Speed-dating event connects teachers and MLAs

May 10, 2016 Laura Harris, ATA News Staff

Edmonton Catholic networking effort generates buzz and discussion

Dating a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) isn’t the most orthodox way to go about advocating for your profession, but it worked for more than 100 Edmonton Catholic teachers one night last April.

Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local No. 54 hosted a speed-dating-style event April 19 for the members of its Council of School Representatives (CSR). It provided them with the opportunity to get acquainted with newly minted Edmonton MLAs Lorne Dach, Thomas Dang, Rod Loyola and Chris Nielsen and with Education Minister David Eggen.

Though the event’s format was fun, its purpose was thoughtful.

“Politicians make laws that govern our profession and if we don’t talk to them, somebody else is going to fill that gap. We want our voice heard,” said Local No. 54 president Greg Carabine, who supported the speed-dating concept.

“We have a young committee and they wanted to do something different to get our members excited and, for the politicians, it’s something different than they’re used to.”

In game-show fashion, members of the local executive Chris Ferguson, Daniel Filiatreault and Jackelyn Urquhart enthusiastically hosted the “dating” portion of the night. On a big screen at the front of the room were an education-related question and a countdown clock. Each MLA was stationed at a table occupied by about 10 teachers. The politicians had a set time (between three and seven minutes) to answer and discuss one question with their “dates.” A buzzer signalled when time was up, and during a brief musical interlude (theme song from television classic The Dating Game) the MLAs moved to a new table to answer a new question.

Four questions ranging in complexity were asked. Tables buzzed like beehives with every discussion. At the end of the night, the event garnered positive reviews from teachers and MLAs alike.

“I definitely felt more engaged,” said Cathy Klopoushak, a seventh-year kindergarten teacher.

Teaching at a smaller school, she finds CSR meetings a great chance to talk with teachers from other schools in her district. Being able to talk with MLAs was a bonus of which she and members of her table took advantage.

“A big topic for our table was inclusion, and what that actually looks like, and how everybody is being supported,” said Klopoushak.

Dang was at her table for that discussion.

“He was jotting down a lot of notes, so that’s great to know that he’ll take that back to the legislature,” Klopoushak said.

Dang was happy with the level of engagement at the event and, as Klopoushak predicted, was planning to take what he learned back to his colleagues.

“I think we had some really good discussions,” said Dang of the tables he visited. “Talking to educators and talking to our teachers is so important in being able to bring that back to the legislature, and bringing that back to the minister and saying that ‘I’ve actually talked to teachers and these are the supports they need and this is what they care about.’”

Nielsen noted he has 21 schools in his riding and has been trying to get to them all since being elected. For him, the event was a helpful icebreaker.

“I think a concept like this adds a little fun. You know, I think maybe there’s still the perception when it comes to MLAs, that they’re unapproachable. We’re very approachable — and we want [teachers] to approach us,” he said.

Using the words “fun,” “welcoming” and “very, very open” to describe the teachers he met, Nielsen indicated they were helpful too. “A good portion of those discussions was actually affirming where our government is going right now. Getting that affirmation is valuable,” he said.

As for Eggen, he was in the spirit right from the beginning, bounding up to the podium like a contestant on The Price Is Right to give greetings and jumping right into the dating fray with the rest of his colleagues.

“It was fun. It was cool,” he said afterward of the event. “Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job but it’s challenging and needs support from the community and from the government too, so it’s good for me to be here and get a little dose of reality.” ❚

A teacher’s guide to first-date questions for MLAs

These are the questions Edmonton Catholic teachers posed to the MLAs:

  • Who was your favourite teacher and why?
  • Why did you get into politics?
  • How can teachers best engage you on education issues?
  • How can we make education in Alberta stronger than ever?

Quote of the night

“I’m just glad it wasn’t a Tinder event. I didn’t want anyone swiping left on me!”

— Thomas Dang, MLA for ­Edmonton South West

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