Monday, February 14, 2011

Trustees & Teachers: Working Together

Esme Comfort is a school board trustee in Canmore, Alberta. She is also a full time job (event planner); proofreader/editor; family woman, music and tech lover (wannabe geek). Volunteer, and curious about everything.

by Esme Comfort

Despite attending seven schools before moving on to university, and despite now serving my seventh year as a school board trustee, I am not an educational expert. I am not a pedagogue with formal training in Education. My views on education formed through my own experience as a student, my experience as the parent of two boys who attended K – 12 in Alberta Public Schools (Canadian Rockies School Division), my experience as a school board trustee and a voracious appetite for information, conversation and reflection.

So when Joe invited me to do a guest post on his blog, I was taken aback. Joe’s tone takes no prisoners; he is a very passionate advocate for his beliefs. What could I, a dedicated amateur, say that is relevant, that has traction? Worse, as a School Board Trustee, am I not the enemy, part of the evil “system”?

When a newbie trustee in 2004, I had a lot to learn. A veteran of Parent Advisory Councils and various other parent advocacy groups, I was tired of being dismissed. So I thought if I moved up the “system”, I could learn more and, in time, influence decision-making that would in turn impact student learning. I wanted to see changes that would better education for our students.

In those first heady days, I read and listened non-stop. I discovered I was indeed privy to knowledge and resources to which as “just a parent”, I had not previously had access. I gradually began to understand more about teachers, teaching practice and learning. This was framed in the context of the governance duties and realities that control the opportunities and challenges for the transformation of education in our school district.

That learning continues today. Through the resource with the ridiculously euphemistic moniker of “Twitter”, I stumbled on the concept of the PLN. At first I thought it meant “Professional Learning Network”, and then I realized the “P” stands for “Personal”. (There is a great article by Karl Fisch  to explain the PLN.) So I eavesdropped on conversations, followed links, tweeted myself, and retweeted others. And BOOM, as one of those educators in my PLN likes to say, I connected. And sometimes it did not feel good. By turns challenged, offended, and intrigued. I was prodded to reflect on what I believe and what I am doing.

I retreated to reread some of the material that had so inspired me initially. It still resounds today: from Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, Karhanek, 2004:

“Hope has a human face. The most powerful fuel for sustaining the initiative to improve a school is not the desire to raise test scores but rather the moral imperative that comes from the desire to fulfill the hopes of those we serve and those with whom we work.”

And the quote below is who we are as a board, as a district, it’s what we aspire to do. We are not Waiting for Superman and we will not be an entrant in the Race to Nowhere.

“Although having money is terrific, the brutal fact is that it is no substitute for the actions and efforts most apt to improve teaching and learning.” – Mike Schmoker in Foreword to Whatever It Takes

My faith is reaffirmed. I know again how hard educators work. How they examine and re-examine their practice. How deeply they care about their students. I believe that teachers, boards, administrators, and parents need to be allies. 

We all have the same goal: what is best for kids’ education – what is best for kids, full stop. 

Let’s get on with it.


  1. Esmé, what I've learned in developing my own PLN is that amateurs are very welcomed by those who truly want to empower children and parents in learning. I have been truly amazed by the generosity and compassion of the educators I've met via twitter, etc. Connection is a powerful tool!

  2. An excellent post Esme! You bring a sincere desire understand all part of the 'education' equation. A trustee who gets it:)


Follow by Email