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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 1, September 2007

Leadership succession challenges for the BCTF

By Royce Shook

Over the last few years, there has been a number of concerns expressed by the BCTF about the upcoming shortage of teachers at the same time as there has been a growing concern by the Ministry of Education, the Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association, and other groups about the lack of teachers who are willing to move into administration. In 2006, the government launched an initiative in response to the "succession challenges" faced by districts, by providing funding to start up a non-profit society with the mandate to develop leadership in the public education sector (Emery Dodsall, June 2007). This growing challenge in leadership succession should be a concern to teachers and to the leadership of the BCTF.

The BCTF should be actively promoting and providing teachers who aspire to leadership in education an alternative to becoming administrators. The alternative that should be promoted is being active in the BCTF at the provincial or the local level. The teaching profession needs strong teacher-leaders in schools to advocate for members, children, and parents, to protect our hard won union rights, and to speak for education when the government and school boards are putting more emphasis on the bottom line.

Usually leadership is seen to be the mandate of the principal, head teacher, or department head. However, research has shown that teachers can lead in a variety of ways, including committee work, grade, and school levels, and union activity. Katzenmeyer and Moller (2001) defined teacher-leaders as: "teachers who are leaders within and beyond the classroom, who identify with and contribute to a community of teacher learners and leaders, and influence others toward improved educational practice."

Many teachers think of union activists as the union representative in the school. However, there are many teachers in schools who are union activists and leaders who may not see themselves as such. Teachers who are active on the school safety committee, the professional development committee, the staff committee, the social committee, and other school-based committees are all union activists. These committees play a vital role in the life of a school, but many teachers do not seem to understand that the right for teachers to be on these committees was won through bargaining by the BCTF and was not given by the employer easily. These important union committees play a role in the welfare of teachers and ultimately in student achievement.

As leadership in schools in BC is becoming less centralized, teacher-leaders are assuming increased responsibility for leading improvements in teaching and learning. An important element in teacher leadership is the ability to influence the practice of others. Through union committees teacher-leaders influence the practice of others.

York-Barr and Duke (2004) identified a number of studies that directly examined the effects of teacher leadership on students. One, a qualitative study of three elementary schools, reported a positive effect on students’ learning because of the influence teacher-leaders had on the instructional practices of their colleagues.

By working with other like-minded professionals, teachers build their own understanding of their pedagogy. In addition, working on union committees gives teachers the opportunity to provide leadership while building and strengthening personal and professional qualities such as:

  • enthusiasm, commitment, and passion
  • communication skills
  • reflective, reflexive practices
  • leadership capabilities and collaborative skills
  • in-depth specialized knowledge.

Developing teacher leadership is an important role of the BCTF. Leadership is not just for the administrative team; leadership can be shown by a variety of members of a school community. When teachers think of leaders they may think about positional leaders who are given their leadership and influence through formal authority. However, other types of leaders within the school are personal leaders who are informal leaders and who lead by nature of their personal or professional position. Teacher-leaders usually are personal leaders.

Teacher-leaders primarily focus on leading and improving teaching and learning practices. If we are to continue to have a strong and teacher-centred union, the BCTF should be considering its own programs on how to develop future teacher-leaders. The opportunity to develop and show leadership, in the classroom and on union committees, helps build teachers’ morale, self-esteem, self-efficacy, work satisfaction, and retention.

I encourage young teachers to become union activists and leaders through involvement in school-based committees, and I encourage the leadership of the BCTF to consider building programs that help our teachers become better leaders. The need for continuing strong leadership in the BCTF is too important to be ignored.

Royce Shook, a retired Surrey teacher, is currently a Surrey TOC.

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