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Professional Development Days:
Historical Perspective (1972–1996)

Teachers’ quests to improve themselves professionally have been historically fraught with roadblocks, and the period from the early 1970s and beyond is characteristic of this plight. Since 1972, efforts were continued to influence teacher preparation programs at universities and provincial curriculum development, to offer in-service education programs and services, to organize provincial specialist associations (PSAs), and to expand the Lesson Aids Service. In addition, a number of new initiatives were pursued.

The British Columbia School Calendar for 1973 finally provided for more than one day for classrooms to be closed so that teachers could be away to participate in conventions, workshops, etc. That decision was prompted by years of requests from the BCTF and the desire of school boards and schools for greater flexibility. The resulting action resulted in these changes to the School Calendar:

Number of prescribed school days (School Year 1972–73):   199
Less: September 5, 1972, organizational day
June 28–29, 1973, end of year organizational days
Other non-instructional days
Total non-instructional days:
Number of days in session for teachers and pupils:   192

The approval of the board of school trustees had to be obtained for days on which a school, or the schools of a district, would be in session for teachers only. Also, in September 1973, there was no requirement that the first day be reserved for enrolment and registration, and organizational purposes only. If the day was used for this purpose, it would reduce the number of days by one that would be available for non-instructional purposes. Non-instructional days could include the following:

  • parent-teacher conference days
  • fall fairs and other similar community celebrations
  • conventions
  • workshops or other in-service education activities
  • school examinations other that departmental examinations.

In 1976, the Federation organized a zonal structure for supporting local associations by creating the Professional Development Advisory Committee (PDAC). The following year saw the establishment of the "teachers teaching teachers" concept by providing training and support for PD associates, and this was extended in 1978 with the introduction of Project TEACH instructors.

The 1980s were beleaguered by crises that disrupted and undermined professionalizing efforts. The 1982–83 School Calendar was characterized by the School Services (interim) Act (a.k.a. Bill 89), which was to prevail over the School Act and Regulations made under that Act. Its intent was to reduce the operating costs of school districts as part of a larger plan to slash the provincial budget. Premier Bill Bennett had appointed Bill Vander Zalm minister of education to execute that policy.

A number of interesting ramifications resulted from that enactment. One result was that during the 1982–83 school year, the hours in session would be at least 935, but, according to local agreements, the days in session would vary between 182 and 187. Also, depending how long pupils were in session (i.e., one day or one-half day), the number of instructional days would be reduced by that number. Furthermore, a non-instructional day was deemed to be a day on which pupils were excused from tuition and instruction and during which teachers were subject to the direction of the board. The board could authorize a non-instructional day for the district, for one or more schools, or for a department of a school, but the number of non-instructional days in the school year 1982–83 would be one and could, by agreement with the local teachers’ association, be increased by five further days to a total of six.

The most significant consequence of Bill 89 was the loss of non-instructional days for professional development in all but a few locals. In response to that action, the BCTF Executive Committee unanimously to opposed the loss of non-instructional days. Some of the rationale for the decision are as follows:

  • Teachers fought hard to gain the right to have non-instructional or PD days. It was only won 10 years prior (i.e., 1972) and at the price of increasing the number of days in which teachers were on duty. There was no loss in instructional days for students.
  • Other provinces have a larger number of non-instructional or PD days, e.g., Ontario with 12 days
  • PD days are essential for the psychological and emotional health of teachers, particularly in the more remote parts of the province
  • Teachers need to avoid looking at a board or a superintendent prepared scenario of:
    - Option A—rollbacks
    - Option B—layoffs
    - Option C—avoidance of rollbacks and layoffs by agreeing to the surrender of the five non-instructional days

The executive also wanted BCTF members to be aware of the following:

  • What was happening was a carefully orchestrated attack on all public services, including education
  • Surrendering on the issue would not prevent the possibility of rollbacks or layoffs in January 1983 or in any way guarantee or ensure the subsequent restoration of non-instructional or PD days

The BCTF encouraged its members to resist the attack on public education and surrendering was not the appropriate tactic because when teachers had said "no" to school boards in the past, the boards had often found the funds elsewhere. Furthermore, the Federation noted that external groups (e.g., Ministry of Education and some school boards) did not wish teachers to become involved in PD offerings such as:

  • Teacher advocacy, teacher input and influence over curriculum
  • Student advocacy, mainstreaming issues, rights and responsibilities of children issues
  • Teachers coming to grips with fundamental educational issues such as:
    - Why do public schools exist?
    - Why are certain issues taught and other issues not mentioned in public schools?
    - Is the employer/employee relationship the most appropriate one for public education?

