Feature

Collective Bargaining Supplement: Professional Development

Christine Brown

For the first time, albeit under unusual circumstances, every current teacher collective agreement contains a negotiated lump sum to support individual professional growth. More occasional teacher collective agreements than ever contain provisions to support professional growth. Today there  is  also  growing  recognition  that  teachers themselves are  best  placed  to  design their own learning. Collective bargaining can help to improve the environment for professional learning for members.

The need for professional learning does not end  when  the  newly  minted  teacher  emerges – bleary-eyed and massively in debt – from the doors of the faculty. PD will be a survival tool until  retirement.  Effective  PD,  the  kind  that results in additional or improved employee skills, is  pure  value-added  from  the  employer’s perspective. Despite this, in practice our new graduate can still expect to pay for much of her or his PD over the years. The challenge for collective bargaining is to continually reduce that unfair and unwarranted burden on the individual.

PD is not simply a question of money; it is also one of professional autonomy. If the battle over recertification taught us anything, it is that teachers have a clear idea of what they need to learn to best enable them to do their jobs. There is a well-established precedent for this emphasis on teachers controlling their own learning. As Barbara Richter noted recently in  Voice (Decem- ber 06, Vol. 9, No. 2), elementary teachers’ federations began developing their own in-service programs in the early postwar period, in response to the government’s lowering of standards for entry to the profession. The federations provided what teachers needed to be successful.

School boards, of course, have always offered PD opportunities  outside of the collective bargaining  framework. For example, a number of boards have moved to a web-based report card system and are training teachers to use it.

However, this kind of targeted training does not address the many factors that drive the need for professional learning: changes in curriculum, increased  paperwork,  the  focus  on  narrowly based assessment tools, changes  in  student and community demographics, limited resources in areas such as ESL, and the general downloading of  ever more responsibilities onto teachers. Any educator who takes a dip in the alphabet soup of today’s schools—DRA, AEP, EIP, IEP, CASI—will recognize the gap between the training that is available and the training that is needed.

The scope of bargaining for PD is fairly broad. For example, the number of professional activity days is set by  Regulation 304 of  the  Education Act 

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