The Secretary Reports

December 7, 2010
Gordon Thomas

Hurry Up—Transform!

Education is at a crossroads in Alberta, and significant directional changes lie ahead. Central to these changes is the government’s interest in addressing special needs education more effectively; incorporating wraparound services; better focusing curriculum, learning resources and assessment; and advancing a more flexible delivery mechanism (in Alberta, this has been termed  “anywhere, anytime, anyplace and at any pace”).

The government wants to maintain Alberta’s well-earned reputation for success. Central to this will be increased personalization of learning, effective use of technology and the highest possible teaching quality. The consensus is that teachers’ skills are of particular importance in student success.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has not made a formal submission on these directions, but I have some ideas about how to achieve them.

First, more than anything, teachers need time to make the above agenda possible. Of course, teachers recognize that their professional responsibilities are not ultimately capped—you do the work you have to do to prepare lessons and related activities. But in face of the call for more personalized learning (and more planning and more delivery), there must be limits on instructional time and on assigned (but non-instructional) duties. If there were, teachers would have more time to meet the professional commitments of their instructional duties. The government can accomplish this in several ways; one is to reduce the total number of instructional days and hours of instruction required at various grade levels.

Second, the profession needs a much better support system. We have special education delivery issues to sort out and wraparound services to implement, and we must allow teachers to focus on their instructional role while support services look after the non-instructional elements of classroom life. Programs of study will need less content, which means that there will be increased opportunity for more in-depth examination of concepts and, in particular, skill development. In addition, assessment programs need to focus more on diagnosing learning needs and improving instruction, rather than relying on strict accountability measures. At the same time, it will be important to devise appropriate public assurance systems.

Third, given the emphasis on teaching quality, it is time to transfer responsibility for teacher certification to the Association. The minister of justice does not determine the requirements to become a lawyer—the legal profession does. The same principle should apply to the teaching profession.  Responsibility for teacher certification would see the Association establish a board similar in nature to the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board (which deals with issues of teacher education for salary purposes) to deal with teacher education, teacher certification and teacher development. In the face of a greater emphasis on teaching quality, we would need to closely examine the continuing education requirements in other professions and consider using them in the teaching profession. Ongoing teacher development will be an important element of the education system of the future.

A transformation agenda will also influence the recruitment, selection and retention of teachers. After all, we want good candidates to choose teaching as a career. We want to ensure that they are well prepared to become teachers. We want to introduce them to the profession in a way that enhances their skills, provides the support they need and encourages them to remain. We need to do more work on an appropriate induction program to achieve these important goals, especially within Alberta’s growing student population. Simply put, we will need more teachers.

I am encouraged by the increased interest in these directions from the government and other education partners. As we work together to transform our education system to make it more attuned to the realities of the 21st century, the important work of the profession will be the basis for our continued success and will further emphasize the need to give teachers the means to help every student achieve success.