During my masters program, my classmates and I did an exercise in which we each identified 3 strengths we had as a leader. I think I chose qualities like being analytical, reflective and reliable…. but that was only the beginning of the exercise. The next step – which I found much more challenging – was to identify the opposing strength corresponding to each attribute. The idea that the opposite of a strength could be another strength (instead of a weakness) left an impression on me and has helped me to embrace the tension be opposing strengths and values.
There are a lot of competing values in education: challenging students vs. supporting them, emphasizing progress vs. performance, celebrating the process of learning vs. the product of learning, personalizing instruction vs. establishing common standards. The tension between those values helps me to find an maintain an appropriate balance between different options.
For example, we are often asked about how we can have a student-centred program while delivering an established curriculum. Placing students at the centre of their learning, and giving them voice, choice and ownership over what and how they learn is a great way to keep them engaged and to equip them for life-long learning. On the other hand, following an established curriculum is a great way to ensure that students are developing essential knowledge and skills, and that they will be prepared for work, life and further education. We’ve found a balance by designing our curriculum around skills that are developed over the course of several years. By placing the focus on essential skills, like critical thinking and research, we can offer students lots of choice with respect to what and how they learn, while still ensuring that they are developing the skills that they need. We also set some parameters around the content that students learn, though we try to keep those parameters as wide as possible. For example, the topic of our current unit – body systems – was selected by teachers; however, students have selected a body system to study and get to choose how to share what they learn with their classmates. Regardless of which system they study, they are developing research and communication skills and learning about how individual organs in the body work together to serve a particular function.
By keeping the benefits of different approaches in mind, we are able to find a balance that is suitable for our students and their needs; moreover, we are able to shift that balance when necessary. Stay tuned for more posts about how we strike a balance between offering a rigorous academic program while being accessible to students with a range of abilities; and designing curriculum with just-in-case vs. just-in-time learning.