Teachers were also cautioned that without PD days, they would not likely become engaged with expanded perspectives of PD. Additionally, teachers would not acquire new skills, new senses of confidence and new knowledge. Likewise, teachers would continue to feel powerless and too frequently, frustrated and alienated. Thus, Bill 89 was a ploy to diminish the professional development of teachers. The following were some of the actions the BCTF proposed to counteract Bill 89 and its implications:

  • Develop a detailed, integrated plan, based on a needs assessment, for all of the non-instructional days, as well as teachers’ own time
  • Relate the plan to teacher needs, school plans, and district priorities
  • Develop a campaign to convince teachers of the need for and value of PD by indicating:
    - past successful PD programs
    - benefits of PD
  • Use all the PD networks, including Status of Women Program, Program Against Racism, and PSAs
  • PD should be seen as linked to the major thrust of the BCTF for 1983–84 public education: equality and excellence
  • Find ways to influence the board concerning the benefits of PD to the district and to students
  • Invite the public, superintendents, and board to participate in and plan for professional development activities

By June 1983, the situation was unclear as to what would happen in 1983–84 because Bill 89, as it referred to days in session and non-instructional days, would not be in operation. Also, the preliminary School Calendar for 1983–84 indicated five non-instructional days available for teachers. Teachers feared that if Bill 89 were to continue in some form at either the provincial or the local level, they would have to fight to gain or retain non-instructional days for professional development. A number of initiatives were taken to offset such an attack on teachers’ professionalism:

  • Staff rep training was started in the PD Division
  • Social responsibility perspectives were more fully integrated into professional development activities
  • Two path breaking policy studies—the Bargaining and Professional Rights Task Force and the Task Force on Teaching Conditions and Professional Practices—facilitated dialogue and discussion on teaching, pedagogy and professionalism
  • Advocacy work was initiated to defend public education against both privatization and excessive centralized control (e.g., provincial exams, more restrictive graduation requirements); it also called for a royal commission

The call for a royal commission was fruitful, as the government, under Premier William Vander Zalm, appointed the late Barry Sullivan, Q.C., in 1987 to examine the provincial education system. One year later, Legacy for Learners was released for public scrutiny, with the BCTF facilitating discussion among teachers. A review of the deliberations found that the membership supported most of the recommendations. With the publication of Year 2000: A Curriculum and Assessment Framework for the Future in 1989, the BCTF seized the opportunity to continue and extend the "taking charge" and "exercising leadership" themes, instituting a program whereby teachers in B.C. could gather to discuss the issues relevant to proposals outlined in "Year 2000." Some 20 education policy associates were appointed and trained as facilitators for the discussions.

PD staff were unable to cope with the demand, and associates were running out of release time, so three "special agents" were hired full-time for a five month period to travel the province as facilitators for "Year 2000" initiatives. Not only were their sessions highly successful for teachers, but other partner groups (i.e., parents, trustees, professional organizations) requested their presence. The result was a PR coup for the BCTF.

In 1990–91, Bill 82 was a major disruption to PD efforts, but the education policy and education change themes were continued. Education policy associates were active, and many teachers and PSAs were involved in "Year 2000" and related work. The BCTF Primary Project and Curriculum Services and Professional Opportunities (CSPO) were initiated, and were the basis for many PD activities. Bill 82 and the provincial election during 1991–92 were important contexts as the Federation played an active role in attempting to influence provincial government policy. BCTF produced the brief "Education Change in British Columbia: A Better Way", and, through CSPO, professional development activities centered around education change were extended. Also, important anti–racism and First Nations initiatives were taken with community support.

In 1992–93, the Federation introduced major changes in support for local PD leadership. The changes marked a decisive continuation of the plan implemented in 1976 (i.e., PDAC and its related provincial, zonal, and local structures) with new features. Particularly significant were the provisions for both Summer Conference training of PD chairpersons and a mid-term educational leadership forum.


The forum originally scheduled for February 1993 was cancelled and then rescheduled for June 1993. Another basic element was training support for school PD reps. An electronic communications and conferencing network provided increasingly useful and empowering support for local educational leaders. Furthermore, an educational– leadership support fund was established to assist locals in undertaking innovative initiatives in education change.

Regulation 8 (concerning school calendar, days and hours of instruction, and non-professional days) proved to be a disruptive influence on professional development. On the education change front, the Federation was successful in getting government support for a provincial education change committee and for funding a major study of the secondary school in the 1993–94 year. Although the mainstreaming issue was a continuing frustration, there were a number of co-operative ventures with the government, including:

  • Curriculum Development
  • Learning for Living; and
  • The Elementary School Project

There were also ominous signs of a backlash against education change. There were activists for a different vision of education change in which a more passive role for learners and a more authoritarian pedagogy were featured.

The strategy set out in 1992–93 was continued in 1993–94, but with certain changes. The major changes were the enhanced support for school PD rep training through the Federation's funding release time and providing more staff support, and the secondary school project. The secondary school project provided for a full study of and dialogue concerning secondary schooling.

In 1994–95, public education was roused by the ambitious, fast-track agenda of Art Charbonneau, minister of education. By mid-1994, it was evident that the Charbonneau administration was disposed to rapid, across-the-board change with little concern for either the views of teachers or the practical problems of implementation.

