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  • Writer's pictureZoe Branigan-Pipe

Have our teaching practices fundamentally changed? Looking back.

by Zoe Branigan-Pipe

In the decade (or more) since I spoke at TedX Ontario, the landscape of education has undergone numerous changes. But this evolution prompts crucial questions that we, as educators, must continually consider.

I invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the comments.

How have classrooms transformed since 2010? Since you started teaching? Since you were a student? If you've been a student during this period, have you experienced a shift towards more modern teaching methods? For educators, have you noticed a difference in the way schools are managed and led
Do you observe any significant changes in leadership styles within educational institutions? Are leaders adopting more collaborative and distributive approaches, or are traditional models still prevalent?
I invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, or questions in the comments. Your perspective is crucial in painting a broader picture of the state of education today. Whether you're a student, teacher, administrator, or simply an observer of educational trends, your input is greatly valued. Let's engage in a meaningful dialogue to understand how far we've come and where we might be heading.

These questions are not just rhetorical; they are a call to introspect and evaluate the impact of our educational strategies. Have we moved beyond traditional paradigms, or..

...are we merely circling back to old methods with new tools? Old methods because we don't have the tools?

My thoughts (just a few for now).

Inquiry and Experiential Methods - Progressed forward!

Reflecting on my journey as a teacher, I recall the daunting task of defining my educational philosophy (back in early 2000). I realized that my approach was driven by inquiry - from the onset as a teacher and as a student. Unlike traditional methods focused on memorization, I thrived on questioning and exploring knowledge independently. It is probably why I, struggled so much in school subjects that required me to listen/watch and learn - rather than experience.

I'd say that our system overall has EMBRACED this approach. We see this in our newest curriculum, our teacher education programs (pre-service and continuing teacher education).

I've been incredibly fortunate over the years to work with leaders who are innovative and creative and willing to support approaches that diverge from traditional models.

It is reassuring that we, as a profession, recognize that Inquiry and experiential learning programs as vital to student learning and development in the 21st century. Looking back a decade or so.. an inquiry / experiential approach resonated deeply with the themes at TedX Ontario on April 9, 2010. Speakers like Ray Zhab from Impossible2Possible, Lee LeFever of Commoncraft, Danika Tipping, Dr. Kathy Hibbert -and other education Pioneers - emphasized experiential learning, the importance of context, and the transformative power of inquiry, doing, participating - and emphasizing student voice and agency. I wonder if these folks feel things have moved in the right direction.

TedX Ontario -was my FIRST experience sharing my classroom so widely. It feels vulnerable now because I am different and have grown so much as an educator, leader, and person. But, my pedagogies remain the same -


  • Get students to collaborate on a global scale.

  • Use land-based, experiential and inquiry-based teaching methods that connect culture, history and people.

  • Make learning meaningful (and fun) for ALL students.

My experience at TedX (2010) talked about broadening my students' experiences by having them collaborate and learn from a global perspective using Skype, and online collaboration tools.

*How much have we progressed since this time?

Are we still being supported to collaborate in this way? What tools are we using to connect classrooms globally? (FlipGrid, Podcasting, social networking). Are your students using BLOGGING software? How is this supported in your district, school?

Assessment - Progressed forward, but work to do!

As a whole, we are embracing flexible and UDL approaches to assessment. Of course, we still have a ton of work to do in this area since our higher education institutions are still driven by grades, and so many governments use standardized testing scores as funding formulas or for teacher hiring. This is its blog post! There is much to discuss here.

Tools and Resources in the Classroom - Positive Change/Progress?

Yes and No. Unfortunately, this has not progressed in my small space in the world but has declined overall. Not because I don't want to use creative tools and technologies, nor because the PD and Learning aren't out there—but because the tools that were purchased and distributed 10 years ago are old, and many have not been replaced. Ipads that cannot be updated, computers that are clunky and slow, robotics or 3D printers that were not serviced, and smartboards sitting in storage rooms.

The pandemic certainly played a role. Tools that were distributed didn't always return. Budgets were reallocated. PD was impacted. School Culture and health and wellness were impacted.

Equity, Inclusion, CRRP: Positive Change/Progress?

As a seasoned educator navigating the corridors of K-12 education and steering the ship of a Continuing Teacher Education Program, I'm heartened, truly, by the evolving landscape of our educational dialogue. Cast your mind back a decade or more—conversations about inclusive practices in our schools existed in pockets, but they were quiet. Now, these discussions are not just happening; they're taking center stage, and that's a reason to wear a smile.

Change and Progress - something I've been advocating for my entire career. We're currently in the thick of some pretty thorny dialogues, especially when facing resistance from certain community and parent factions. It seems there's a bit of discontent, for instance, anti-LGBTQ+ groups who are raising their eyebrows at the role of such topics in our schools and curriculum. It is a complex issue and fraught with so much misunderstanding - it worries me. Fortunately, School boards and districts aren't just sitting on their hands; they're actively recruiting equity and inclusion mavens, rolling out training and professional development (PD) sessions that shine a light on Indigenous History, and embracing the path of Truth and Reconciliation. The Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) and the Ontario Ministry of Education aren't just nodding along; they're prioritizing Equity Policies and weaving these crucial threads into the very fabric of our curriculum.

The road ahead is long – I think it is a marathon, not a sprint. There's a mountain of work to do, but I can't help but feel a buzz of excitement about our conversations about equity and the fact that the voices for inclusion are strong. This isn't just a fleeting trend; it's a fundamental shift in our educational ethos, and those who value human rights for all - will indeed prevail. We're not just teaching math and science here; we're sculpting a more understanding, compassionate and inclusive world, one lesson at a time.

Yet, the big question remains: Are we truly embracing progressive educational methods that focus on equity? Are we being supported to do so?
Have our teaching practices fundamentally changed? Are the resources and tools we employ today genuinely enhancing the learning experience? UDL? CRRP?
Has there been a significant shift towards more distributive and collaborative methods of leadership in education? How much voice and agency do teachers have in decision making at a school or district?
Are we effectively collaborating beyond the confines of traditional classrooms? The advent of digital learning tools suggests a shift towards global collaboration, but is this shift substantive or superficial?

As educators, we must continually challenge ourselves to adapt to changes and drive them. The inquiry approach, emphasizing student-driven learning and problem-solving, is a testament to the potential of education to evolve. It reminds us that our role is not just to impart knowledge but to nurture each student’s unique journey of discovery and understanding.

I hope to engage in more discussion.

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