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Blog: Monday, March 16th, 2015

Guest Blog: The Winds of Change

By Abbotsford School District

Some of you may well have heard/read the news coverage our district received when we announced the opening of the School of Science and Business at Rick Hansen Secondary. Prior to posting the news release, I was curious as to the kind of feedback we would receive from the public - people who listened to the radio, read news online, or connected via social media. For those of you who followed the news and social media threads, the feedback - from educators as well as lay people alike - was quite positive. Both novice and experienced educators spoke positively about the idea of engaging students in real life problems based learning. Parents and people from the business community who responded also spoke about the need to make learning more authentic and meaningful. While there were lots of questions about details of the plan, very few people spoke against the idea. Why is that?

If you take a few moments to think about the best learning experience you have ever had, you can probably guess why. What was the best learning experience you’ve ever had?  What was the activity and who was with you? There are some key ingredients to powerful learning experiences. I would venture a guess that your experience had the following ingredients:

  • Autonomy: You had some choice over the subject of your exploration or learning. The topic was important to you and you were given some opportunity to make the choice to work in that area. The topic you selected was connected to something about which you were interested or passionate.
  • Mastery: You were challenged to do work at a high level, and potentially to work with others who were also doing the same thing at a high level. Someone was there to give you feedback about the extent to which you were doing authentic work.
  • Purpose: The work you were doing would have a positive impact in the world. It meaningful to someone other than just you. It had value and could improve your life, and possibly the life circumstances of others.

I am sure there are more aspects you could point to, but I would guess that your best experiences have copious amounts autonomy, mastery and purpose. That’s why you remember it so well. It’s the secret sauce of powerful life-changing learning. The fact is that regardless of whether you are an educator or not, you probably desire these kinds of experiences for yourself and every child you know.

This is the guiding principle behind the vision we have for the entire education system, not just for Rick Hansen Secondary. As you read below through Principal Dave DeWitt’s vision and rationale for a brighter future, I think you will see why we have received such resounding and positive feedback.
~ Kevin Godden

We are on the cusp of a profound change in education driven by the BC Education Plan and our district’s strategic plan. At Rick Hansen Secondary School we are determined to lead the way. While the winds of change can be quite slow to blow through when you are shifting a system, we are responding quickly to ensure that we are setting the example for others to follow.

Our staff and our students recognize that the skills to carry students forward in the future are their ability to collaborate, communicate, and think critically in a digital world. That subjects that have traditionally been taught in isolation actually have a strong correlation between their objectives and that the power in learning actually comes from identifying those correlations as opposed to isolating them. Gone are the days where content memorization on the night before an exam measured your recall ability the following morning. Now we are expecting our students to discover the applications of their knowledge to solve real world problems and demonstrate that learning to a community that is engaged in finding the solution.

However, we can’t assume that we can develop these skills in a moral vacuum. We have a responsibility as we develop students who are innovators, that we are also developing their ability to be social innovators. When you can hold character development, social responsibility and service learning in as high a regard as you hold academic achievement they you are educating the whole child.

Our students can’t sit idly by and be passive recipients of information any longer. It is not what our parents, educators, communities and the workforce demands of them. Collectively we hold out hope that the education systems produces innovators, problem solvers and collaborators. Unfortunately, our ideal and our intent often stand in stark contrast to our reality.

Fortunately, we are changing that. Next year at Rick Hansen our students will be working in an inquiry based environment, as we begin to transform ourselves into the high performance school the workforce and universities are demanding. Students will be expected to pursue knowledge to prove their understanding as they solve real world problems that ignites a passion in them. Our grade nines will be in a cutting edge interdisciplinary model where math, English, science and digital literacy are taught in unison, not isolation. They will advance through the years building on their collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills. In grade 11, they will have the distinct advantage over the competition of entering one of our two prestigious schools, the School of Business or the School of Science. This will allow them to deepen their understanding and pursue their passion in one of those areas.

We are committed to leading the revolution in education to create difference makers, and not just note takers.

~ Dave DeWitt, Principal, Rick Hansen Secondary