Under pressure from the Federation and other education partners, the government backed down on some of its timelines (e.g., the implementation of IP—in progress—for student reporting was postponed until 1995–96). However, the ministry remained committed to a strategy marked by haste. Furthermore, the government’s policy directions turned heavily toward a skills focus with the aim of vocational preparation. Another key contextual feature was provincial bargaining, with early indications that the employer would attempt to claw back provisions for professional development and professional autonomy already in local collective agreements.


With regard to curriculum, the government adopted the concept that curriculum is a product—something to be bought, sold, traded, and modified as well as created. The Ministry of Education participated in a curriculum consortium with other western provinces and territories, while withdrawing from long-standing agreed-upon protocols for selecting representatives for curriculum work and advice. In June, 1995 the BCTF and the ministry agreed to a new set of protocols for selecting teacher representatives for curriculum work. In January 1995, the long-sought Provincial Curriculum Advisory Committee was established, and it met approximately monthly. In spite of the centralizing and bureaucratizing tendencies, there was a substantial amount of cooperative activity involving the Federation, the ministry, and other education partners, especially related to in-service education, in these areas:

  • Co-ordinators were appointed for mathematics, science, and personal planning
  • (K–7) to help teachers become familiar with integrated resource packages (IRPs)
  • Education change associates were selected to assist teachers in facilitating change
  • Teacher representatives were selected to work on IRPs in various subjects

The School Calendar Regulation enacted in 1993 changed the rules for teachers, use of non-instructional time to enhance their professionalism. There were seven main changes to the regulation:

  • Non-instructional time could be used for report-card preparation
  • Student-led conferences counted as parent-teacher interviews
  • Kindergarten scheduling flexibility was restored
  • Employees, consent was obtained through their union
  • School calendar could be amended during the school year
  • Exam time was clarified
  • Community interaction days may be cancelled

Only those modifications with a direct bearing on professional development activities will be discussed here.

The designation that non-instructional time could be used for report card preparation had a definite effect on teachers’ professional development activities. It denoted that "non-instructional period" had been expanded to include preparation of student progress reports. This change had two potential consequences for teachers.

Negatively, the alteration clearly indicates that preparing report cards could not be considered an "instructional" activity and there was no potential to negotiate that preparation of report cards could count as instructional time. However, few collective agreements contained such a provision so the negative impact was minimal.


On the positive side, the change made it possible to negotiate the use of non-instructional days (NIDs) or portions thereof, to be used for preparing report cards. The 1993 regulation did not allow for that. What is significant, nonetheless, is that some staffs could opt to use a "non-instructional period" to complete report cards, thus reducing the amount of time to engage in professional development activities.

This same urge to reduce teaching loads, could cause some staffs to use a NID or portion thereof to conduct student-led conferences, deemed a permissible use of non-instructional time. The section allowed student-led conferences to be scheduled during regular school hours instead of after hours as indicated under the 1993 Regulation. Again, time for professional enhancement had the potential to be curtailed.

Allowing for local school calendars to be substituted for the standard calendar could be utilized positively by teachers. If the school board chose to make a change for a particular school by obtaining the approval of the employees, to be determined through the union and not by methods set out by the school board, then staffs could plan significant professional offerings that might require special scheduling (e.g., a two day conference with a special guest speaker on classroom integration of students with special needs). Coupled with the fact that the changes could be made during the year, teachers could meet some of their professional needs and interests more ably, as long as parents gave their approval and the board provided at least seven days notice.

Finally, allowing school boards to cancel School Community Interaction Days (SCIDs) had the potential to be a negative influence on professional development. The standard calendar attached to the 1993 regulation set out two SCIDs for each of

1993–94, 1994–95, and 1995–96. Under the new regulation, a school board could cancel any of those SCIDs for a school if the parents and the employees of that school agreed. That agreement had to be obtained in the same manner as the other changes from the standard calendar (employees consent through their union). If consent from either group was not obtained, the SCID could not be cancelled.

If such SCIDs were cancelled, they reverted to instructional days and could not be used for any other non-instructional purpose (e.g., Professional Development Days). With the possible cancellation of a SCID, staffs could decide to use a NID to work on accreditation, which could be used as a SCID since the process involved the community in examining the growth of a particular school.

Furthermore, a number of changes recommended to the government were not included in the new regulation. For example, the BCTF recommended that "multi-week banking" of time be allowed. Under the multi-week banking system, arrangements had historically been made for instructional hours to be increased in some weeks and offset by shortened hours in other weeks. That flexibility was not available under the 1993 regulation and the lack of flexibility continued. This, in effect, prevents staffs from reorganizing their timetables to engage in professional development initiatives during what is commonly referred to as "classroom time."

Prior to 1994, some staffs used the time gained by reorganizing timetables for professional purposes, including examining various Ministry of Education documents. To summarize, the calendar regulation, while supportive of a certain level of professional development, places major workload blocks in the way of adequate professional development. The struggle for adequate government recognition of the importance of professional development continues.

In May 1996, the ministry introduced legislation establishing an Implementation Planning Day. This sixth non-instructional day replaced the two School Community Interaction Days (SCID) that existed until June 30, 1996.

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