learning.
- Step 2: Form mixed-role groups to introduce a greater degree of diversity of thought and action related to how effectively schools can work to meet their goals for successfully implementing de-streamed curricula.
Facilitation Tip: Have participants complete an exit survey that brings them back to the questions posed at the outset of the learning experience (see Part B, below). The survey could be comprised of any or all of the following questions:
Part A - Reflection & Feedback
- What did you like about the session?
- What’s something you learned?
- What are you still wondering? Or would like to know more about?
- How might you use this information in your own work?
- What might it mean to create through an equity lens?
- What might it mean to enact through an equity lens?
- What might it mean to monitor progress through an equity lens?
In closing, I can't help but to think of the conversations that will occur as we take collective action to improve student learning. As this blog is a means for readers to find inspiration and network for learning together--gradually changing the context for how we all learn, teach and lead--we all benefit by drawing nearer to the perspectives shared here and shared beyond with our professional learning networks.
If at any time, you have questions or comments, or would like to discuss how we can collaborate, feel free to reach out to me.
Chris Stewart, OCT
Educational Consultant, Flipping the Focus (c) 2021
Hattie, J. (2015, February). High-Impact Leadership. Retrieved from
Huber, D. J., & Conway, J. M. (2014, November 30). The Effect of School Improvement Planning on Student Achievement. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1145448
Government of Ontario. (2020). Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusive Education in Mathematics. Retrieved from
Reeves, D. B. (2007, December). Leading to Change / Making Strategic Planning Work. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec07/vol65/num04/Making-Strategic-Planning-Work.aspx