Troy Media, 03 January 2017

Schools across Canada went to great lengths in 2016 to re-engage fidgety students in what may be known as the Year of Self-Regulation. Coping with today’s restless kids requires every conceivable pacifier, including spin bikes, exercise balls, wiggle stools and standup desks.

That’s why in my annual survey of the big five kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education issues, coping with today’s antsy students tops the list.

Mindfulness and self-regulation

High-anxiety educators have embraced the latest panacea, known as mindfulness, and are going whole hog into self-regulation of their students. American advocate Jon Kabat-Zinn has transformed Buddhist mindfulness into scientific-sounding teaching practise, and it’s actively promoted in Canada by York University’s Stuart Shanker. The approach represents the latest wave in what has been characterized as the pseudoscience of child behaviour management.

Self-regulation, one Alberta teacher told Global TV, “helps (students) with their focus, helps with their creativity, helps promote problem solving, gives them some way to self-regulate as they have a place to burn off energy or to gain energy as they need it.” An 11-year-old pupil heartily agreed: “In other classes, I’m sitting at desks and I’m bored.”

Teacher misconduct and discipline

A CBC-TV Marketplace investigation into teacher discipline in Canada’s provincial school systems in April 2016 revealed that only Ontario and British Columbia provide public access to teacher discipline records. Most of the other provinces conceal information from parents and the public. Fewer than 400 teaching certificates were revoked in Canada (outside Quebec) between 2005 and 2015, representing one in every 5,780 teacher certificates each year.

Concerned parents in Toronto and Fredericton, N.B., were alarmed to discover that problem teachers were regularly recycled by school systems and it could be impossible to find out if, or when, a teacher was punished for a serious offence such as sexual, physical or verbal misconduct.

Chronic student math woes

Ontario students, like those in most Canadian provinces, continued to struggle mightily in mathematics. Grade 4 Ontario students lagged behind 27 educational jurisdictions, landing in the middle of the pack in TIMSS 2015, a U.S.-based global study of math and science learning. Those startling TIMSS results came on the heels of a dismal showing from Grade 3 and 6 students on the latest provincial tests, with scores dropping to the lowest levels in more than 15 years.

Math standards advocates such as Teresa Murray of @FixONTmath claim that pumping $60 million more into a math strategy in Ontario might not make much of a difference without a return to teaching the fundamentals in the early grades.

B.C. class composition court ruling

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) won a critical Supreme Court of Canada decision in November that ended a union legal battle that started in 2002. It restored clauses that had been removed from the B.C. teachers’ contract by the Gordon Campbell Liberal government. Those clauses deal with class size, the number of special needs students in a class and the number of specialist teachers required in schools.

The ruling may have ramifications for contact negotiations across Canada. Teachers in Nova Scotia who are embroiled in a contract dispute took heart from the decision, which prohibits the stripping of working conditions and denying teachers of the right to bargain on those issues.

PISA 2015 test results fallout

Crowing about the showing of Canadian students in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report was widespread. The current chair of the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC), P.E.I. Education Minister Doug Currie, was first off the mark in December to trumpet the student results in the three subjects tested: science, reading and math.

The real devil was evident in the details, seen more clearly in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s profile for Canada. Yes, 15-year-olds in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec achieved some excellent results but, overall, mathematics scores were down, student results from province-to-province were decidedly lopsided – and nothing short of abysmal in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Our real success was not in performance, but rather in reducing the achievement gap adversely affecting disadvantaged students.

Final words of wisdom

We’re regularly told that there’s a mental health crisis afflicting our schools. Not so, says Canadian teen mental health expert Dr. Stan Kutcher of Dalhousie University: “We have to be very careful to differentiate the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in real life, which we have to learn to deal with and overcome … from those things which actually require treatment.”

May that lesson serve us well in the coming year.