Teachers demonstrate Commitment to professional learning

October 19, 2011

Letter to the Editor

Teachers demonstrate Commitment to professional learning

As the October 21st provincial specialist association day approaches, there has been much discussion about what teachers do on professional development days. I felt it was important to share what professional development really looks like in Surrey, the largest school district in the province, and debunk some of the myths about what teachers do on Pro D days.

Firstly, teachers asked for Pro-D days to be added to the school calendar. These extra days were added in 1971 to the regular allotted teaching days and without any extra pay. This meant students still received the same amount of instruction and teachers had time within the school year to share, learn and collaborate regarding their teaching practice.

Funding for the professional development activities teachers engage in comes from several sources. Some funding is provided by our employer. In Surrey, our collective agreement provides each teacher with approximately $95 per year to engage in professional development activities of their choice. The use of these funds is regulated by specific professional development policies adopted by our members. With this small amount of money, we work hard to develop and support excellent opportunities and programs for teachers.

Additional financial support for professional development is provided by the union. The Surrey Teachers’ Association allocates approximately $75 per full-time teacher to support professional development. This funding, from members’ dues, is used to support committees, workshops, research projects, conferences, and programs.

In every school, there is a professional development committee run by volunteers. This committee designs school-based professional development activities and distributes information about upcoming conferences and workshops. They also provide pre-approval for the use of the professional development funds in accordance with policy. Professional development activities listed in this policy include: attending workshops and conferences, observing and discussing other teachers’ programs, watching professional videos, reading professional books/journals, and collaborating with colleagues.

The union coordinates on-going professional development projects. Teachers involved in these projects meet several times during the year. Many of the projects are done in collaboration with our employer and in some cases are jointly funded. Programs such as the Teacher Inquiry Project and the Program for Quality Teaching are groundbreaking initiatives based on the newest research into delivering professional support. Teachers who participate in these programs rave about the experience because they encourage shared learning as well as focusing on specific areas in the classroom.

Every year in May, the union hosts a conference with professional development opportunities. A volunteer committee coordinates and plans more than 100 professional development workshops at several sites throughout the district. This is a unique conference, given its scope and size, and it is funded completely by union dues. Over the years, we have brought in key note speakers such as Alfie Kohn, notable author on education and parenting, David Bouchard, educator and best selling Canadian author, and Paul Shaker, former SFU Dean of Education.

New teachers to Surrey are supported by a workshop hosted by the STA, and we set aside funds so that our members can attend the BCTF New Teachers’ Conference. Additionally, the Surrey Teachers’ Association runs a mentorship program for new teachers. Teachers new to the district or who move into a new assignment are partnered with an experienced teacher-volunteer. The partners receive training as well as release time to work together. This initiative is also jointly funded by the union and the employer.

The union also provides funding for local specialist associations. LSAs are professional organizations aimed at providing professional support and leadership within a particular specialty or subject area. LSAs meet regularly with teachers, organize workshops and develop professional materials.

A key component to the success of our programs is that our professional development programs are teacher-initiated. The programs speak directly to the needs of teachers in the classroom and are not top-down initiatives; rather the topics and themes emerge from needs of those doing the work. We respond to requests from teachers and build programs that genuinely engage professionals in reflecting on and improving their practice. Students win because teachers are committed to implementing what they’ve learned in the classroom. As a result some of the most progressive and innovative teaching practice is happening in Surrey.

Professional development is something we take seriously. Our members are committed to being the best teachers they can be. The union supports members in achieving this outcome. So this Friday, as teachers across the province engage in professional development, you can be assured that the day has real value for teachers, their students and public education.

Yours truly,
Denise Moffatt
President
Surrey Teachers’ Association


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