Meeting 1 - February 11, 2016
Learning Partners Advisory Council
Location: Holland College Centre for Applied Science and Technology, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Light meal and social, starting at 6:30 pm
- Welcome & Introductions: Council members will introduce themselves and perhaps share an experience(s) with learning and/or learners.
- Learning Partnership: Co-chairs will describe the context and aims of the Learning Partnership, and outline expectations.
- Terms of Reference: Co-chairs and members will review and affirm the Terms of Reference.
- Roundtable on Learning Priorities: Members will each identify up to two learning priorities that they would like the Council to consider during its inaugural year. Following the meeting, these priorities will be integrated. A synthesis with supporting briefing materials will be circulated in advance of the second meeting, as a basis for joint priority setting and development of a work plan for the year.
- Operational Matters: Members will discuss preferred meeting times, internal and external communications, next meeting date and location.
Learning Partnership Backgrounder (512 Kb)
Discussion Summary - Meeting 1
In Attendance: Co-Chairs H. Wade MacLauchlan and Bill Whelan; members Amada Brazil, Amber Jadis, Angela Arsenault, Anna MacKenzie, Anne Bernard-Bourgeois, Bethany MacLeod, Bonnie Stewart, Donald DesRoches, Jackie Charchuk, Kathleen Flanagan, Lisa MacDougall (for Peter Rukavina), Lori Johnston, Michelle MacCallum, Moira McGuire, Natalie Mitton, Rocio McCallum, Ron MacDonald, Shawn Loo, and ex officio members Sharon Cameron, Teresa Hennebery, Susan Willis; resource Wendy MacDonald; guest Brian Douglas
Regrets: Jeff Brant, Tracy Michael, Peter Rukavina (represented by designate Lisa MacDougall)
The meeting opened with introductions, in which each member spoke about their connection to learning and their experiences of learning and learners, with some noting issues and priorities of particular importance. Co-Chair Whelan then reviewed the origins of the Learning Partnership, the advisory structures which had been established, and the connections among those structures. Following some questions and discussion, the group then reviewed and affirmed the Council’s terms of reference, with several additions re operating processes. The meeting closed with a roundtable session in which many of the members identified priorities for the work of the Council over the coming year. It was agreed that these discussions would be synthesized into notes and circulated for comment, in preparation for the Council’s next meeting in mid to late April.
Background to the Learning Partnership
Work over the past several months to reshape the education system identified common themes in reports from the past two decades:
- the need for better alignment within and among learning systems;
- the need for collaboration
- the need for a shared sense of purpose and direction
- the need to engage parents and families
- the need to promote the value of learning throughout life
- raised expectations not only of learners but also of teachers, parents
The Education Governance Commission did extensive consultations, and its discussions with high school students were among the most valuable. Two key insights had emerged from speaking with students:
- nobody has ever asked our opinion before
- expectations are too low and we are not being well enough prepared for our future.
The work to date also identified a need for:
- a greater voice for principals
- a look at the Philosophy of Education from 1989, which more accurately is a philosophy of schooling, not of learning.
The Learning Partnership is about creating a learning system, and hearing from diverse voices, to ensure that the system is responsive to the potential and needs of all learners and each learner.
The background document on the Learning Partnership (Appendix One) was then reviewed. It was emphasized that the work of the Council is much broader then the K-12 system. It represents an unprecedented initiative to bring together a group such as this to better the lives of learners at all ages.
Questions and comments addressed the following:
What is the place of the French language K-12 system within this work? That will become clearer as the work proceeds. The CSLF will continue, with its already close internal cooperation and structures. Departmental staff and District Advisory Councils Liaison Pat Campbell, will work across all bodies to ensure that information is shared. The Commission scolaire de langue française is represented on the Learning Partners Advisory Council, and its principals are members of the Principals Council. The District Advisory Council model does not apply to the French system, as its parent and community councils already have a structure in place. The Minister will continue to receive input from that body.
