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Principal Message

Archived Principal Message: April 2015

Glendale School Michelle Speight






“Finland’s remarkable educational story…is both informative and inspiring for others because it shows that with appropriate effort sustained over time, a country can make huge improvements for its young people, something that all countries aspire to do.”
~Ben Levin, Canada Research Chair, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Student Success= Society and Schools Performing Harmoniously

  • What makes some education systems successful?
  • Why do some education systems fail to get better?

This month, I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Association of Principals’ Summit on Educational Leadership.  The conference offered many opportunities for dialogue on innovation in school leadership. Innovative principals and district leaders from around the world shared their stories with over 850 conference delegates.  Thought leaders such as Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, Dennis Shirley and Simon Breakspear challenged delegates to extend beyond current leadership practices and to consider what great teachers and leaders do differently to create successful educational systems.

Notably, many school systems around the world are seeking insight into education reform. Keynote speaker, and winner of the 2013 Grawemeyer Award in Education,Pasi Sahlberg spoke passionately about the Finnish School system, which has been identified as the leading educational system in the world by PISA (Program for International Student Assessment).

Rather than proposing that other nations follow in Finland’s path, Pasi Sahlberg speaks passionately about how Finland’s school system has achieved outstanding success without going through “the arduous and controversial process of implementing competition, school choice, and test-based accountability.” (Sahlberg)

In his keynote address, Sahlberg identified several important considerations when exploring why some educational systems are more effective than others. Most importantly, Sahlberg speaks to the fact that “system excellence requires that the entire society performs harmoniously.” In this discussion, Sahlberg identified what he calls the “visible” and “invisible factors” which lead to student success.

Visible Factors: Society Conditions

Sahlberg describes “Society Conditions”   as the visible factors outside of education that have tremendous impact on the state of any education system.   These society conditions include the prevalence of:

  • Innovation
  • Good Governance
  • Child Health and Wellbeing
  • Political Empowerment of Women
  • A Healthy State of Mothers in that Society

Invisible Factors: Smart School Leadership

Sahlberg describes “smart school leadership” as the invisible and sometimes overlooked, factors that are critical within a school building that contribute to student success.  In this discussion, Sahlberg explains that in Finland, the following values are implicitly upheld in all Finnish schools:

  • Play and Creativity Matters: Opportunities to construct knowledge, collaborate and share with one another, learning through doing
  • Equity Matters: All students have an opportunity to succeed and are valued
  • Teachers Matter
  • Leadership matters

So what does this mean for Glendale school?  As I pondered the discussion about visible and invisible factors that lead to student success, I can’t help but reflect upon my role as an instructional leader and ultimately my role as a citizen within our society to ensure that all children are successful.  So many visible factors can seem beyond our individual control when it comes to the complex decisions our government must make around how supports and services are allocated to our society.  In particular, decisions around how funds are allocated to public sectors such as education are of special interest to all educators and parents at this time of year.

At the end of the day, together with our families, the staff at Glendale School can have some sense of control over are the so-called invisible factors that affect student success.  As an example, by living the inquiry based learning approach to learning at Glendale School, we are embracing what international thought leaders describe as “the key to student success in the 21st century.”  Inquiry based learning is grounded on the belief that all children have preparedness, potential, curiosity, and interest in engaging in social interaction, establishing relationships, constructing their learning, and negotiating with everything the environment brings to them.  Our teachers are deeply aware of each child’s potential and construct all their work and the environment of the children’s experience to respond appropriately.  Each child is curious, wondrous about learning, filled with potential, and possesses many talents, skills and abilities because of the tireless commitment all staff have to our work together.  Our work in inquiry based learning and its alignment to the thoughts shared on school reform by some of the most influential thought leaders in education is indeed deeply reaffirming for all of the staff at Glendale School. 

As parents, your ongoing and harmonious support in this work is what makes our students so highly successful.  We can’t thank you enough for your contributions to student success each day.

Most sincerely,
Michelle Speight
Proud Principal of Glendale School

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