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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 1, September 2006

On being well: Wellness is lifelong personal development

by Julia Johnson

Last year September came with uncertainty. Teachers began their school year not knowing where their collective stand to negotiate a contract that would restore working and learning conditions was going to take them, and 10 months later on June 30th they ended the school year with a five-year collective agreement in need of ratification by its membership.

For BCTF President Jinny Sims, this agreement-in-committee with the employer is being viewed as a significant gain for the teaching profession of BC—significant because "[teachers] stood firm for their students, public education, their profession, and their own rights." (BCTF Bargaining Bulletin #31).

At the Summer Associates’ and Trainers’ Institute held at UBC in August, Irene Lanzinger, BCTF first vice-president, suggested that this five-year contract was significant because it would provide time for teachers, local executives, and the Federation to reflect on the work of each member and each focus group. Instead of being "intensely engaged in actions related to union issues such as bargaining, the Federation as a whole and its individual members now have the opportunity to think more deeply about their work."

Mike Lombardi, speaking about professional development for teachers at the trainers’ institute stated that the ProD priorities, as determined at the AGM in March 2006, would be as follows: "Teachers would (1) be instrumental in developing educational policy as it relates to student learning and what goes on in the classroom, (2) advocate for continued improvements in student learning conditions, (3) continue to strive for autonomy of their professional development because they know what is best for kids, (4) continue to challenge the accountability agenda at the school, district, and provincial levels,

(5) advocate for a quality education system that is free from the privatization of commercial interest, (6) promote the work of social justice action groups, and (7) extend the work of the Federation in Aboriginal education.

This September, teachers are relieved they will be able to begin their school year without political drama. They are grateful for the opportunity to enter their classrooms knowing that for the next five years there will be no province-wide interruption to their teaching. Beginning a school year with this stability will help to promote professional development, as teachers will have more opportunity to converse about their teaching practices. When teachers spend time with their colleagues talking about things they care about—in particular the practice of teaching—their intellectual, social, and emotional wellness needs are attended to.

Educator John W. Gardner, author of books on changing and decaying societies and personal renewal wrote: "Every institution in our society should contribute to the growth of the individual. Every institution must, of course have its own purposes and preoccupations, but over and above everything else that it does, it should be prepared to answer the question posed by society: What is your institution doing to foster the development of the individual within it?"

For the next five years the direction of the BCTF will be to explore this question through the diverse PD workshops they provide. Facilitating this endeavour are volunteer PD associates who have been trained to help you think more deeply about the issues you encounter and the work you do. If we are to "continue to advocate for our students, ourselves, and for a socially just and civil society" (Jinny Sims) then we must also ask the question, "What am I becoming?" because "unless you change how you are, you will always have what you’ve got" (Jim Rohn). And what we have is a diverse society manifesting its troubled heart by warring. Rohn, author of Claim Your Power, suggests that we need to learn to work harder on ourselves than we do on our job and that "the business of personal development lasts a lifetime." To be sure personal development is what keeps us healthy in mind, body, and soul and maintaining a regime of personal well being is lifelong work. Getting help in achieving personal wellness and workplace health is only a phone call away through the BCTF workshop wellness program.

Julia Johnson, a retired learning resource teacher in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate and a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board. livingjewels@shaw.ca.

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