In Focus: Workin’ it

April 10, 2018
Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Staff from Madonna Catholic School in Strathcona County participate in the Kairos blanket exercise during a professional development day. So far this year the blanket exercise has been one of the most popular workshops offered by the ATA’s corps of volunteer instructors. (CORY HARE)

ATA workshops provide cost-effective expertise

Welcome to In Focus, an ongoing series that shines a spotlight on the operation and programs of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. This instalment focuses on ATA workshops.

There’s a point early on in the Kairos blanket exercise when it takes a serious turn and participants realize they’re in for a rough ride.

“Without even consulting you, we made deals amongst ourselves and divided up control over you and your lands,” intones facilitator Jessica Scalzo, playing the role of “The European” as she pompously strides amongst the workshop participants, who are cast in the role of Canada’s Indigenous people.

“Usually, whichever nation discovered your land first took control with the blessing of the Christian church,” Scalzo continues. “This practice is now called the ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’”

Just like that, 18 workshop participants are transformed from jovial to stone-faced. It’s the beginning of a powerful experience that, while not particularly pleasant, has made the blanket exercise one of the most popular of the more than two dozen workshops offered by the Professional Development program area of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Designing and presenting workshops is a core function of the PD area. Addressing both teaching and leadership competencies, these workshops cover a wide variety of topics, including teacher wellness, creativity, assessment, classroom management, inclusion, residential schools and mentoring. The workshops are delivered by an instructor corps comprised of volunteer classroom teachers who have training, experience and expertise in particular topics.

“The really great part about our workshops is that these are done by people who have relevance because they are actively engaged in schools themselves,” says Nancy Luyckfassel, the executive staff officer who oversees workshop delivery within the PD program area.

These volunteer instructors are spread around the province. For a nominal fee of $100, they can be booked to facilitate on-site workshops at schools, conferences, conventions and local professional development events. Several workshops can be delivered in French.

“One of the misconceptions that I want to help people with is we don’t have a stable of instructors here at Barnett House that we send out. These are teachers that are in communities, in schools,” Luyckfassel says.

Gibbons School vice-principal Darla Clark has partaken in the program’s services three times this year. She says the instructors go beyond the “standard formula” of delivering content from the front of the room by making the workshops very interactive.

“I cannot say enough about the PD that they present,” Clark says. “You just can’t beat the price for the amount of knowledge that they can bring to us.”

Madonna School principal Karen Antoniuk is also a supporter, having participated in the blanket exercise a couple of times.

“If you want some great PD for your staff, check this out,” she says.

So far this operational year, the instructors that Luyckfassel oversees have delivered more than 330 workshops to more than 12,000 participants. Besides the blanket exercise, the most popular bookings this year are workshops on classroom management and Indigenous history/culture.

Her area is constantly updating existing workshops and creating new ones to respond to demand from the field and tap into education trends. In development for next year are workshops on metacognition and mindfulness, coding, trauma-informed practice and three new Indigenous-focused workshops.

Given how much of the work is done in-house, she says the program is an example of members’ fees at work.

“People often ask, ‘where do my dues go?’ This is a great way that they can access professional learning through us,” Luyckfassel says. “We are here for them.”

More workshops, courses and presentations

Besides the Professional Development program area, the Government, Teacher Welfare and Member Services program areas also each offer a selection of workshops, courses and presentations.

In Government, there are about a dozen workshops on topics such as the latest research in education, student mental health, emerging technologies, politics, women in leadership and the effects of domestic violence on children. Teacher Welfare offers more than a dozen workshops focused on various aspects of teachers’ working arrangements, such as benefits, employment insurance, maternity leave, pension and retirement. In Member Services, the main workshop is entitled Healthy Interactions and is focused on conflict management. However, the program area also offers more than two dozen presentations for administrators and teachers.

“We have executive staff officers who are experts in each of these topics, and as former classroom teachers, they are also expert at delivering the content in a way that’s relevant to teachers,” said ATA president Greg Jeffery. ❚

A list of workshops and presentations currently being offered can be found on the ATA website. Click on For Members > Programs and Services > Workshops and Presentations.