School Leadership, Technical Democracy and the Empty Horizon of Global Competence

Year: 2017

Author: Stiles, Jean, Johnson, Jeff, Couture, JC, Rutkowski, David, Sellar, Sam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This panel brings together Canadian educators, union leaders and Australian and European academics engaging with education politics and policy regarding teacher professionalisation, quality, equity and reconceptualising accountability in education contexts. In various ways, each of the papers speaks to what Ball (Mainardes, 2015, p.183) calls the "irrationality, messiness, of disorder, chaos" at the heart of education policy work. The first three presenters will review policy changes being proposed as they intersect with the work of school leaders in Alberta. The final paper considers how critical work regarding international large-scale assessments (ILSAs) has been placed in an invidious position. As policymakers and system leaders increasingly give credence to ILSAs to make judgements about performance, one impact has been the sidelining of critical voices at the policy level. The paper argues for a renewed focus on technical democracy to reinsert these critical voices when policy work is being done.
As outlined in Renewing Alberta's Promise - A Great School for All (Alberta Teachers' Association, 2015), the effort to shift to a competency-focussed curriculum built on a foundation of literacy and numeracy represents a combination of nostalgia and neo-liberal idealizations of the future of teaching and learning in Alberta, Canada. Examining the role of Alberta school leaders in advancing these often contradictory reform efforts will be the focus of this symposium in three intersecting domains: the problematic nature of the curriculum changes themselves; the need to mediate the existing accountability requirements; and the simultaneous introduction of practice standards for teachers and school and system leaders. These reform efforts are part of an ambitious $60 million curriculum renewal project to be conducted over the next 6 years. As Alberta's Education Minister David Eggen enthusiastically announced, "material will be developed to teach students financial literacy, climate change, the history of indigenous people and residential schools, and gender identity" (CBC News, 2016, June 6). Revealing even more of the government's ambitious vision, he went to on to offer the promise that "the department is looking at teaching computer coding to students" (CBC News, 2016, June 6). A few months later this agenda was amplified in further claims by another minister who reiterated that the new curriculum would ensure young people would be "Future Ready" (CBC News, 2026, October 18) in order to address the economic instabilities that the province was facing.
The symposium will illustrate that little will change if school and system leaders cannot pursue new "adventures of thought" (Sellar, 2015, p. 45) to "work upon" the political and social milieu in which we are currently inhabiting. This will require an encounter with chaos and a struggle against the dominant memes that prevent such meaningful encounters (Sellar, 2015, p. 45). Moving to this space of "an encounter" and "world-making" of agency will need to be imagined, rather than accepting and employing an overlay of predetermined pre-formed concepts to explain or represent the social (Sellar, 2015, p. 44).
Taken together, the gaps and fissures in the curriculum reforms, accountability architectures and professional practice standards offer a potential point of departure as expressed by Sellar (2015b) in what he, borrowing from Stengers (2005), described "as a line of escape from the Great Sad Problem of scientific reductionism, and the poisoning consequence; the very sad role accepted by philosophers when they see their task as that of defending human values, experience, or responsibility against reduction to scientific explanatory frameworks" (p. 47).