Are there any thoughts to bring the Early Years system into this model? The early years system is represented on the Council. The initial focus will be on the K-12 system and the transitions into and out of this system, with the early years system being an inspiration to that work – the results of which are being seen and recognized.
Terms of Reference
Questions and discussion about the Terms of Reference focused on expectations about the scope and nature of the Council’s role.
Broad vision, or pointed, practical work? It was indicated that for the Council to achieve its potential, and merit the investment of time by members, it needs to go beyond the visionary, and identify issues to which the Council’s attention and deliberations could add value. To achieve this, it is envisaged that the Council could establish working groups, partly comprised of Council members, which would take on particular issues, possibly including public engagement work.
License and scope to think differently? It was noted that the group should do its best to set priorities and create an agenda that will make the biggest difference possible. This takes into consideration that three deputies are at the table, creating a capacity to deliver, and that a hub model has been put in place at the deputy level, bringing social policy departments together to address, in an integrated way, the issues and challenges faced by learners.
Parameters? It was noted that although the term ‘workforce’ is used in the documents, this work goes beyond jobs … it is about preparing people to build a community, to be citizens, and entrepreneurs. While much of the initial work will focus on the K-12 system, it will do so in a lifelong learning context.
Work processes? It was agreed that given the range and sensitivity of Council subject matter and the diversity of the membership, it is essential for people to feel the trust and confidence to speak freely about their experiences and views. Accordingly, it was agreed that:
- The meetings of the Council will not be open to the public.
- All meeting documents – agendas, briefing materials, discussion summaries, reports – will be made public.
- Council decisions will be made by consensus.
- All meeting notes and discussion summaries will be thematic and will not identify members by name in capturing various points of view.
- Similarly, in speaking of the Council’s work to others, members will not identify the views of other members by name (Chatham House Rule, i.e., “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”)
- The Council is intended to bring together individuals with relevant, diverse experiences and perspectives, not “stakeholders.”
To further build a climate of trust and collaboration, it was agreed that the next meeting agenda would include a trust-building “give and get” exercise in which each member would talk about what they can give to the group and what they hope to get from it. These mutual commitments will help the Council as it moves forward with its work.
Regarding logistics, it was agreed that the Council would meet at least three times a year, with the next meeting taking place in mid to late April. As well, it was suggested that the next meeting of the Council could take place in Prince County.
Discussion Themes: Issues and Priorities
The following summary integrates the issues and priorities expressed by members during their introductions, and the further discussions during the roundtable at the end of the meeting. Members’ input is re-sequenced into a thematic approach, going from the broad to the specific, and from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’, i.e. from context and goals to specific issues, challenges, and possible directions.
Subsequently, via an email from the Co-Chairs, members were invited to identify their priorities if they had not had a chance to do so, or to identify further priorities. A number of emails were received in reply. This input affirmed a number of the priorities identified during the meeting, and also added further depth in several areas. It is included in the following notes.
Building a Learning Culture: Goals
At its broadest level, the work of the Council should pursue prosperity not only in the economic sense but in the broader sense of “prosperity of the soul,” in a way that is inclusive of all. It needs to strengthen and support the development of the broader learning culture in PEI. Learners need to be prepared not just for work, but for a life as citizens and contributors to their community. Part of the task is to be sure that learning never stops; there is something new in our lives every day.
“The starting point for this group, if we are putting learners first … is, how should we prepare them to be global citizens, what does achievement look like in this global world?” We need to prepare our learners – both those who ultimately move away from PEI, and those who stay. The literature on 21st Century learning tells us, in part, that the ability to communicate and to work with others is essential to future success.
To achieve excellence, we need to define what that is, what success is. And, we must examine how we can best assess whether it is being achieved, with regard to the mix of provincial, national, and international assessments.
With regard to skill needs, we must recognize that the Island is on the cusp now in terms of its economy and labour market. Seafood processors are looking for labourers so they can be competitive in a global commodity marketplace. Meanwhile we are building the technology-rich economy that we want people to be working in. As we work to provide Islanders with skills, what is the balance between today’s and tomorrow’s needs? And if we are to foster entrepreneurship, and a creative and productive society, how do we build that into our learning system?
