||Volume 24, Number 7, May/June 2012
40th anniversary of non-instructional days in the school calendar
By Stephen Anderson and Heather Daly
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the addition of non-instructional days to the school calendar. Prior to 1971, teachers primarily developed professionally on their own time. This is one of two 40th anniversaries being celebrated this year; the 1971–72 school year was a significant one for the BCTF’s Provincial Specialist Associations (PSAs). The first meeting of the PSA Council was held on the October 23, 1971. Thus began the 40-year tradition of PSAs formally working together as “teachers teaching teachers.”
In 1976, the Federation created the Professional Development Advisory Committee (PDAC) to support local associations. In 1977, the concept of “teachers teaching teachers” was further established through the beginning of the provision of training and support for PD associates, and the introduction in 1978 of Project TEACH instructors.
In 1982, government introduced Bill 89 to override the School Act in an effort to reduce the operating costs of districts and therefore help in slashing the provincial budget. The intent of the legislation was to change the hours in session as well as the days in session. A non-instructional day was characterized as a day on which students were excused from tuition and instruction and during which teachers were subject to the direction of the board. The school board could designate a non-instructional day for the district and Bill 89 also allowed for districts to only have one non-instructional day, but they could, by agreement with the local teachers’ association, increase this by five further days to a total of six non-instructional days. The result would have been a loss of non-instructional days in most districts for professional development. The BCTF opposed the loss of non-instructional days and encouraged its members to resist the attack on public education since teachers had resisted in the past and school boards had relented. Bill 89 was only in force until the end of June 1983.
There were continual pressures on professional autonomy in relation to non-instructional days, but the BCTF was able to fend this off and set a direction for local professional development leadership. In 1983, the BCTF established professional initiatives such as staff rep training, the integration of social responsibility into professional development activities, policy studies on teaching, pedagogy and professionalism, and advocacy work to defend public education. In 1992, the Federation introduced major changes to support local professional development leadership by establishing Summer Conference training of PD chairpersons and funding release time to support school PD rep training. All of these initiatives came as a result of the BCTF resisting attacks that would lessen the number of non-instructional days and professional autonomy in relation to these days. The Federation also took leadership in creating opportunities for teachers to examine their practice and develop their professionalism.
Today, continuous, career-long development as a professional is one of the key aspects of being a teacher in British Columbia. It is one of the primary goals of the BCTF and is noted in the four out of eight current BC Teacher Regulation Branch Standards. In order to develop as professionals, teachers must have autonomy, respect, and time to assess and understand their own strengths and needs and must have opportunities to grow, and to share expertise.
The successor of PDAC, the Professional Issues Advisory Committee (PIAC), which includes three representatives of the PSA Council, now works to support the BCTF Executive, the BCTF zonal structure and locals’ elected professional development chairpersons within a context of BCTF and PSA support. Workshops and programs with funding such as self-directed PD, Program for Quality Teaching (PQT), and teacher inquiry are all part of that support. The PD chairpersons in turn work to encourage and support autonomous, teacher-directed professional development and inquiry in their locals. The role of the PD chairpersons in ensuring the provision of teacher-directed professional development and the promotion of the opportunities provided by PSAs and LSAs in their locals is increasingly a critical one in continuing BCTF resistance against the threatened loss of teachers’ autonomy over their professional development.
Ironically, what has been a year of celebration of the 40 years of inclusion of non-instructional days in the school calendar has also now seen the introduction of legislation (Bill 36) that would eliminate the provincially mandated school calendar. In taking aim at the school calendar, Bill 36 is not dissimilar to 1982’s Bill 89, and like the older legislation also appears to have targeted non-instructional days. In the case of Bill 36 this is through the inclusion of the wording “…one or more non-instructional days or non-instructional periods, if any, scheduled by a board...” [emphasis added] and “hours of instruction” instead of “days in session.”
Although non-instructional days were added to the school calendar 40 years ago, the ability for teachers in BC to choose to participate in, or to provide professional development opportunities, which meet their own assessed needs or share their strengths with others, requires continual utilization and defense; it must never be taken for granted.
For more information, go to: bctf.ca/professionaldevelopment.aspx
This article concludes the year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the PSA Council, and of the inclusion of non-instructional days in the school calendar.
Stephen Anderson and Heather Daly, PSA Council