Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a few teachers and students on a trip to Finland to visit some schools, teachers, and students. In planning our journey we had a one-day layover in London, England and determined that we’d use that delay to go visit a 7-12 school in the suburbs of London. This process would require us to use the London subway/train system to get from our hotel to the school, about four transfers undertaken during the morning rush hour. Well over a million people moving across all those trains at that time and our little band of 7 from a community of 56,000 in northern Alberta set out the concur the Tube. It seemed like a daunting task as we planned it, and it was thrilling and a bit anxious as we operationalized it, made all our connections and safely arrived at the school. At each stop, as we waited, boarded, passed each station, departed and made a way one phrase echoed over and over, “mind the gap”.
Consider this map of the train run at it works and it meets the needs of all those who need to move across one of the great cities of the world, but truly – “mind the gap”.
It strikes me that everything about an inclusive education model is entirely about minding the gap but perhaps not quite in the way we might anticipate. The gap in my mind is extremely individual. It can be measured in the collective for sure as one explores one demographic group against another, but in truth, the key gap is that between where the individual student is now and where that specific student wants to be and can be (not always the same thing) on any given day.
What do you truly believe about the potential of the individual? My belief system suggests that we are all sons and daughters of God. This does not suggest that one religious belief system is right over another only that universally every single man and woman is a son or daughter of God. Just as we grow from childhood to adulthood in this life we have a spiritual and eternal potential that can be seen in our eternal spiritual parents.
So the effort to mind the gap and ultimately close the gap, that space between where I am today and where I can be in anything I undertake, is the work of the moment, the day, year and on into the eternities. Big and small picture stuff to be sure but isn’t that what core beliefs are all about? I think it is. On a personal level, it feeds into the statement that the more I know, the more I know I need to know more. At Grande Prairie Composite High School it led to contributing to and mindfully striving to live the school motto painted on the gym floor basketball boundary, “Everyone learning every day”. If any of us are going to close our personal gap, if we are going to help others work at attaining their potential we need to truly live a life of learning… every single day.
We have an educational system that truly was designed to meet a very specific end, an industrial model – even a factory model that assumes all students learn at the same pace. Witness the Carnegie Unit of 25 hours per “credit” of instruction and a historical norm of teachers setting dates for quizzes, unit exams, assignments and ultimately final exams under the assumption that all students learn at the same pace. The quadratics unit exam is next Wednesday, that’s when the train stops and you pass or fail, end of story. Stack on that the belief in practice that for some in education, and particularly some with a misguided notion of accountability through standardization that suggests all students learn the same way and the same rate of time or the division, school or teacher appears to have failed, at least in the eyes of the political/financial head. Advocates seem to believe all students are best assessed the same way, can share their knowledge the same way and for the convenience of a schedule complete their learning and are ready to move forward on the same day and time. It is a flawed and false mindset that rather than minding the gap, expands that gap at an individual and collective rate.
What gap are we to mind? I would suggest that there are multiple gaps, just as there are multiple stops along the London subway (Tube) system. There are gaps in our personal relationships. There are gaps between student marks at the simplest level, gaps in course selection, and achievement. There are gaps in identifiable groups based on ethnicity and gender in various courses and programs. There are gaps in support for students with high needs, gaps for students with high ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experience) scores. There are gaps in terms of students who could, with support, take and successfully complete more rigorous programming. There will always be gaps in our understanding and practice, the one eternal truth is that there will always be a need to learn and grow, for all of us. There are a lot of gaps.
I need to start with myself, I invite everyone to begin there. Perhaps our mind should turn to the gaps in our own lives, they clearly exist. Think of the very best you that you can imagine. Now think of you as you currently exist. What is the nature of that gap as you analyze where you are and where you want to be or could be? What’s being done to help close that gap for you as an adult? As a parent? As a teacher? As a son, daughter, husband, wife? What about each student as they reflect on the score they thought they could earn, the life they thought they could build for themselves and that gap?
Consider the gaps, accept the challenge to close the gaps you see in your own understanding and commit to being a support to those around you in whatever capacity. The process of minding and closing gaps in the process of development and growth that leads to the very best version of self and supports others in the same way. Mind the gap. Close the gap one hour, one day at a time.