Taking principals out of the Alberta Teachers’ Association would destroy Alberta’s advantage in education

March 27, 2019

“In Alberta, principals are education leaders and professional colleagues, not chief executive officers,” says Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery.

Jeffery was responding to comments made by United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Jason Kenney in support of removing principals from membership in the Association.

“What evidence does Mr Kenney have that Alberta principals support what he is proposing?” asks Jeffery.

“Anyone with a passing familiarity with public education in Ontario and British Columbia would recognize that the culture of schools in Alberta is very different, as are the cultures of the provinces’ respective teachers’ organizations.”

“I believe that this difference stems in no small part because school and most central office administrators are full, active members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association and maintain a collegial, professional relationship with fellow teachers,” said Jeffery, “and this is an important reason why Alberta schools achieve the world leading results they do.”

“Being a principal is a hard job, occasionally bordering on the impossible, and Mr Kenney’s proposal to segregate principals and set them up as bosses would only make that job harder.”

Jeffery points out that the Association currently advises and protects principals in matters of their employment, and assists them to manage relationships with teachers and other members of staff. Because they participate in the governance of the Association, principals are assured that their perspectives are reflected in programming and policy and that their unique role is respected. The Association’s Code of Professional Conduct reinforces the expectation that teachers in administrative roles will work collaboratively with fellow teachers, but also recognizes that should this not be possible, principals are in “a position of authority” that must be respected.

As well, the Association directly, and through its Council for School Leadership, offers ongoing professional development and support for school leaders. One particular event, uLead ( www.uLead.ca ), an annual conference for school and system administrators, attracts national and global attention—with delegates attending from five continents to learn from the Alberta experience. Says Jeffery, “These visitors see that having principals within the Association is an important part of Alberta’s education culture.”

The alternative would not serve parents, students or the profession well. “We have seen in other jurisdictions that once schools administrators are torn away from their colleagues, relationships quickly change, and not for the better.” He notes that in such circumstances, the teachers’ organization must advocate for its members, individually and collectively, and in such circumstances, the interests of principals don’t matter that much. In the end, principals become the face and embodiment of management and are distanced from teachers, who are cast in the role of labour. As roles change, so do attitudes.

Jeffery notes that pulling principals out of the Alberta Teachers’ Association is not part of the published UCP platform and hopes that Mr Kenney will walk back his proposal. “What has made education in the province so successful is that we have largely eschewed ideology in favour of creating a positive and pragmatic professional culture—let’s not destroy Alberta’s education advantage.”