The importance of reflecting and respecting our increasingly diverse society was also noted, and further addressed in subsequent email input, which urged that the educational curriculum include accurate historical representation of our current knowledge of Mi’kmaw people and history on PEI, and highlighted the importance of continued support for the French First Language educational network across the province, in recognition of its dual mandate not only to educate but also to promote and maintain the French language and culture.
The Learning Context: The Community as Partner
At the local level, the work must recognize that the education system does not function in isolation, but is a part of and should interact with its community. We need to see – or develop – the connections between learning and the community and its infrastructure. The education system needs to be sensitive to the needs and challenges of communities, as these create the learning context for its children. But communities should also be far more recognized for their assets and their potential to help. Our strength is that we are small and still have that sense of community. Priority should be placed on building mentorship-style links with the community. How can we build resources in the community that can be brought into the classroom to help? Community mentors could talk about groundwater, judge the science fair… we need to identify what we need, what we are missing, and develop lists of mentors who can help.
Curriculum, Pedagogy and Technology
Linked to the foregoing themes, some of the discussion focused on what should be learned, and how, with emphasis on the latter. It was also suggested that our current system needs to be more focused, and renewed. “We need to look at the system we have, what’s working and what’s not. We all agree, some things could be pulled from the curriculum. But what is missing? And when it’s added, how do you prepare the teachers?”
The importance of numeracy and STEM subjects, and of project-based and inquiry-based learning was also noted. The approach at High Tech High was cited as an innovative model for PEI to consider.
With regard to technology, it was suggested that PEI needs to develop a coordinated, overarching strategy for digital literacy and its implications, working at the intersection of education and technology. This will require us to go beyond the current focus on hardware and wi-fi, and gimmicky apps that merely provide star stickers in digital format, to an examination of how technology can support understanding, acting, and functioning in today’s world, and how we can truly develop digital literacy in our children. A caution was also voiced against high investment in technology such as laptops for teachers if it meant reductions in the number of those teachers, or if these laptops were not the supports that teachers most needed to help them meet the needs of their learners.
Transitions were noted as a key challenge – specifically, that as learners move from one level of the system to the next, “… the transitions are stressful and resources and programming are often disjointed” as an email put it. As these transitions continue, a progressively larger number of students struggle with learning and/or become disengaged. “We all do a good job where we are, but we haven’t learned how to join hands and help families make good transitions.”
It was noted that most babies are born healthy, and we need to support mothers during pregnancy to further this. But our investment in early childhood is not sustaining itself into the school system. By Grade 1, many children have challenges. The transitions from early childhood learning to the K-12 system and then from the K-12 system to post-secondary or workforce were highlighted as particularly important.
System disconnects were identified as part of the problem. It was noted that there are four goals in the early childhood learning framework, which apply to children and also to their educators and families – well-being, exploration and discovery, communication, and social responsibility. The play-based curriculum works to achieve those outcomes. When parents go to the next step of the system, it’s very different, with its focus on, do you know your ABCs? your numbers? your colours? “Our priority, if we are focusing on the learner, is to be consistent in our image of the child.”
A further issue that needs to be tackled is the transition from Grade 12 to post-secondary or the workforce. Substantial numbers of learners do not reach this transition well prepared, and must pursue adult learning to access opportunities, with costs for both themselves and society. “Every child that gets a good foundation from early childhood to Grade 12 is a gain.” Even for those successfully completing high school, the gap between Grade 12 outcomes and first year university requirements is a concern. Priority is being placed on providing good supports to students on what paths to take. But there is also scope to build a learning system that is more coherent and connected, so that more paths lead to success, and so student choices and system actions do not lead to consequences that are difficult to overcome.
