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John Abbott in British Columbia, by Jeff Hopkins

February 23, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

John Abbott was invited to spend three weeks in February in BC by the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Education — an invitation extended by Dean Ted Riecken almost immediately after seeing John in action in October 2011. It was in October that John created an opportunity for the Faculty of Education, Ministry of Education staff, and Education students to come together to talk about the future of education in BC and what that might mean for newly trained teachers.

When someone asked me what role I thought John Abbott would play during his three week visit to British Columbia, I said that I thought he would be a catalyst. I have heard others agree with that characterization, but it was never a perfect fit with how we actually saw John. Close, but not quite right. Now that he has been here for nearly two of those weeks three weeks, and after seeing one of his presentations at the BC School Superintendents’ Association Conference in Vancouver, I am beginning to understand his role better. John was quoting one of his favourite world-changers, Vaclav Havel. The quote was, “Education is the ability to perceive the hidden connections between disparate phenomena.” All of a sudden I realized that that is what John does: he helps people see the connections between ideas and fields of study that are not normally seen as fitting together – the harmony that exists among otherwise isolated musical notes. He is a harmonizer, and that is what empowers him to be a catalyst.

Over the past two weeks, I have seen John draw on evolutionary biology, brain research, military history, educational history, anthropology, sociology, and economics to illustrate important points about our education system. Despite the complexity associated with such unity of knowledge, people get it. John has a magical way of twisting these ideas together in a gentle narrative that makes it all so accessible, without removing any of the rigour that is the foundation of his message. He has spoken now with parents, university professors, high school and university students, Montessori educators, principals, teachers, education assistants, and school trustees. He has been on our evening news, and he has shared the stage with the BC Minister of Education, George Abbott (his long lost cousin?), before 450 people. His messages, synthesizing and memorable, have been tweeted and retweeted. After every presentation he makes, he is surrounded by mobs of people who have more questions for him, or who just want to share their ideas and recount their own experiences.

While he has been in BC, John has seen his schedule change considerably as his message gains momentum. This is partially due to incredible timing: BC is right now contemplating its own future in terms of educational policy. We are exploring in earnest how our system could be transformed to better meet the needs of our children and adolescents, and how we could help our children and adolescents better meet the needs of our world today. We may very well have the perfect storm of grassroots support, political will, and bold leadership to take us to a whole new place.

I know we are all looking forward to seeing what the next week brings. Things continue to gain momentum, and John finds himself being swept along in a current that is largely of his own creation. I feel privileged to be a part of what is happening in BC right now, and I owe much of that feeling to John. I believe that we will look back on this three-week visit as an important time in the history of BC Education, and, therefore, in the history of BC as a world-leading jurisdiction. Our thanks go to John the synthesizer, the storyteller, the catalyst, the connector, the harmonizer.

Jeff Hopkins is Superintendent of the Gulf Islands School District, British Columbia.

A headmaster's perspective on UK primary education in 2012

February 13, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

Pete Mountstephens is a headteacher at St Stephen’s School in Bath in the UK. He has been a headteacher for more than 20 years and in that time has led three very different schools ranging from the most challenging of inner city schools to real high expectation schools in leafy lane settings.

We caught up with Pete to get his thinking on the current state of UK primary education, which along with all areas of UK education is currently undergoing a lot of change.

The role of education in society has become more important than ever in helping provide children with a sense of worth as some of society’s traditional bedrocks, such as the family, royal family, church and politicians are weakened, he says.

But in order to do this the curriculum needs to provide teachers and schools with widest widest range of learning based on children’s needs. And pitching school against school is also unhelpful, he says.

“Policy makers and legislators need to understand that education is about relationships about love, it is a deep and complex organic thing and to nail it down to a few facts and to quality assure it on whether or not children can regurgitate those facts  is to damn the whole beast by a rather simplistic measuring model.”

Pete is also a trustee of the 21st Century Learning Initiative and is interested in educational research and also the wider implications of multi-disciplinary research on the way we educate young children.


Prague ELMLE Conference

February 1, 2012 in Born to Learn, Uncategorized

John Abbott’s January presentation in Prague is available to download as a PDF or Powerpoint or view here . . .

John Abbott’s keynote to the European League of Middle Level Education

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