As an educator, I am constantly reminded of the centrality of the role of the education in society. I see in all aspects of life and daily living the far-reaching benefits and impact of a good education. The ability to think critically and analytically and to make decisions based on an assessment of reliable information. I see voters struggling to evaluate election speeches and materials, deciding between fact and fiction, in order to decide which candidates to elect. At times like these I realize how much education influences all of these competencies.
Those who chose to be teachers are in a strategic position to help shape the direction of our schools, to influence the lives of our students and to equip them with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, dispositions and sensibilities necessary for responsible and engaged citizenship. But most importantly, we are in a position to motivate and inspire our students to reach new heights of attainment. We help to remove real or perceived barriers and close achievement gaps. We develop the social skills and character attributes necessary for success in the workplace and in life. By supporting students in these ways, we enhance their life chances and further contribute to the health and well-being of our communities.. For these and other reasons, I am delighted that I chose teaching and educational leadership as a profession. I often say with pride, “I am a teacher!” That was the path I chose – the way I would contribute to nation building.
But first, let us reflect briefly on some of our achievements.. It is so easy for us to be demoralized by criticism and to forget how much we have achieved as a profession. We now know more than ever about how children learn and what it takes to improve their engagement in school. We have been successful in increasing graduation and retention rates. We have instilled a love of learning, prepared more students to enter college, university, entrepreneurship programs, and other post-secondary institutions. We have so much to celebrate as educators! But we also are acutely aware that we cannot rest on our laurels. Much remains to be done to increase the satisfaction of stakeholders with the quality of education that we are providing.
As professionals, we have become inveterate learners ourselves. We work hard at keeping abreast of new knowledge and innovative practices in our field. We strive to be truly research-informed and to make decisions about children’s lives from a basis of our current knowledge base. We have developed a new appreciation for the need to make research-informed decisions. We seize every opportunity to learn with and from our colleagues. What I consider most important is the recognition that capacity building is the essence of system- and school improvement. We have rejected past practices that have proven ineffective and eschew punitive approaches to learning and to discipline. Our school systems have become more humane and we have focussed not only on achieving excellence, but on delivering on the promise of creating more equitable and inclusive schools. We are demonstrating the respect that parents and community deserve and see them as essential partners in the learning process. We have also realized that we have to become more politically active as we seek do our part in influencing the education agenda locally, nationally and globally.
For me. these are truly exhilarating times – the Golden Age of Education. We now know more than we have ever known about what works in teaching, learning and leadership. We have achieved a lot – but we must redouble our efforts. The children cannot wait.
I am often reminded of the statement by R.W. Connell who said that, statistically speaking, the best advice he would give to a poor child eager to get ahead in education is to choose richer parents. I am sure, knowing the focus of his work in education, that this was a tongue-in-cheek comment. But regardless of the intent, we must prove that statement wrong by demonstrating that we do have the skills and the will to improve education for students in general and for those who live in challenging circumstances in particular. We must also be role models and advocates for these students so that, with hard work and determination, they will have the academic, social and emotional supports necessary to set high expectations for themselves, achieve their goals, and excel within the Canadian education system.
What a privilege it is to be an educator today!