The ATA And The Pursuit Of Wellness
As illustrated throughout this edition of the ATA Magazine, wellness is much more than the absence of illness. The concept is holistic and comprehensive and includes dimensions of physical, emotional, psychological, social, environmental, economic and spiritual well-being. Based on this understanding, achieving wellness is a critical objective of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
Consider, for example, the core functions of our Teacher Welfare program area, starting with collective bargaining. The process that is currently underway in many bargaining units and is about to begin again at the central table, is all about wellness. In some instances the link is immediate and obvious—improving leaves and benefits to better accommodate the health needs of members and their families directly supports teacher wellness. The effort to improve teacher compensation too has a wellness component, ensuring that teachers will have economic security and be able to sustain their standard of living, both of which are important determinants of wellness.
Increasingly though, collective bargaining has emphasized creating conditions of professional practice and providing the time, resources and supports that teachers need to do their very best work with students. In a profession that is so intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally demanding, being empowered and successful in the classroom is central to achieving sustainable work–life balance.
Similarly, enhancing the capacity and agency of teachers with respect to their learning and growth is a theme that runs through the Association’s various professional development programs. Providing opportunities for teachers to learn together—whether as part of a school or locally enabled learning community, as a specialist council, at convention or at one of many focused learning opportunities supporting Association programs—helps to create professional connectedness, which in turn contributes to career renewal, longevity and satisfaction.
The work of the Association’s Member Services program area involves assisting members in matters of employment, managing conflicts, supporting healthy relationships and upholding appropriate standards of professional conduct and practice, all of which are essential to maintaining the school as a healthy workplace. Even in those rare instances when the profession must sanction its members for violations of the Code of Professional Conduct or intervene in instances when members are failing to meet practice standards, it does so with the greater objective of ensuring the individual and collective wellness of our colleagues, students and the school community.
Concern regarding various dimensions of wellness drives the research, external relations and advocacy interests of the Association. Recently, Growing Up Digital (GUD), the Association’s effort to better understand the impact of technology on the physical, social and psychological wellness of teachers, students and families, has received international attention and recognition. But GUD is not a thematic exception; most of our research work is about documenting conditions affecting teacher and student wellness and identifying approaches to enhancing wellness. In its work with government and with other education partners, Association representatives are constantly reminding their counterparts of the potential effects that their latest bright ideas may have on the wellness of front-line teachers and of the need to put into place appropriate resources and supports.
Teachers understand that wellness is indivisible—it does not begin and end at the school door. This understanding is reflected in the Association’s efforts to promote diversity, equity and human rights, in our partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association to destigmatize mental health issues and in our support for Public Interest Alberta’s initiatives to promote services and spaces that enhance the lives of all Albertans.
As is apparent in all these examples, the activities and objects of the Alberta Teachers’ Association are about promoting the wellness of its member teachers. But there is a greater altruism that underlies this. Teacher wellness contributes directly to student wellness, and the wellness of both are linked inextricably to the wellness of the larger community. The truth can be simply expressed: what is good for the health and wellness of teachers is good for the health and wellness of everyone.
As I step into my new role as executive secretary, I am acutely aware of current and continuing challenges to member wellness and the work that lies ahead for us all. I see it as my primary responsibility to support the Association’s elected leaders and my staff colleagues across the organization in their continuing efforts to promote teacher wellness in all its various dimensions. It is also my responsibility to attend to the wellness of those who are doing this important work—our capacity to help members be well is only as good as our own wellness.