Henderson Elementary School principal Kristen Brach and special education teacher Nicole Burnett recently returned from the Netherlands, where they had been invited to present to their Dutch colleagues on practices of inclusion and the new curriculum. The invitation came about after a large contingent of educators and administrators from Holland travelled to BC to observe local schools.
“They picked BC knowing we’ve been inclusive for many years now,” said Brach. “They had heard good things but wanted to see for themselves how the new curriculum and inclusion fit together.”
BC’s new curriculum was fully implemented in 2016, said Brach, and represents a big departure from previous education strategies.
“It’s more of a big idea approach,” she added. “You’re still focusing on the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy but also looking at teaching our kids critical thinking and problem-solving, and in a greater context than just ‘memorize these facts.’ Before it was very teacher centred and now its student centred.”
Inclusion refers to a school environment that welcomes all students, including those with special needs, to learn together.
The Dutch delegation was particularly inspired by what they saw at Henderson as it was the only school it invited to present in the Netherlands.
“They visited schools in the Lower Mainland and Powell River and a few weeks later they emailed and said they were really excited by what they saw at our school, that we had a very inclusive way of doing things and they’d love to bring us to the Netherlands to share our passion,” said Brach.
During the first week of spring break, Brach and Burnett travelled to the Helmond region of the country, visiting 11 schools, two special programs and making four presentations to various groups. They were featured as keynote speakers at a large symposium. People were eager to learn about the methods and practices employed at Henderson.
“They were so interested in what we had to say,” said Burnett. “It’s a drastic shift from what they have now.”
The Powell River educators said they returned from the experience having also gained insight. They were inspired by some of the technology they saw in the classrooms and smart uses of space found in the architectural designs of Dutch schools.
“It was a shared learning experience for sure,” said Brach, adding that the similarities between the countries are strong.
“We look at the challenges we face in education and even though we’re halfway across the world they have very similar challenges,” she added. “We’re all trying to do the same thing.”
Their Dutch hosts also took the Canadians to see the famous sights; neither had visited the country before.
“We went to Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft, Nuenen to see where Van Gogh painted,” said Burnett.
The experience left both educators inspired.
“It was fun on two levels. It was fun to be in that country and see someplace new,” said Brach. “But to be a part of a big educational initiative like that was so exciting.”