'Educate children's hearts'

12th December 2008 at 00:00
Ontario's education commissioner says character is the key to attainment

Despite having stacks of charisma herself, Avis Glaze is sceptical about its value. "Leadership has to be about more than the personal qualities of a leader - charismatic people can wreak havoc," she said.

"In talking about leadership, we need to look at what people do, rather than what qualities they possess," Ontario's education commissioner told the Stirling audience at a one-day seminar on transformational leadership, organised by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

By these criteria, education leaders in the Canadian province - "one of the most diverse places on earth" - have been doing well in recent years. Standards have been rising steadily in the 5,000 public schools there as a result of the province's improvement programme Results Without Rancour or Ranking, the basis of which is a culture and system that supports the teachers.

Shame and blame is counter-productive, the former teacher believes - whether at school or individual level. "Ours is an approach that works and doesn't demoralise," she said. "Often if people are not improving it's a matter of skill, not will.

"We don't tolerate incompetence or lack of improvement. But we don't punish or inspect. We build capacity. We provide professional development.

"When I took over as education commissioner, 19 per cent of Ontario public schools were low-performing. Now the figure is 5 per cent. Our teachers and educators are motivated. Their energy and vitality has been unleashed."

Close parallels with A Curriculum for Excellence emerged when Dr Glaze talked about what can be done with this unleashed energy. "One of the most valuable initiatives of my 38 years in education is the work we've been doing on young people's character."

This had its origins in the stark lesson delivered by incidents of violence in North America and beyond - that schools were focused on academic standards but had no explicit remit to develop young people's character or to guide them to become responsible citizens and effective contributors in society.

"I began to wonder what we were doing to educate the hearts of our children," she said.

Dr Glaze, an assistant director of education at the time, organised meetings with community leaders in "business, religion, police, fire, education". She invited them to consider what kind of country they wanted, what kind of school system, and the qualities they would like to see in school-leavers.

"They came up with 10 attributes," she said. "We carried out the same exercise in other districts and they identified essentially the same 10 attributes."

When these efforts came to the attention of the government, it initiated a province-wide programme in which communities tried to develop attributes of good character.

"This is making a significant difference in our schools," said Dr Glaze. "It is not a new curriculum, it is a way of being.

"One of our schools had a new attendance system that malfunctioned. The vice-principal didn't discover until an hour after classes had begun that a teacher was absent. She imagined the students all fighting. But the class was calm. They had opened the teacher's day book and written an assignment on the board. They had rearranged their desks and the brightest students were helping the weaker ones.

"The vice-principal was amazed. She didn't imagine they would be so well-behaved without a teacher. They said: 'But Miss, what did you expect? We are a character class.'"

- Webcasts of Dr Glaze and others, plus Canadian education resources, are available at www.curriculum.org


The 10 attributes of good character promoted in Ontario schools are:











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