Saturday, May 5, 2012

Teacher morale and the role of Principals

This week, the Principals and Vice Principals Association put out a memo commenting on the mood in schools.  They are worried that another year of dispute will irreparably harm relationships. They are right. But they also need to take a look at their own role in the dispute and talk about solutions, not just the problems.

I also commented on the mood in schools this week. I wrote to our school Board, who refused to take a position opposed to Bill 22. My closing comment was that Victoria teachers had never felt more demoralized and less respected. In my 12 years in the BC school system, I believe this is true.

The Principals and Vice Principals are upset that schools are not currently places of collaboration and spirit. But they fail to acknowledge their own part in this mess. In fact the Principals have consistently argued for many of the concessions and controls that have been contained in the variety of Bills passed over the last decade. They lobbied for the removal of class size limits. They lobbied for more control over hiring and firing. They lobbied for more control over teacher professional development. In many ways, although they are not the bargaining agent, the concessions sought by government will give Principals greatly expanded powers. Power to fire a teacher they don't deem "suitable" (whatever that happens to mean). Power to move teachers to another school for no reason. Power to dictate what teachers will do to develop professionally, regardless of the teacher's own interests or needs.

So is it any surprise that teachers are refusing to cooperate following the legislated interference in bargaining to attempt to impose these new rules? Does any Principal out there really believe that forcing teachers into submission to give Principals most of the power in schools is the way to build collaborative teaching communities?

Principals have shown a remarkable lack of leadership. I was in a meeting with one the other day who tried to convince me that he really did care about class size and wished he could plan classes of 20. When I asked him why he wouldn't speak out publicly, he simply stated "I can't". When I responded that he could, but he chose not to, there was simply stone cold silence. The same sort of silence now taking place in staff meetings across BC.


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  2. The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing...
    - Albert Einstein

  3. Anyone who dares walk into a Walmart knows that its employees are called "associates." This word is made to make the employees feel important even though those same employees know that they are not important at all. Those assocates perform the minimum required in order to keep their jobs. They don't go out of their way to help the customers. They are shelf stockers. That is all.

    Although there is no call for teachers to be called "professional teaching associates," teachers do know that they are not considered important by the government of British Columbia. The principals in the schools are like managers at Walmart whose jobs are to tell employees what to do--not to ask for advice. When the principals ask for professional suggestions on how to improve student learning, the teachers have taken a cue from Bill 22 not to offer advice. Just wait for instructions from the principals. Unfortunately, the new BC model of education creates a monologue rather than dialogues in professional learning.

  4. It is a puzzle. In a brief, written in 1991 and resubmitted to the Wright Commission on bargaining in 2003 is the following quote: "For example, matters such as class size, the length of the working day, including preparation time, and the calendar for the school year should not be matters for negotiation. These issues should be addressed more effectively throught legislation based on past practice and consultation with all relevant parties."

    It is interesting that the principals essentially got their way in 2001. After the strike in 2005, the Learning Roundtable led Gordon Campbell to legislate Bill 33, which included class size and composition provisions (however inadequate) into the School Act.

    So it did become public policy as they felt it should, and even then they never opened their mouths.