"Few of us went into education out of a burning desire to raise students' test scores. We went into it out of a deep sense of what's good for kids and society, what's worth knowing about, what it means to be a good citizen and person - indeed, what it means to lead a good life. Philosophy matters" (Ferrero, 2005, pp. 8-10).
To understand my perspective and the perspective of this website, it is useful to understand my personal beliefs about education:
We All Need Public Education
Public education is one of our society's most important institutions. It is one of the "great equalizers" because it provides equal opportunity to the vast majority of children. Universal public education must be carefully safeguarded.
There is Always Room to Improve
Alberta's education system is good, but it could be better. As the saying goes, why settle for good enough when better is possible?
Middle Schools Have a Lot to Offer
Ideally, schools for young adolescents should be organized according to middle school philosophy. Interdisciplinary teams of teachers, advisory programs, interdisciplinary/integrated curriculum, exploratory programs and transition programs help ensure that more students succeed. The most powerful teaching experiences in my career are a direct result of working on a cohesive and student-centered teaching team.
Plan Carefully and Don't Forget to Include Students!
The absolute best learning experiences occur when two conditions are met. First, the teacher has a clear, well-defined vision of where they are going. Second, students must be actively involved in the planning process.
Uncoverage, Not Coverage
Too many teachers get caught in the trap of trying to cover the curriculum. You can get through the textbook, but what have you really taught? I believe we should really hope our students will uncover the curriculum. "When we uncover something, we unearth it, examine it, ponder it, and thus reveal something unseen" (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998, p. 106).
To be meaningful, learning must be active. This is particularly important for middle school students! We tend to expect and endorse "wiggle time" amongst younger students, but somehow expect young adolescents to "sit still and be quiet" for extended lengths of time. A quiet class is not necessarily the best learning environment.
The Teacher is Crucial
Good teaching is the essential ingredient of a good school. Good relationships are important, but in the end, teachers who know where they are going, involve students and treat them with respect will ensure that school is a positive experience for the majority of students.
Over the course of my Master's degree, I have been profoundly influenced by a number of writers and thinkers. James Beane exerted the most profound influence on my thinking about middle level education. His ideas about curriculum integration are reflected throughout this site because I believe Beane has a vision for a better way of educating middle school students. I was most fortunate to hear him speak at the National Middle School Association conference in Portland in 2002. My personal approach to teaching is profoundly influenced by Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. When I began my research, I thought I would pursue the topic of arts integration and draw on Dr. Gardner's theories. His research reminds me to respect the individual talents and skills of each student I teach. While I was reading about the value of the arts, the writing of Elliot Eisner struck me as very profound. Like Gardner's work, Eisner reinforced for me the importance of recognizing a student's diverse talents and abilities. Many of the ideas I try hard to incorporate in my classroom come from Rick Wormeli. He has such creative, yet practical ideas for any teacher. Even better, though, is his profound understanding of what makes middle school kids "tick". His books (Meet Me in the Middle; Day One and Beyond: 50 Summarization Strategies) are a tremendous resource for any middle school teacher. My final major influence is the work of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I attended a presentation by Dr. Wiggins at the Reaching and Teaching Conference in 2002 and I was struck by the thoughtfulness of his approach. The more I have read, the more it seems to me that their work really speaks to the essence of good education: knowing exactly where you want to go, then determining exactly how you are going to get there.
With respect to leadership, two writers had a significant influence on my thinking. When I read Roland Barth's (2001) Learning by Heart, I was extremely impressed. Barth is a strong advocate of drawing on the talent that resides within each school as the key to school improvement. I count myself as fortunate to have attended Dr. Barth's presentation at the 2002 Reaching and Teaching Conference in Calgary. My final influence in the realm of leadership is Linda Lambert. During the summer of 2004, I attended the ATA's Educational Leadership Academy. The Academy was constructed around the work of Dr. Lambert and it profoundly influenced my thinking about school leadership. It reaffirmed Barth's notion of developing leadership within each school. Furthermore, Lambert speaks passionately about the importance of building leadership capacity. In essence, the mark of a real leader is how well they prepare a school to function without them.