Subsequent email input focused on the need for better career preparation. To achieve a more successful transition from learning to employment and achieve more benefit from the millions spent to attract industries and train workers, it was suggested that the education system needs to: “…[provide] ample opportunities to explore career opportunities early on in the learning experience; skills development for specific occupations as interest (passions) are identified, and a supported/ coordinated/ planned transitioning from learner to workforce participant.”
Fulfilling Every Learner’s Potential
Flowing from the previous point, many Council members expressed strong priority on helping every child succeed and in particular, better supporting struggling and disadvantaged learners, both during their formal schooling and as adult learners. Members spoke of their own experiences and relationships, and expressed concern and compassion for marginalized and challenged learners of all ages. An intense desire was expressed to do more to help, and some frustration was voiced at current limitations on the ability to do this. “Working in schools, we see a troubled 11-year-old and we know that she is on a negative trajectory, how can we change that?” “We hear the needs and we know there is so much more than the curriculum we cover in the classroom.”
Arising from the growing scale and range of learner needs and the province’s approach to inclusive education, classroom composition is a major issue facing the system. It was noted that a grade 5 class can have 25 or more students with varied needs – including children with autism, developmental delays, poverty, mental health issues, modified and adapted curriculum, behavioural difficulties – all of which the classroom teacher must try to address. The current mandate of Child Protection services limits their capacity to help students who are at risk.
To move to an approach in which every learner can fulfill his or potential, a number of suggestions were put forward.
At a system level, it was suggested that PEI needs to look at its model of inclusion. While this was not to say that there should be separate schooling, it was felt that the current model is not working for all students, and that some are not learning and not having their needs met. Both they and their teachers need more help.
Email input included a call for innovation in our approaches and a move away from our traditional model to a learner-centred approach. “The more adaptive and responsive the system is to accommodating the learning needs and styles of individual learners, the better the socio-economic outcome for the individual, their family and the community.”
In keeping with a more learner-centred approach, email input also called for a more holistic knowledge and understanding of each learner’s circumstances. To best meet the needs of each child, we need to understand their socio-economic situation, family structure and dynamics, housing, caregiver health issues, income, and so on. “The more we know about the client, the better we can develop a system of supports that help them achieves higher levels of success both in terms of their educational and social development.”
Related to this point, another email emphasized the need for better connections between the education system and other service systems. “[There is] a disconnect between the education system and the health system, the social supports system, the justice system, the food system, the library system, and the community at large. We need to establish an integrated approach to education where we realize that effective learning depends on being well-fed, having a supportive, income-secure home environment, and equitable access to tools and technologies…”
Specific suggestions included the following:
- Increased and more diverse support resources are needed in the classroom, including mental health workers. It was noted that while mental health support has been enhanced at the intermediate level, there is an increasing incidence of mental health issues in elementary classrooms. It was also suggested that settlement workers could be placed in schools, to deal with and resolve issues specific to newcomer children.
- More training is needed for personnel such as education assistants.
- PEI was seen as needing trauma-informed services. Socio-emotional learning is now in the curricula of the other Maritime provinces, and PEI should be looking at this too.
- Smaller class sizes were also suggested, to help teachers better meet the diverse needs of their students.
- To engage those students who are disengaged, we must remember as a group to go beyond our mostly positive experiences with the K-12 system and “go where they are.”
- To improve the health and wellbeing of students and their families, subsequent email input called for improving the healthy eating environment in schools, and making the most of our schools’ unique opportunity to act as role models for healthy eating, health and wellness.
The vital role of the teacher was noted. “I’m reading the list of what the Council will look at, and all of it is embedded in what we do as educators.” Several priorities were identified to support this role.
- Professional development for teachers was noted as a priority, both at the meeting and in subsequent email input. The diversity of needs in the classroom and the need for individualized education plans mean that teachers must spend considerable time in paperwork-intensive planning. How can teachers find this time, and how can technology help?
- The system needs to be reviewed and curriculum and approaches need to be streamlined to focus on what is working.
- Finally, the commitment of teachers to collaboration was noted and the importance of including their voice was emphasized. Appreciation was expressed for their inclusion on the Council.