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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 2, October 2004

The case of the vanishing professional day

by Pat Clarke

Pop Quiz

1. What did you do on your school’s last professional day?

2. Who organized it?

3. What was the topic or theme of the day?

If your answers are something like:

1. I don’t remember.

2. I don’t know.

3. I don’t remember.


1. I went to a school planning session.

2. The school and district administration.

3. Goal setting and improving school FSA results.

You may have experienced the alarming case of the vanishing professional day. This phenomenon, developed in the past four or five years, has too many so-called professional days dedicated to administration-oriented school planning and too few dedicated to self-directed or collegial professional development for teachers.

The gradual disappearance of the teacher-directed professional development day may be a result of confusion over what a professional day is supposed to be. The confusion has resulted in the days’ being used in ways not intended when they were first implemented, in the 1970s. So, for example, in some school districts non-instructional days are being declared and schools are being closed for a day as a cost-cutting measure. Declaring a non-instructional day can be at the expense of a professional day, particularly if the local does not have clear contract language on professional days. Given the current state of affairs in B.C. school districts, nailing down specific language on such traditional givens as professional days is essential.

The School Calendar Regulation allows five non-instructional days per school year. One additional day, the "sixth day" is for schools to attend to ministry initiatives or in the words of the Ministerial Order "facilitate activities that…are designed to enhance student achievement." And that’s it. The other five days are non-instructional and can be used for administrative purposes such as school opening and closing or as professional days for teachers. The original intent was for the majority of the days to be professional days to allow teachers to engage in self-directed professional development, not school goal-setting and not tending to administrative notions of school planning. They were to be days, planned and directed by teachers, for teachers.

The principle of by teachers, for teachers makes our job a profession not just an occupation or employment. Determining particular professional needs, having the right and the opportunity to do so, is essential to effective teaching. The more often we are cajoled, co-opted, or otherwise bamboozled into helping bureaucratic planners meet their needs, the less time we have to meet our own. There are obvious points in common. Administrative planning and effective teaching are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But the first question should not be how we work with the administrative scheme, but what we need to do to make our classrooms places for learning, not just testing and counting.

The vanishing professional day, either through transformation into a non-instructional day or into some sort of administrative day disguised as planning or goal setting, can be restored only by teachers’ undertaking some fairly assertive responses. The first response is to say no. As in No, you can’t use our professional day to go over FSA results. or No, you can’t use our professional day as a way to save money.

The second response is to occupy the ground all of this administrative business is trying to gain. That ground is the professional autonomy of teachers, our right and responsibility to determine our professional needs. The BCTF has a comprehensive professional support program to give teachers the tools they need to exercise professional autonomy and set their own professional development goals and organize programs that work toward those goals.

The resources the BCTF offers give teachers specific activities that help them come up with concrete approaches to professional development that is collegial and helps teachers support one another. This can be through action-research projects, supporting local specialist associations, workshops on engaging in professional dialogue, and setting up mentorship programs. Our goal is to help teachers help and support one another. After all, who else is?

Pat Clarke is the director of the BCTF’s Professional and Social Issues Division.

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