On the 5th of February, 1676, Sir Isaac Newton penned a letter to Robert Hooke. In the letter, Newton wrote “if I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants.” The wonderful quote did not originate with Newton but the meaning to me is so clear. No matter what we do in our lives, in our work, if we are making progress, if we are “seeing further” it indeed is because of all those who have contributed to our work, our beliefs, and our practice. Our current success is due to those who have come before and paved the way.
Recently, we have been extremely fortunate in Surrey to be recognized for two major achievements. The first is the Cmolik Prize for Enhancement of Public Education in British Columbia and the second is the International Society for Technology in Education’s Sylvia Charp Award for innovative uses of technology by a district. The ISTE award is the first time a school or district outside of the United States has been recognized. We applied not to celebrate “Surrey”; we applied because we wanted to celebrate ALL the wonderful work that happens in school districts around BC. We want to champion public education and we want to tell people that here in BC, our teachers and districts are doing amazing work. But why is the work so wonderful? Well, that’s a story of standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants from places big and small, giants from places near and far, giants who have helped BC shape who we are and who have clarified the beliefs for which we stand.
I cannot name the giants. There are many and any list will do injustice or be unfair to what is the work of a collective rooted in a series of complex and interconnected networks of practice. My own personal view is that there are foundational beliefs to public education in BC that make us who we are. These beliefs unfold in practice that consistently has us showing up among the list of the strongest educational systems in the world. Although I have not seen it defined in any literature, it certainly appears that we may be the highest performing multicultural jurisdiction in the world. These beliefs that guide us are honed and refined by communities of practice that challenge us to keep our sights high. We raise the bar and challenge ourselves to be better every single time we sit down together and engage in the powerful processes of collaborative inquiry. We do it often, we do it well, and I don’t think there is any more effective professional development than that which we do together. Students as well can and are part of the processes as we work and learn together. I sat in a grade 12 social justice class this week and the ways in which they described their lived experiences were profound and moving.
I have seen this fantastic work in districts all over BC. There are people who have their heads down, don’t say a word and humbly change the lives of children every day. BC is enormous geographically. I grew up and have worked in some places very small both on Vancouver Island and mainland; the challenges of geography, resources, and connections are not lost on me. On a humorous note, I googled a town where I once lived in the interior and the first hit was “List of Ghost Towns of British Columbia.” I decided to close the link and moved on.
Wherever I have had the opportunity to listen to teachers and administrators about schools and practice, I continue to be inspired by what BC offers. There is an unwavering commitment to children, to diversity, to inclusion, to access, to equity. However, I am also reminded that we constantly need to clarify, articulate, describe, and action our beliefs. There must be a praxis, a philosophy in action – which was the intent of my blog and its name. Of course, we also know that our work will never be done. We will never be satisfied with where we are. We know our work is both a continuous struggle and an inspiration. This is the fight we have chosen. The fight for a better society through quality public education.
This blog is only to say that I am proud of the work we do in BC and that our recent local acknowledgement is really so much more about our collective work in British Columbia and the giants who have come before from all places and from all walks. I also believe that each of us have our own list of giants. What a wonderful thing it would be to gather people from all over BC, to discuss and clarify our beliefs, our values that make this such a great place and then to acknowledge all those who have come before. In many cases, their work has been very quiet, but so very powerful.
Finally, as I watch the next generation come into the classroom as teachers, as administrators, I also wonder, who are the giants of the next generation? Who will carry the torch? Are we equally strategic about calling on our current list of powerful educators but making sure that we include those who will still be doing this work twenty years from now? It is our obligation not only to acknowledge and honour the work of the past, but to carefully shepherd the work of the future. That work may be in the hands of someone in your grade 5 class right now. The torch bearer may be a new teacher, or s/he might be one of the students. We cannot predict the future. Only time will tell on whose shoulders we will stand to see how our collective work has been championed.