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Q & A: New leadership dedicated to maintaining level of excellence

February 13, 2018 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: Dennis, what change can members expect to see now that you have taken over the role of executive secretary while, at the same time, new people are also in place as associate and assistant executive secretary (Brian Andrais and Joni Turville, respectively).

Answer: The short answer is “not much and everything.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is much bigger than one person or even three people, regardless of their titles. Members can be assured that staff throughout the organization will continue to do their very best to serve and support teachers. The day-to-day work will continue to be done and to be done to the level of excellence expected of what Education International president Fred Van Leeuwen has described as the best teachers’ organization in the world.

At the same time, however, the Association cannot stand still. The retirement of Gordon Thomas and several other staff officers of long standing marks a generational transition and provides us the opportunity and challenge to reassess what we are doing and how we are doing it. Processes and standards for the operation of a complex $36 million per year enterprise like the Alberta Teachers’ Association are evolving and we must keep up.

But outside the walls of the Association, the nature of teaching and the social, political and economic milieu within which we practice our profession are changing as well. We need to understand, anticipate and respond to these changes.

One specific example is the very dynamic political situation in the province. As we approach a general election in the spring of 2019, Albertans will need to weigh the merits and platforms of several parties, some new to the political scene. The next election will be a competitive affair, and I anticipate we are in for some raucous campaigning. Teachers, regardless of their personal political affiliations, will want their Association to ensure one clear message is sent and heard above the din: “Public education is vital to this province’s future and must be supported and funded accordingly!”

On the economic front, teachers also will want to see the Association working to improve their conditions of professional practice and employment even in the face of threatened austerity and “compassionate cuts.” Our capacity to respond effectively at the bargaining table and in the public arena depends on building the involvement and commitment of members.

We are continuing to see the emergence of new challenges relating to inclusion, diversity and increased incidents of violence in the classroom. In each of these instances, the Association will continue to lead principled and constructive efforts to identify the practices, policies and resources necessary to address these challenges.

At the same time, teachers will have to adapt their practice to respond to new practice standards and curriculum. They will expect their Association to continue to advocate for appropriate support from the province and their employers. Teachers will also want the Association to be active in delivering relevant professional development in a variety of forms and venues.

In the weeks ahead, teachers will have an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed Association

budget for 2018/19 (posted now for members at As you go through the budget, you will note that the Association’s elected leadership has attempted to anticipate and address the issues I have identified above in a focused and material way. I encourage you to engage in a thoughtful dialogue with your district representatives and table officers about the budget to provide them with direction that they can then provide to me.

So, everything is changing and that is nothing new. What is constant is the commitment of my colleagues and me to our profession, our Association and to you.

I want to conclude by acknowledging and thanking now retired executive secretary Gordon Thomas who, in my 17 years with the Association, has provided me with practical advice, wisdom and friendship. I can’t pretend to be Gordon, but with your support and that of my colleagues, I can be the very best Dennis I can be. ❚

Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (

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