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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

Walking the picket line: Powerful professional development

by Mike Lombardi

When I was visiting the picket line at a Coquitlam elementary school in October, I realized that, in addition to taking a stand for their students and their rights, those teachers were engaging in powerful professional development. On return visits during the job action, I saw teachers engaged in individual and collective professional learning as they reflected on their actions and on their conversations with colleagues and members of the public.

Teachers know that powerful professional development is teacher-directed, needs-based, goal-focused, experiential, sustained, and undertaken individually and collectively. Effective PD also requires time for critical reflection and engagement. Powerful PD can be even more unifying when it engages the heart and the mind.

Walking the line during the job action was certainly teacher-directed. The teachers’ courageous decision to leave their classrooms and to stand up for their students, their rights, and their profession followed school- and local-based meetings. The goals of the job action were to improve students’ learning conditions, to restore teachers’ collective bargaining rights, and to achieve a fair and reasonable salary increase. The goals were based on needs the teachers identified.

The job action was experiential and sustained. During many hours on the line, teachers talked with colleagues about ideas and strategies for handling the challenges facing their students. Lesson ideas, teaching strategies, learning resources, and many other practical ideas were shared and discussed on the line. Teachers had the time to engage in a sustained dialogue about professional issues, something that rarely occurs in the busy and fast-paced reality of school. Teachers also had an opportunity to learn about the interests and passions of their colleagues. New friendships were forged as teachers and support staff walked and talked about their hopes, dreams, and challenges.

The picket line also allowed teachers to engage in critical reflection on the challenges facing public education and the teaching profession. Class size, education funding, the role of the media, working and learning conditions, and the politics of education were passionately discussed. The dialogue took place while teachers enjoyed the endless supply of donuts and coffee provided by supportive students and parents.

The job action engaged the hearts and minds of teachers. They were inspired by the leadership of BCTF President Jinny Sims, and by the generosity and support of students, parents, retired teachers, members of other unions, and members of the community. The food vouchers from the Federation of Post Secondary Educators, the creation of the BC Teacher Hardship Fund by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, and other acts of generosity were truly inspiring. Acting together, teachers courageously demonstrated their resolve to bring about improved learning conditions for students. That engagement of the mind and the heart reminded teachers that teaching is a calling and that many become teachers to make a difference in the lives of children.

While teachers are now once again focused on teaching and learning activities in their schools, the experience of the job action created a firm resolve to exercise professional rights and responsibilities. The experience of walking the line should inspire teachers to advocate for time and resources for professional development and to ensure that PD continues to be teacher-directed, needs-based, goal-focussed, experiential, and sustained.

Mike Lombardi is an assistant director in the BCTF Professional and Social Issues Division, on educational leave until June 30, 2006.

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