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Professional collegiality at risk in Alberta

May 31, 2016 Harlan James, ATA News Staff
Executive secretary Gordon Thomas

Collegiality as an organizing principle across the teaching profession in Alberta is at risk, executive secretary Gordon Thomas warned delegates gathered at the Annual Representative Assembly in Calgary on the May long weekend.

Alberta schools have historically been very collegial places and continue to be so, but there are signs of that collegiality eroding.

“Increasingly, our members are reporting concerns with superintendents and some central office teachers,” Thomas said. “The bottom line is this: school systems are becoming less collegial places.”

Thomas said the problem is that some central office teachers see themselves as management, whose role is to direct teachers, thus rejecting the notion of a teaching profession.

“These individuals view teachers as employees ready for direction by management, not self-actualized professional teachers ready to act,” Thomas said.

He suggested that the problem can be traced to the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS), which doesn’t believe that its members — superintendents and central office teachers who have opted out of active membership in the Alberta Teachers’ Association — are members of the teaching profession.

“They are members of their own profession of system leaders. They reject membership in the teaching profession because they are management, not colleagues,” he said.

These individuals reject the notion that they should be subject to teachers’ Code of Professional Conduct and find “unfathomable” the concept of teacher employees setting and enforcing professional conduct and practice standards that would apply to “the bosses.”

“It’s the employees directing management, and that’s just not in the cards,” Thomas said.

Finally, he said, these system leaders reject the Association’s role of governing the profession, as set out in the Teaching Profession Act.

For its part, the teaching profession has a more positive view of its central office counterparts.

“We view superintendents and other senior central office teachers as absolutely vital members of the profession, who have important leadership roles in the profession, roles that should be embraced, but this is very difficult when the CASS view is that we are not members of the same profession. This is a problem,” Thomas said.

How teachers are governed has an impact on the classroom, said Thomas, citing Finland as an example of a jurisdiction where teachers are highly regarded and the profession is united. The result is a culture in which everyone collaborates in an “intensely collegial” manner to support teachers in meeting students’ learning needs. The overall focus is on student achievement.

“So colleagues, if you are wondering why you are seeing more top-down initiatives from your superintendent or some senior central office staff members, the answer is clear. Many superintendents characterize their job or their leadership as directing teachers, not creating opportunities for collegial decision making or providing support to teachers,” Thomas said.

The problem with this management approach is that it leads to a union response, and rather than using the professional umbrella of collegiality to work together, everything becomes contentious, from management rights to teachers’ roles, who will do which work and when, Thomas said.

“A significant reason for the success of the Alberta education system is our collegial relationships, but these are being eroded significantly in ways that compromise the integrity of the profession and the security of the system,” he said.

“Frankly, it is not acceptable and we will be having further discussions, including with government. How teachers are governed makes a very real difference.” ❚

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