What the task force got right

May 13, 2014
Sharon Vogrinetz, Assistant Executive Secretary

All is not lost

While many of the recommendations in the Task Force for Teaching Excellence report are controversial and inflammatory, several do align with the task force’s purpose: “to make recommendations on how we can better support Alberta’s teachers to ensure that every student has the best chance at success”.

Recommendation 10 proposes “introducing a mentorship framework to support teachers in their first three-to-five years” on the job. Indeed, the ATA has been involved in mentorship programs for about two decades. This experience has taught us that successful mentorship programs share two very important requirements, and it’s not clear if these requirements have been considered by the task force. For mentoring programs to succeed, both mentors and protégés need time. Mentoring should not simply be an add-on to the school day. It’s also very important that mentorship programs are designed to build strong teaching practices—the programs are about developing the full potential of every teacher. In this respect, their role is to help teachers become successful in the teaching profession. In some school boards, mentorship programs seem to revolve around making employment decisions, not developing the full capacity of teachers.

Recommendation 17 advises a provincial mentorship framework for school and district leaders. The ATA has been working with school leaders on the Leader2Leader (L2L) pilot project, funded by Alberta Education. As a part of the pilot, experienced principals were paired with new principals from 23 school jurisdictions, providing coaching and support for the rookie leaders’ first two years. The program was well received but will require funding if it is to continue in the fall and be expanded to all novice principals.

Recommendation 13 suggests improvements to “our system of teaching support, including the availability of technology and related support, access to and adequacy of specialized supports and services for students . . . and increased efficiency of processes to access supports.” Supporting technology instead of simply relying on the most tech-savvy teacher in the school to solve problems is a step in the right direction, as is improving access to specialized supports. If “increased efficiencies of processes” means less paperwork and fewer psychological assessments or diagnostic tests before a student receives support, then this is also a positive outcome. However, if it is simply a matter of reallocating the same too-small pie, then this recommendation is less helpful. This recommendation also requires an increase in funding.

Recommendation 14 proposes “that teachers be provided appropriate time for planning, collaborating, sharing best practices and empowering innovation.” This excellent recommendation reflects the needs of teachers, but once again, its implementation requires—you guessed it—additional funding. Teachers need time built into the school day, not tacked on at the end or artificially created by lengthening each school day to “buy” collaboration time. Teachers need to have their overall teaching load reduced, which also requires additional funding. It is also important that teachers be given the authority and time to collaborate and share practices that are relevant to their experience and needs as they see fit, not as directed from others.

Philosophically, these four recommendations are heading in a positive direction. Without the funding and professional autonomy necessary to implement them, however, the glimmer of hope they provide simply fades away. ❚