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Teacher Newsmagazine  Volume 21, Number 7, May/June 2009 

My teacher leadership experience

By Pat Fedak

During the early years of my teaching career I became interested in our local teachers’ union—Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA)—as a school representative to our local assembly. This helped me be informed of what was going on and to be current about issues affecting day-to-day teaching. It was much later that I became involved in a leadership capacity. Today, I look back on a career that has been fortified by professional experiences both locally and with the BCTF.

In the beginning, I was encouraged by an administrator to join a local specialist association (Provincial Intermediate Teachers’ Association) because he believed I had talents that would be suited to a broader scope than one school. At the LSA meetings, I met others who were interested in increasing teacher exposure to professional experiences. After two years, I was asked to be president of that association and our committee worked to bring a variety of opportunities to Surrey intermediate teachers. Around the same time, I enrolled in a master’s program. Through my new friendships, I joined the STA Professional Development Committee. And, after I had completed my Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, I developed a set of workshops about integrating mathematics and visual arts that I facilitated for several years.

Within a few years, I was asked to run for chair of the STA PD Committee and I worked in that capacity for five years. During that time, the BCTF called upon locals to enhance the profile of professional development. Surrey took the challenge to enhance teachers’ professional autonomy seriously, and increased the time allotted to the PD chair and the types of professional opportunities that would be offered to Surrey teachers. These included developing a special projects opportunity for teachers to work in teams of two to four from a school on a topic of their choosing with release time, training for teachers to become facilitators using the WOW (Workshop on Workshops) program, a local project grant to LSAs that were putting on a workshop or conference, and a joint venture (STA, BCTF, and SD #36) called “Continue the Conversation,” which focused on school/site opportunities for professional conversations.

I also applied for, and was accepted into a cadre of teachers that would become facilitators of the BCTF Program for Quality Teaching. My goal was to bring PQT to Surrey. Subsequently we have sponsored and I have co-facilitated three PQT experiences—PQT Action Research (2005–06) and PQT Teacher Collaboration (2006–07 and 2007–08).

The BCTF was able to expand the portfolio of PQT to include Teacher Inquiry Projects on their own first, and this year to a greater extent through the use of ministry grant funds. With the support of the BCTF Executive, staff persons Nancy Hinds and Charlie Naylor combined their energies to make sure that facilitators would be trained to guide these experiences. The projects were designed to be sponsored by union locals, districts, and the BCTF.

This year, I have been fortunate to work with Laurie Gitzel from Sooke on one of these projects. It has been a positive experience with 24 participants being given opportunities to develop professional conversations in school teams with a focus on differentiated instruction. The participants worked during five sessions (1-day and 1/2-day release time as well as two after-school sessions) bringing a plethora of talents and wisdom to the group experience. Our goal was to guide self-directed, autonomous learning through a process of moving from isolated individual to supported collective concerns. This was professional learning run by teachers for teachers that tapped into real life experiences. The inquiry culminated in presentations and a celebration on April 16, 2009. Of significance to me was the fact that all the sponsors trusted the facilitators and the group to seek their topics of interest and display their learning as best suited the individual needs of the participants. The learning was rich, and the support for continued professional growth was heartwarming.

As well as my involvement with professional issues, I have participated in my local executive as a member-at-large and as secretary. I have attended several BCTF Annual General Meetings. These opportunities have helped shape my career as a teacher and a leader in my professional community. It is because of my desire to support life-long learning for educators that I remain energized and enthusiastic about the rewarding job of teaching BC’s youth. I recommend to any teacher to get involved. My experiences from school level committee work, to local and BCTF involvement has helped me realize what distributed leadership is really about. Volunteering in a small way has certainly led to a fulfilling professional life.

Pat Fedak teaches at Sullivan Elementary School, Surrey.

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