BCTF Online Museum

100 Years of Professional Development in the BC Teachers’ Federation

Curriculum and pedagogy-for over a century teachers across this province have struggled with the what, the how, and the why of teaching. Lofty questions and ambitions have been a central part of our professional lives, with teachers being consistently consumed with how to transmit knowledge into students' heads. We have wrestled with the most effective ways to get students to apply their learning, to construct knowledge by transacting their existing experience and understanding with new information in order to create new and meaningful knowledge. Teachers have grappled with the methodologies that would transform students, holistically, as they learned. How can learning be the catalyst to students' discovery of their full selves, as learners, citizens, and human beings? How can learning be transformative?

BC teachers' professional journals have reported on the myriad of ways to engage in the what, the how, and the why of teaching. The following are excerpts from The Educator of Canada, as it was named in 1919, The B.C. Teacher from November 1921 to November 1987 or as it currently is named, Teacher. No matter what the name, the contents provide a fascinating window into the professional development of teachers in our province.

In case we thought grappling with technology was a modern phenomenon, the lead article of The Educator of Canada, from June 1919 was “Increasing Need for Technical Education,” by J. G. Lister. Lister was contrasting technical education to academic or commercial education. It seemed there were three ways to be educated and the need for a “technical education is distinguished from other learning in that it is acquired by 'doing' rather than by 'hearing,' and reading.”

By November 1966, The B.C. Teacher is reporting on “Computers in the Classroom” in an article by teachers C. B. Kotak and W. P. Goddard. “It is now possible to have a computer, the size of a teacher's desk, which can be rolled from room to room, which plugs into any standard electrical outlet, and which requires no air conditioning or other auxiliary equipment,” the authors write.

Fifty years later we are still debating tech issues, but now it is whether to embrace or limit students' use of their own devices in the classroom-devices that are certainly smaller than the teacher's desk!

In the September 1922 issue of The B.C. Teacher, the President of the National Union of Teachers of England and Wales wrote: “It is the purpose of the school to restore to us the correct content of value. It is our task to make society see the truest economy in happy childhood, growing life, and creative play-and work. I do not bemoan the fact that modern civilization is based upon machine production. I have no regrets about the application of science to the provision of man's material needs. What I do object to is the mechanizing of human life and the material; appraisement of human 'personality.'”

What is the purpose of schools? That is a question frequently asked throughout our hundred years' history. In May, 1932, F. J. Nicolson bemoans the teaching of literature through memorization and adherence to what the teacher or the text thinks is important. The way forward is to “… substitute experience for analysis and discovery for memorization.”

In 1940, the Enterprise Education model that was born in Alberta believed, “The task of modern education is, therefore, threefold. It must provide for the development of the individual's gifts, his training in social behavior, and his acquirement of the necessary skill and information.“ (The B.C. Teacher, Sept 1940, p. 18.) “Therefore, the enterprise school presents to its pupils not a list of facts to be learned but a series of social situations to be dealt with.” (The B.C. Teacher, Sept 1940, p. 19.)

The 1940s was not only a decade of lofty pedagogies, but also a time when the call for curricular specialities was at the fore, if these headlines of The B.C. Teacher are a good indication:

  • “We need to teach agriculture in the rural schools” said Frank Wilson in the September 1940 edition.
  • Phonic Fun-A new workbook for Grade 1 was advertised in the November 1943 The B.C. Teacher.
  • Lesson Aids (yes, Lesson Aids began in the 1930s) for reasoning processes in arithmetic for Grade 3 students were advertised.
  • “Why we should teach navigation and weather as part of the curriculum?” was an article in April, 1944. “After all, we are a maritime province and all students should know this,” exclaimed Donald Cochrane of Ocean Falls, BC.

In September, 1949, The B.C. Teacher encouraged us to teach primary music through use of a specific radio program.

The 1950s saw teachers making the case for subject specialties. “The Case for Geography in the Social Studies” was argued in the January, 1954 edition. By 1957, the first provincial specialist association (PSA) was formed, the Primary PSA. An article in the 1958, Sept/Oct edition of The B.C. Teacher made reference to the Constitution of the BCTF making provision for the formation of PSAs.

In October of 1971, the first meeting of the PSA Council was held. PSAs had been part of the Federation since 1957, but it wasn't until May of 1971 that they came together to form a council that would work together, give advice, and oversee the activities of the individual PSAs. In the fall of 2017, the PSAs plan to hold a super conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre: Challenge, Change, Opportunity: BC Teachers Sharing Success, Shaping Futures.

In the 1960s and 1970s, despite the implementation of a Professional Development Division at the BCTF, much of the professional development offered to teachers was provided and funded by the Ministry of Education and local school boards. Principals regularly chose the topics for teachers' Pro-D days, focussing on topics that they thought were important to teachers' learning and school-based needs. It was not uncommon for teachers to be released for days on end to learn some of the latest educational methods to use in their classrooms. All of this was paid for by the sponsoring agency, either the Ministry or the school district. Back then, we called it in-service.

It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that a seismic shift occurred in the professional lives of teachers. The BCTF Professional Development Division wanted to go beyond the one-shot workshop and develop models for professional learning that met the needs of teachers in a truly transformative way. The Experiential Learning Cycle became the backbone of the work done by the BCTF.

It was this model that informed the work of teachers actively involved in professional development, called PD Associates. Workshops weren't going to be facilitated by outside “experts.” It was time to recognize teachers as the true experts. The “teachers teaching teachers” model was initiated and is still in practice today in the professional development lives of teachers.

“PD is more than just workshops... If we can only provide follow-up... Teachers must have more control over the use of PD days” wrote Tony Flanders in the March/April 1981 issue of Teacher. This call was adopted by the PD Associate cadre. Instead of a one-shot workshop, teachers were offered “first look” workshops that could be followed up by more in-depth learning on another professional day.

The School Union Representative Training (SURT) program was born in the early 1980s. The bargaining division of BCTF began to use professional development approaches to teachers' learning about negotiations and bargaining. A network of union representatives would have the opportunity to come together up to four times a year to learn in a workshop setting the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to carry out their union roles. Workshops would provide stepping stones to deeper knowledge and skills to be used in school union business.

The last twenty years of professional development have brought more changes in the delivery of Pro-D. Teachers are forming teacher-led inquiry groups, action research cohorts, and school-based teams. But though the methods of how professional learning are carried out vary, the reasons for learning remains the same.

What should we be teaching? How can we reach all of our students? Why is it important to teach this? The what, the how, and the why: questions that have driven and I suspect will continue to drive teachers' professional development for another hundred years. 

By Jane Turner, Burnaby teacher
Reprinted from Teacher magazine,Volume 29, Number 2, January/February 2017