Curriculum, Professional Development

Reflections on Updating Teaching Credentials, BC’s New Curriculum, and the Philosophy of the Perfect Stranger

Earlier this year, I became an official Permanent Resident of British Columbia, having spent the last several years travelling internationally for my career in global education and prior to that, as a classroom teacher in Colorado.

My move to Canada coincided with a relatively recent curricular change across British Columbia, one that arguably moves B.C. to more appropriately prepare learners for the 21st century and incorporates a more progressive definition of learning and the processes of learning. The changes in the curriculum include philosophical and structural changes, as well as the language used throughout (ex: Assessment AS learning vs. Assessment OF learning).

I cannot speak to the previous curriculum, however, I’ve become quickly acquainted with the new curriculum this year. {As a noteworthy aside, my teaching experience and credentials were not recognized by B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch, and I have been in the process of undergoing teacher certification through the University of British Columbia (UBC). At first, admittedly, it was a tough pill to swallow returning to school for another Bachelor’s degree in a subject I already have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in, however, I am very grateful the for the opportunity to have this extended and personalized professional development. I am thoroughly enjoying being on the student end of things again and highly recommend the Teacher Education Program at UBC. We could all use a professional tune-up at someone point in our professional careers!}

But– enough about me! Let’s talk curriculum.

When I moved to B.C. and became involved and connected in education circles, I often heard references to “the new curriculum,” but struggled to find a fully comprehensive document that gave quick, digestible information about the specific changes. The most helpful article I came across that spoke to (and answered!) my questions was a blog post from the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning at Vancouver Island University. The post details the 5 major changes of B.C.’s new curriculum and these include the following:

  • 6 Core Competencies [photo 1]
  • Concept-Based Competencies [photos 2 & 3]
  • Graduation Assessments (for Secondary)
  • Competency-Based Assessment (aka- Assessment as Learning)
  • Aboriginal Knowledge and Ways of Knowing

{For a slightly more comprehensive but still easily digestible resource, the B.C. Teacher’s Federation also put out a very helpful, easily navigable online magazine detailing the 2016 curriculum changes in depth. Check it out!}

Overall, all of these changes support inquiry-based learning and prepare learners how to think and problem-solve versus simply memorizing information and/or having success on exams. The shifts move students towards processes of learning, rather than the assessment of learning. The curricular changes align so well with my teaching philosophies, and what I’ve been equally impressed with is the freedom with which teachers can and do practice this curriculum.

Photo Courtesy of FNESC.ca

The most important learning I’ve engaged in this year has been unpacking what it means to decolonize curriculum, particularly through Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation initiatives. I have also seen what it means to open up a curriculum that includes different ways of knowing, particularly Indigenous knowledge and the First People’s Principles of Learning. This year has been particularly intense in a necessary way, as I’ve been exposed to and un-learned many structural and systemic ways of thinking that have been (and continue to be) oppressive and marginilizing, particularly to Indigenous Peoples. Two things have opened my eyes and served as guides for me with respect to how I can teach with more permanent social justice lens: the First People’s Principles of Learning (seen in the photo on the left), as well as as the notion of the Perfect Stranger.

The FPPoL are deeply embedded into the B.C. curriculum… and make so much sense for all learners, young and old, and regardless of cultural background. Included in these principles are philosophies on sacredness of knowledge, intergenerational learning, and cultivating a deep reverence for living things. Perhaps my favourite principle (though, they all resonate with me) is “Learning takes patience and time.” As teachers, so often, we are trying to fit everything in– every standard, every big idea, every assessment and then sit back and hope our students “get it”… when in reality, the concepts and ideas we introduce may not be able to take root until our students have more, different, or alternative life experiences. And that. is. okay. It is beautiful, in fact.

In addition to the FPPoL, another major (positive) disruption in my thinking came from Dr. Susan Dion, who is an Associate Professor of Education at York University in Toronto. Dion uses the phrase “perfect stranger” to describe the “safe” position many non-Indigenous educators can take when asked to teach from an Indigenous perspective (as the B.C. curriculum requires):

his position, a perfect stranger, allows teachers and actually all Canadians to be off the hook when it comes to thinking about Aboriginal issues, thinking about Aboriginal people, or the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. There was a desire to distance themselves from the issues and to say, this has nothing to do with me. 

Dr. Susan Dion, from https://vimeo.com/59543958

Dion’s words spoke to me and make me wonder if and how I have written something off as being irrelevant to me, or deciding to use my positionality at the expense of someone else who did not have the voice nor advantages I do. Definitely give Dion’s video a watch. It is an essential message for all educators.

  • What is some of the most impactful professional development you’ve undergone?
  • What does it mean to be a perfect stranger to you?
Must-Reads

BOMish: October 2019 {“Here I am”}

book-of-the-month (1)

Here I Am (Pauline Holdstock)

hereiam
[Photo from PaulineHoldstock.com]

  • The Stats: 256 Pages, published September 2019
  • Who Should Read It: Teachers, anyone in need of a heartwarming yet raw look at the challenges of children’s responses to trauma
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥
  • My Thoughts: I fully admit that what drew me into this book was the gorgeous cover, spotted on the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. When I started paging through the book, I was drawn by the playful dialogue of the endearing, brave, mischieveious, and improbable protagonist, Frankie, a nervous and presumably traumatized 6-year-old who seeks to reconcile his mother’s sudden death by sneaking aboard an English cruise ship bound for France. Naturally! Told from Frankie’s innocent yet all-seeing eyes, I found myself smiling at some of Frankie’s adventures (such as scoring buffet cheese and sleeping amongst the pool chair mats), as well as an ache in my heart for some of his more raw reflections (his panic attack tantrums, his heartbreaking lonliness and fear during the cruise ship’s turbulence, and the misunderstanding he frequently encounters with his teacher at school).

I read this book purely for pleasure and an escape; I was surprisingly and melodiously whisked away into the mind of a child. An endearing story and a good reminder to us all about how poignant, powerful, and significant the world is (for better and worse) for children.