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Viewpoints: Put us in, coach!

January 26, 2016 Mark Ramsankar, ATA President

How did you celebrate the passing of 2015? Did you count blessings, toast your family, friends and colleagues, health or general well-being? Did you reflect on the past year, the trials and tribulations, the victories or shortfalls, where you were then and where you are now?

I have taken the time to reflect on the past year and have received no arguments when I’ve suggested that the change in provincial government that occurred on May 5 was the most significant event. At the time, the opportunities seemed limitless. There was a sense of hope that was greater than anything I’ve experienced in my ATA life. I believed that meaningful change in our education system was possible. I still believe that, but I’ve also come to understand that it will take time. Even so, May 5
seems like forever ago and I find myself growing impatient as I wait for the government to address many outstanding education issues.

The 2015 SLA experience seemed closer to a rebranding or a tinkering of a flawed pilot rather than an implementation leading to meaningful change and support for teachers and students. And reports from the field regarding results of the C2 program have not been positive. There has also been no visible movement on important files like curriculum, assessment and support for inclusion, and reduction of teacher workload (results of the “independent” study on teacher workload are still not in).

On top of all that, communication between the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the department of education has diminished, and consultation with the profession has not happened in meaningful ways. I can’t help feeling, at times, that we are experiencing poor past practice instead of moving forward and shaping our future. Are we subject to implementation of initiatives by the same people using the same strategies? Where is the consultation? Where is the leadership?

I view leadership as action in the face of opportunity. A leader creates leadership opportunities and also responds to them when they arise. Education leaders, through their vision, take the time to develop strategies, consult with and motivate others, and complete tasks to move organizations toward organizational goals.

Let me be clear, the government has provided leadership in maintaining full per capita funding for students even as it wrestles with a very tough financial situation. It has taken steps to solve a decades-old problem by enacting a bi-level bargaining structure. It has promised more initiatives to come, including school nutrition programs. All these steps have come before it has introduced its first full budget.

Untapped potential

As a leader in our own right, the Alberta Teachers’ Association has invested a great deal of time and expertise in our strategic planning and goal setting. We have also shared our views on the direction that we feel education could and should go in our province. More importantly, however, we have a way to get there, through our Great Schools for All document, which we have also shared.

The Association has so much to offer, and we have historically demonstrated a willingness to work with government and other education partners to achieve changes in our province. Other governments and education pundits from around the globe recognize the Alberta Teachers’ Association as the teachers’ organization that others around the world aspire to be. I have just returned from New Zealand where I was invited to speak about the structure of the ATA and how we function to participate in meaningful change in public education.

So, considering that we are recognized across Canada and around the world as leaders in education, why are we sidelined in our own province? Our own government hasn’t shown a willingness to consult and work with the Association and, in some instances, has even demonstrated a lack of respect for teachers as professionals.

If the profession is to support the implementation of education policy, it needs to have an opportunity to provide input. The government cannot continue to introduce initiatives piecemeal throughout the province. Working together, we must consider systemic changes that fully support Alberta’s teachers and classrooms. Directing, controlling and managing teachers and the profession is an old approach by an old regime, one that we did not expect to continue with a change in government.

My hope is that, a year from now when I look back on 2016, I’ll be able to celebrate government actions on the major education files that were idle for too long, reflect on the meaningful discourse that’s taken place between the education ministry and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and celebrate the positive changes we made together. I hope to look back on 2016 with my colleagues in public education and say, “We really did make a difference; what a great year that was!”

After all, a new year is supposed to be a time to celebrate. ❚

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