In the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, we have made a commitment to become an intelligent, responsive system. An intelligent, responsive system believes that the system needs to create a clear, enabling direction, a parameter for the work that needs to be accomplished for our students. Within this parameter, each school and each teacher respond to their students effectively. This parameter provides enough direction without hampering the important work that needs to take place at each school. Further, the system insures that all central supports such as consultants focus on what the school needs, not what the system expects.
In order for our system to be intelligent, we needed to be sure that a few things were in place. We needed to create system level focus, clarify roles and responsibilities, build capacity so that we can achieve our goals, implement, monitor progress, reflect on what has happened for students because of our efforts, and determine next steps. We also needed to communicate effectively so that all of our stakeholders understood what we are doing. This clarity provides the support that our schools need to focus on what their students need.
Our system focus in HWDSB is to improve student achievement and well-being through effective instruction and appropriate interventions in positive school climates. The main vehicles we are using to fulfill this goal are learning teams throughout the system and at every level of the system. In order to do this, we ask each school to create their own focus through a self assessment process, and to develop a professional learning plan for staff to build capacity so that the staff can meet their students’ needs. We also ask staff to engage in collaborative inquiry in learning teams so as to become more precise in terms of our instruction and more effective in terms of our intervention for our students. We are building capacity in terms of coaching and facilitation that supports this learning process, and we are determining the protocols which assist us in this important work. Again, just as we do at the system level, we monitor progress, reflect on our learning and determine next steps. We understand that our students will not learn effectively unless they are engaged, and the learning focus determined at every school takes this important consideration into account.
Our “intelligent” expectation is that each student will improve in the area of focus determined by the school. Each school, working with their learning team and their superintendent will bring forward the evidence that this improvement has occurred. Our system level focus requests that every staff member engages in this process that will allow each school and department to grapple with what they need to learn in order to better meet the learning needs of their students. We are supporting our staff to create learning environments where our students have the opportunity to think deeply and to develop questions that guide their own learning, to work together and to solve problems collaboratively and creatively. We know this is a paradigm shift, and for many of us this shift may make us uncomfortable. Our learning teams can assist with this potential discomfort.
Our intelligent system defines the parameters for our work and communicates clear expectations about the process each school will participate in. Our system responds effectively to the needs determined by the school. Our learning teams help each principal and school remain focused on the important work they need to accomplish for their students. Though there are clear expectations in our intelligent responsive, system, there is no prescription; however, the learning process in which we expect each member of our staff to engage is the non-negotiable. What emerges from this process may be different in each school depending upon the interests, strengths and needs of the students and staff in that school. The responsive part of our intelligent, responsive system can only operate when authentic focus for student and staff learning is determined at each school and in each classroom.
Wisdom exists in that space between what the system expects (intelligent) and what needs to happen in each classroom, school and department to serve our students (responsive). This is a healthy tension because we are not allowing these “two sides of the same coin” to become separate, which often happens in our world of education. Rather, in HWDSB we expect engagement in this learning process as THE system priority. Within this clear parameter, effective and creative instruction, supported by educators, school administrators, and central office staff all learning together, will make the difference for our students.
One final note about an intelligent, responsive system: We sometimes allow ourselves to become distracted by matters which should not take the majority of our time. For example operational issues may fill our days and we sometimes believe that there is no time to focus on the type of learning that changes instructional practice so that student learning improves. An intelligent system understands the importance of removing these types of distractions. Once again, it is not prescription when a system defines certain matters after consulting and collaborating with stakeholders. An example would be when administrators are grappling with the best ways to fulfill health and safety requirements, hire staff, or purchase supplies for their school. The system must create intelligent expectations, clear processes that all must follow, so that these matters do not consume too much time, which in turn would impact on the important learning that must happen in every school. An intelligent, responsive system knows when to communicate a decision from the centre and when to stand back so that schools and departments have the room to respond. An intelligent, responsive system never loses sight of this primary direction that all staff, learning in teams and engaging in collaborative inquiry will improve student achievement and well-being.
We are becoming an effective and intelligent system in HWDSB. Our system determines a high-level, direction, clarifies parameters, and provides responsive support to our teachers and principals who have determined an authentic focus for their students and staff and engage in continuous learning.
This system direction coupled with our responsive, collaborative learning commitment will improve student achievement and well-being in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. In some ways we are just beginning this journey; however, signs are emerging that we are on the right road!