Monday, December 17, 2012

Transformation without change in Alberta

The failure of province wide tripartite talks marks the beginning of the end for Inspiring Education and education transformation in Alberta.

Here's why:

Upon rejecting the Alberta Teachers' Association proposal, Education Minister Jeff Johnson said, "We wanted a province-wide deal, but not at any cost, so we're respecting their decision to go back and start bargaining locally, which is the way contracts have been set for a century in this province." From a distance, Johnson's quip may instill comfort and calm in the public, after all, labour peace (whether real or perceived) is always in the best interest of the government. And yet, no teacher will find solace in Johnson's efforts to minimize the risks of achieving Inspiring Action.

Alberta teachers know that in order for any meaningful reforms to be achieved current unsustainable teaching and learning conditions need to be addressed. This is the central message of the international research team that helped to map out the teaching profession's roadmap for transformation: Great School for All.

Teachers know that in order for school to change, they need to be trusted and supported by government and school boards to make sustainable improvements to how students experience school. Real learning and great teaching requires an education system built on trust rather than bureaucratic managerialism.

Teachers know that the current demands on teacher workload via scripted curricula, standardized testing, technology, class size and extra-curricular activities have teachers frantically distracted in an attempt to survive their work week. Teachers are so busy teaching school the way government and school boards currently mandate that they don't have sustainable time, effort or resources to inspire transformation. Frantic, distracted and overworked teachers are neither inspiring nor inspired to make school a better place for all children.

Teachers know that if we always do what we have always done, then we'll always get what we've always gotten. This is as true for lesson planning as it is for labour negotiations. While Johnson might find comfort in shrugging off the failure of province wide negotiations in favor of local bargaining, teachers know that asking 62 school boards and 62 teacher locals to sit down at 62 different tables will be as effective at achieving transformation as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

To be clear, this isn't about beating up on trustees or teachers. Each of the 62 school jurisdictions will do the best they can to negotiate good enough schools but at the expense of great schools.

Keep in mind that the Alberta Government holds all the cards: They command and control curriculum and assessment. They have a monopoly on legislation and they have all the money.

If Inspiring Education and educational transformation couldn't be negotiated in a discussion when government was at the table, it is tremendously naive to think that anything meaningful will be accomplished without them.


  1. Joe, your title says it all. Transformation and change need to happen together through a process of trust.

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