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Sharing the Work of the OCDSB with Sweden
Recently I received an invitation to go to Sweden to speak at a Quality in the Public Sector conference that spanned across policing, municipal affairs, infrastructure and education.Internationally, jurisdictions are interested in learning about the public education system in Ontario. We are well known for how well our students score on international assessments. More specifically, jurisdictions are interested in how our school district is applying a systematic approach to improving student achievement and well-being.
In addition to speaking at the conference, I was asked to work with administrators and elected officials in the school district in Gothenburg as well as administrators in Stockholm. I was accompanied by Superintendent of Instruction, Susan MacDonald and Principal of Hillcrest High School, Barry Bickerton to tell our story.
Over the last number of years, the OCDSB has had a steady focus on improving student achievement. In recent years, we’ve taken a similar approach to improving the well-being of our students. Our work has been closely linked to the work in the province, led in part, by the previous education advisor to the Premier of Ontario.
Michael Fullan, one of the world’s most renowned education researchers has played a key role in defining the systemic reform of public education in Ontario. In Great to Excellent: Launching the Next Stage of Ontario’s Education Agenda (2013), Fullan describes what is needed to bring our education system to the next level of performance, his “six Cs” – character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.
The story we told throughout Sweden last week provided one example of key work being done in our district under each of Fullan’s six Cs. We provided video clips so that participants could see and hear the students and staff making it happen in the OCDSB.
Here are a few examples:
Character Education: This video clip was put together by students from every secondary school in the district. Students were invited to a session to explore the concept of equity and inclusion. They were sent back to their schools with video cameras to conduct an equity audit, looking for evidence of what inclusion looks like in their own school. Our Swedish colleagues were amazed at this example of student leadership and student voice!
Citizenship: This video clip features our student trustees, Stephen Xu from Bell High School and Abulgadir Ahmed from Sir Robert Borden Secondary School describing our district’s work on Exit Outcomes. The student senate (two student leaders from each secondary school) was invited to provide input on the characteristics and skills that students will need when they leave our school system to become successful, happy and engaged citizens. The Swedes were interested in our district’s move to looking beyond literacy and numeracy towards a more holistic vision of a successful student.
Communication: We all know that good oral and written communication skills are essential for success. In this video clip, Instructional Coach Denis Cousineau describes how, through the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), we are motivating all Core French and French Immersion teachers to help our students develop confidence in using French outside of the classroom. He makes the analogy of Canadians and their love of ice skating, speaking of the need for supports for beginning skaters, the goal of including everyone on the ice, and the quest to build more competent skaters. We’re doing the same work in our FSL classrooms from kindergarten to grade 12. The Swedes could relate to this analogy, particularly when we thanked them for allowing Robin Lehner to become the goalie of the Sens!
Critical Thinking: This snapshot shows our district’s Big 5. A year ago, we gathered all of our principals and vice principals together and asked them the practices they see in their classrooms that are most effective in helping their students develop critical thinking skills. We came up with our Big 5: learning Tasks that are based on the Ontario curriculum, engage students, and inspire critical thinking; students and teachers developing a clear sense of the Success Criteria for what good work will look like; differentiated instruction based on the needs of each student; descriptive feedback that tells students what they’ve done well and next steps towards a higher performance level; and teacher moderation, a practice where teachers have the opportunity to come together to mark student work and increase the consistency in marking and grading. Our Swedish colleagues nodded in agreement, stating that the Big 5 could be applied equally to the classrooms in their country.
Collaboration: If we expect students to work collaboratively, our teachers and principals need opportunities to work collaboratively. In this video clip, we hear from Kevin Gilmore, the principal of Cairine Wilson Secondary School. He describes the collaborative work that his teachers and an instructional coach are doing with respect to his school improvement plan. Ten of our secondary schools are involved in this Student Success Initiative which is funded by the Ministry. Our colleagues in Stockholm have begun an instructional coach model which is based on the model in the OCDSB.
Creativity: Students and staff have the opportunity to do their best work as the district has identified the 7 conditions for creativity in the workplace. In this video clip, Stan Baines, former head custodian and currently an Area Supervisor in Facilities, describes how every employee plays an important role. The Swedes remarked on our efforts to ensure that all 8,000 employees are valued for their potential to improve student achievement and well-being.
The school district in Gothenburg has developed six Core Values. It is remarkable how aligned they are with the work in the OCDSB and the province of Ontario. We have much to learn by interacting with other jurisdictions around the world.
All students can reach the educational goals.
Good results are achieved together.
Exchange of experience leads to development.
Those who dare an attempt will learn more.
Learning should be visible for the learner.
Leadership must give encouragement and inspiration.