Interview with Aaron Harris

Published: May 29, 2018

Recently, Ontario introduced a new curriculum that included significant changes. How were you able to support teachers in making sense of the changes and in making the necessary shifts in their practice?

What is your current role and context?

Aaron Harris
Aaron Harris

I am a learning coordinator at the district level. My portfolio includes Social Studies (1-6), History and Geography (7&8), Canadian and World Studies (9-12) and Social Sciences and Humanities (9-12). I am responsible for the design and implementation/facilitation of professional development programs within my portfolio. I am also a liaison between classroom teachers and Learning Support Services within our Education Centre. Being in this role has allowed me to foster collaboration amongst the subject associations within my portfolio. I have been able to facilitate multiple collaborative inquiries that involved both elementary and secondary teachers. The most common requests from teachers when it comes to major changes like the curriculum revisions of 2013 and 2015 are time to process the changes and opportunities for sharing in order to make the transition to the new curriculum easier. Having this role has given me the ability to grant those requests on a regular basis.

What inspired you to engage with critical, creative and collaborative thinking?

I first discovered TC²’s work early in my career as a secondary history teacher. I recognized the value of critical, creative and collaborative thinking in my own classroom because I saw the impact that these types of thinking could have on student engagement and learning. When I assumed my current role, I saw an opportunity to partner with TC² so that more teachers could experience the positive effects that TC²’s ideas and concepts had on me and my students for the previous 8 years. I asked Usha to run a full-day session with secondary history teachers and the response was so positive that I knew a partnership was the right choice. The curriculum revision also presented an opportunity for us to explore courses using a different lens, with the increased focus on disciplinary thinking skills, which pair so nicely with TC²’s work.

Describe the most memorable highlights of your journey with the Critical Thinking Consortium.

PD group

I have really enjoyed being able to attend so many of the PD sessions and my own understanding of critical thinking has increased dramatically--I am very excited to implement what I have learned when I return to the classroom in September. It has been great to be able to provide teachers with the opportunity to really dig into the revised curriculum with a thinking lens, versus one that focuses strictly on content. I feel that my own comfort with the curriculum increased, as did the comfort levels of our participants.

Another memorable highlight has been being able to review teachers’ exit cards. We have asked that teachers complete these at each session to better inform where we need to go next and what types of support they require. We began to provide exit cards at the beginning of the sessions so that teachers could capture their thoughts and reflections in "real time," instead of trying to reflect back at the end of a session. Their feedback has let me know that the sessions have helped them to improve their practice, which has a positive impact on their students. Veteran teachers (20+ years of experience) have reported that these sessions represent the best professional development of their careers, which is a powerful endorsement.

Share an interesting example of the impact of the TC² framework.

PD garfield

A lightning bolt moment for many teachers has occurred when we look at the curriculum cascade for the first time. The power of revealing the critical challenge first, or early, in the learning so students have context and purpose in mind during the lessons has really resonated with our participants. Many teachers have indicated that this concept has completely changed the way they plan units and even entire courses.

What on-going issue remains the most problematic to address?

The missing link for me/us has been determining the impact on student learning beyond anecdotal reporting. After a PD session finishes, we are hopeful that the ideas are implemented and that students benefit from this implementation. It’s really difficult to gauge the magnitude of impact on students. This is something that I suspect will be addressed as we continue our partnership.

What is the most important collaborative goal for your team in the coming year?

I would like to see increased emphasis on "action and application." Our sessions so far have focused on teachers learning about how to embed critical, creative and collaborative thinking in their classes, which has proven to be very beneficial; however, I would like to see a "Level 2" type of opportunity presented to teachers that would involve them creating and sharing materials based on their learning from the introductory sessions that they attended.