Best Possible Most Richly Imagined Future

Rather than continue a number of conversations in Twitter DMs about my last post, If There Has Been No Learning, I thought I would clarify a few things here.

I have been incredibly fortunate to learn from two women, who both went on to be Chief Student Achievement Officers for the Province of Ontario.

Mary Jean Gallagher told me that schools must be places where children can realize their “best possible, most richly-imagined future” (Jan. 17, 2014, Toronto)

In 2017, we recognize that the world is changing rapidly.  Meaningful employment will require skills we can barely imagine. We recognize that excellent inclusive and responsive teaching moves children forward in their learning, preparing them for rapid change.

Because this really is the most important measure of accountability isn’t it? That this school, this system, is the very best place for your child to learn on this day, and this school and this system is innovating in every way possible to ensure your child’s gifts are uncovered, nurtured, scaffolded and unleashed.

I learned many years ago, from Cathy Montreuil (current Chief Student Achievement Officer for Ontario*) that every student needs a personalized learning plan. If you we’re to walk into a classroom and “freeze” the room, for every child we should be able to ask, “What is she/he doing?”, and “Why is he/she doing it?”.  The answers to those questions must be to meet the individual learning needs of the student, based on observation, conversation, or other assessment information.

Assessment data + Thinking, collaborating teacher + Technology

Accurate assessment data, in the hands of a thinking, networked, collaborative teacher, using technology to personalize learning  and engage students can change the life trajectory for a child.

It’s not okay for any child to be stuck and not learning.  As teachers, we don’t have to do this alone.  But our role is not social worker or recreation convenor, it’s teacher.

Student LEARNING is our work.

Online collaboration is powerful when it leads to improved student learning.

Instead, though, we often see lots of agreement that certain ideas are great, or awesome, or amazing, with lots of retweets and cheerleading, even podcasts and presentations.  They make us “feel good”, and in an online world where feelings are more important than facts, where we can “like” posts but not “agree” with posts, we can forget to think critically about the value of the information.

Stephen Katz outlines this phenomenon in The Learning Conversations Protocol

If you truly believe that what you walk by you promote, then perhaps stopping to think critically before promoting or curating the work of others is worth considering.

We see practitioners like Aviva Dunsiger who put student learning at the centre of her reflections and classroom sharing, and she frequently links her thinking and comments back to the Kindergarten Curriculum Document.


But often, we see teachers sharing activities, without any evidence of student learning.  Before promoting or curating this work, you might ask:

What curriculum expectations does this address?

What learning needs are met by this approach?

What evidence is there that this is an effective strategy for student learning?

What are the limitations of this strategy or approach?


Teaching is challenging and complex work.  Ensuring that every single child can reach his or her best possible, most richly-imagined future takes enormous dedication and continuous learning on the part of every educator.  The quality of that professional learning impacts the trajectory of our kids.  As educators, we now have loud and influential voices.  Let’s use those voices to ask good questions before we curate and promote the work of others.



*Update February 2018 – Cathy Montreuil is the Deputy Minister of Education for the Province of Nova Scotia

Featured image by Dyaa Eldin on Unsplash


4 thoughts on “Best Possible Most Richly Imagined Future

  1. “Student LEARNING is our work.”

    I agree Donna but I would add that student AND TEACHER learning is our work. The rest of your post supports this as well. We need to be learning about and WITH our students every day and in very explicit, visible and deliberate ways.
    Thanks for starting this conversation!

  2. Agreed. Thanks so much for adding this. I will actually revise the original post based on your suggestions because that is the work, most definitely.

    Thanks for taking the time to add to the thinking here. I always enjoy learning with you!


  3. Another terrific post Donna. I wish we could have worked together, I learn so much from you. Your focus on keeping an intellectual discourse going is so important. Yes, there is too much of ‘awesome’ and ‘I agree!!’ on social media. We need serious discussion and good ideas – like your posts. These posts also need to be supported by comments. One point about teachers and social work – I agree that the job of the teacher is to teach students. As a principal, my job was mostly social work and community organizing. However, I saw this role as a way to support teachers in the work that they did. Teachers shouldn’t be the social worker, but administrators need to step up to do this important work in their schools.

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