For me, the notion that the government is taking over the investigative process for teachers in Alberta is all too reminiscent of a challenging experience I had in B.C.
I do not want to engage in fearmongering, but Jason Kenney made it clear in 2019 that he was very interested in removing principals and vice-principals from the ATA. So when Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced her intention to remove the teacher discipline function from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, it made me worry that Kenney’s stated interest could come next. It’s within that context that I share my experience.
I began my career in northern British Columbia, where I spent seven years as an associate principal. I distinctly recall when my principal informed me that I was the successful candidate for the job of associate principal at my first Grade 8–12 school.
“Starting tomorrow, people will treat you differently!” he said.
I thought he was a bit crazy to say that. The teachers in my school were my close colleagues — we socialized together, played recreational sports together — how could becoming an administrator change that? Well, I was shocked. It changed all right, instantly and dramatically.
You see, in B.C., the relationship between administrators and teachers is based on a separatist approach. That is, administrators don’t belong to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), which functions solely as a teachers’ union. So as soon as I became an associate principal, I was no longer viewed as a colleague. Rather, I was now “one of those administrators.”
In this environment of “unions” and “management,” it was very difficult to build true collaboration and collegiality — not impossible, but there were distinct barriers. It does not create a culture of school improvement for students and effecting real change in student learning becomes a significant challenge when “two sides” are represented in the school.
Compare this to my last 20 years in Alberta (I moved back in 2002), where there is a true culture of teamwork between administrators and teachers. Yes, problems exist, but they are handled effectively with the support of the ATA, and many problems are resolved quickly and effectively. If administrators and teachers are truly among the most important change agents for improving student learning, then creating a divide between them is counterproductive to advancement in education.
I lived through this reality while working in B.C. As an administrator in both provinces, I can say that my involvement with teacher investigations, marginal performance or misconduct have been supported by a collaborative and professional relationship with the ATA. Their stance on professionalism and setting high standards for their members is second to none.
As an assistant superintendent of human resources for the past five years, I can say that the ATA’s collaborative approach to challenges has always supported the fair treatment of the teacher, respecting their dignity, and yet holding them accountable for any confirmed wrongdoings.
From my perspective, maintaining the ATA’s dual role is central to protecting our public education system and the collegial approach that makes our profession so special in this province.
Brett Cooper is the assistant superintendent of human resources for the Pembina Hills School Division. He’s been a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, director and assistant superintendent. He started his education career in the Dawson Creek area of northern British Columbia and has been with Pembina Hills since 2002.