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Let’s focus on recovery and the joy of learning


August 31, 2021 Jason Schilling, ATA President

The last school year was challenging and disruptive for everyone working and learning in schools. As schools were dealing with the roller-coaster of isolations and quarantines, I kept hearing about learning loss and how it was a major concern for education stakeholders. Though I firmly agree that this last year was troublesome, I am concerned that the phrase “learning loss” can be used in a negative light.

The cynic in me can see learning loss being used as a way to blame teachers or schools for perceived shortfalls (as though the effects of the pandemic and lack of planning by the government were in their control).

We need to resist the desire by some to introduce extra standardized testing or other short-term fixes as a means to fill the gap. Our students and teachers are coming back to school after a year and a half of giving up many of the parts of school that brought them joy and happiness. Instead of focusing on how to “fix” this problem, I suggest that we need to engage our students and ourselves in the joy of learning again. We need to reframe learning loss as a learning recovery and expand that recovery to address mental health and well-being.

As an avid user of social media, I have also seen a multitude of people posting suggestions for the best ways for teachers to fix the learning loss. The click-bait links lead to pedagogical methods that are shallow and short-term based – or even worse, expensive commercial solutions that allow people to profit off parent’s fears. Recovery from the pandemic will take months of mindful engagement with our students. Government and school boards should provide extra support for teachers by giving them the space and time to work with students. This starts by addressing class size for our schools with the largest classes. By reducing these class sizes, we can ensure that teachers have more one-on-one time with students. Government also needs to ensure that educational supports, funding and services are in place to support students and teachers. It is essential that our most vulnerable students have supports in place to assist them with their learning recovery.

I trust my colleagues’ professionalism and judgment to engage with their students in a way that addresses their learning needs without placing added unnecessary pressure on them to be “fixed.” Having taught in the classroom for more than 20 years, I know first-hand the care and thought teachers put into their plans. My colleagues have always been and will continue to be student centric. I do not foresee that being any different this school year.

In mid-August, the ATA released its document Priority Expectations of Alberta Teachers for the Return to School During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This document focuses not only on the safety aspects that are still needed in schools, as we are still in a pandemic, but also on the learning, mental health and well-being of our students.

Teachers are professionals and experts who engage in a variety of formative and summative assessments throughout the school year. Therefore, the ATA is calling on the government to not implement mandatory provincial achievement tests and diploma exams. Most students did not engage in the traditional year-end assessments last school year. Therefore, any data collected from these exams would not be worthwhile. Plus, we have seen in the past that the results of standardized tests are often used to rank schools and further cast judgment on public education—two more things that schools, teachers and students do not need as they work to recover from last year.

The ATA is also once again calling on the government to not implement its new draft curriculum, for a variety of reasons that could fill up another column. This draft is unacceptable, and now is not the time. Instead, the minister should use this time to re-engage the profession, university professors, parents, and Indigenous and francophone groups in an open and transparent process that creates a modern, diverse and respectful curriculum.

Rather than a return to normal, we have a chance to reimagine a better future for our students. The pandemic amplified many inequities in our society – poverty, funding issues, access to supports, racism, hate. What was normal before needs to be addressed moving forward, not returned to. A great first step in this recovery is to allow our teachers to engage with their students in a way that reignites the joy of learning. ❚


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