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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 5, March 2007

When member-to-member conflict hits! Where to turn? BCTF services

by Nancy Hinds

In my role as BCTF staff co-ordinator for the Internal Mediation Service (IMS) and as the Code of Ethics administrator, few days pass without a call from some troubled teacher in conflict with a colleague. Too often, it seems that the call for help comes long after the problem first surfaced. Too often, neither party is speaking to one another by the time they call. Frequently, the member was not aware that the BC Teachers’ Federation provides a range of dispute resolution options for members both locally and provincially. This article outlines how a member may access these services when she or he finds themself in conflict with another member.

Respectful, constructive relationships among teachers are important in our profession. The BCTF Code of Ethics outlines principles for responsible conduct between teachers and the public (students and parents), teachers and colleagues, and teachers and their union of professionals. But, positive relationships can break down and conflict is the result.

When this happens, it is always advisable to approach the other party first with the concern or issue. This is in keeping with general ethical practice (and the BCTF Code of Ethics, Clause 5). The first option is to handle the issue through assertiveness or if necessary, through negotiation with the other person. In reality, this may not happen because of concern for safety, repercussion, a tendency to avoid such issues, or a hope that the conflict will just go away.

If it seems improbable that the issues between the members will be resolved through a direct problem-solving or negotiation method, members may request the assistance of a third party. They may turn to their school staff representative and/or their local president for advice and assistance with the matter. Depending on the nature of the conflict and the willingness of each member, the local may set up a meeting to resolve the dispute, with the staff representative or local president acting as facilitator or mediator. A few locals have their own internal mediation services, led by trained local teachers. It is worth checking.

Alternatively, the members in conflict may request third-party help from the BCTF Internal Mediation Service (IMS). The IMS mediates disputes that threaten good relationships and workplace climate among active members and others. Trained BCTF members act as mediators in this service. Co-mediation teams of two, mediate in neutral settings; all information is confidential to the members directly involved. No notes are maintained. This service is at no cost to the members. Applications may be made by completing pre-mediation forms that can be found in all local offices or on the BCTF web site. Numerous member-to-member disputes have been resolved through the Federation’s IMS service since its inception.

Sometimes, the member conflict relates to a breach of the BCTF’s Code of Ethics under Clause 5, which states: "The teacher directs any criticism of the teaching performance and related work of a colleague to that colleague in private, and only then, after informing the colleague in writing of the intent to do so, may direct the criticism, in confidence, to appropriate individuals who are able to offer advice and assistance. It shall not be considered a breach of the Code of Ethics for a member to follow legal requirements or official protocols in reporting child protection issues." When a member believes that a breach has been committed, she or he may file a complaint of such breach against another member by completing and submitting a complaint form, available from the local president or on the BCTF web site. It is incumbent on any member filing a complaint to submit documentation to substantiate their claim. The member so charged will be given the opportunity to respond in writing to the allegation. All information will be placed before a screening panel of Judicial Council members, duly elected by the Representative Assembly to serve in this capacity.

Depending on the nature of the conflict, additional options may be to file a harassment complaint with the superintendent against the other member, or to file a grievance against the employer for failure to maintain a harassment-free working environment. The detailed processes for doing so are contained in the collective agreement. Advice on the availability of these options is available from local offices and from BCTF field-service representatives.

Each of the above options is available to members as a conflict resolution service supported by the member’s union—the BCTF. The options provide due process in times of personal crisis—a safety net when the one time in one’s career such a service may be needed.

Nancy Hinds is an assistant director, Professional and Social Issues Division.

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