Supporting Members’ Professional Growth in Times of Change (Professional Services)

Jerry DeQuetteville

Ken  Georgetti,  president  of  the Canadian Labour  Congress, believes that  the  programs and services unions provide in  addition to collective bargaining are the  heart  and  soul  of  the  union  movement. ETFO  recognized this early in its first decade and  has  consistently  supported  members  in their professional lives as well as  negotiating and  enforcing  collective  agreements.  Members  have  responded  positively;  without  fail they have found  ETFO’s professional learning resources and programs to be the best available. Today ETFO is known nationally and internationally for its efforts.

The ultimate test was undertaking this work at a time of incredible tumult in the profession. In  the  past  10  years the  expectations placed on Ontario’s elementary educators have  been revised year after year with head-spinning frequency. Supporting members in these times has been challenging, but  ETFO has done it with vigour.

Responding to change  in the classroom

Since 1998 a whole new curriculum has been implemented in all grades, with great speed and with few supports.  Elementary educators did not experience the multiyear phase-in afforded our  secondary  colleagues. ETFO  stepped  up to the plate, producing professional resources and  providing training  for  members as  they struggled to  do  a  seemingly impossible  task. That they succeeded was due to their own hard work,  professionalism, and tenacity – and to ETFO’s assistance.

Many of the new curricula had more expec- tations than there were days in the school year. Recognizing  this,  Professional  Services  staff produced  resources to  help  teachers  identify areas of  overlap so that they could  integrate multiple expectations. Our document, Building  TeachersPlanner, and  our  planning  work- shops are among our most popular and most successful.

The   new   curriculum   was   particularly problematic for teachers of  combined grades because combining  expectations and teaching a common lesson became much more difficult and  in  some  areas impossible. After holding focus  groups with  these teachers, ETFO produced  a  position  paper,  Split  Decisions, and used it to lobby successfully for change. Because these issues remain significant, the federation is developing an additional qualifications (AQ) course for teachers of combined grades.

During this same period, a new report card was introduced, soon followed by another, and in  some district school boards, yet another. It was a part of a significant change in student assessment. Once  again  Professional Services staff assisted members by developing resources and providing training in the collection, interpretation, and use of data. Our work in responding to assessment issues spanned the organization. Collective Bargaining staff  ensured that teachers’  working  conditions  were  respected and that they would have access to the tools and the training they needed to complete report cards. Professional Relations Services staff provided advice about the legalities of the reporting process and about responding to pressure to change a mark or comment.

Programming  for  special  needs  students also underwent significant change, much of it dictated by the response of school boards to the new  funding  model.  More  special  needs students were integrated into regular classrooms with fewer accompanying resources. In many boards,  classroom  teachers  assumed  greater responsibility for the completion of individual education plans (IEPs). Recognizing the increased demands on these teachers, ETFO hired staff and developed its own Special Education AQ course and special education resources.

Supporting  teacher  professionalism

The Conservative government’s plan for mandatory teacher recertification was perhaps the greatest challenge to teachers’ professionalism during this period. The professional learning program (PLP) required teachers to attend 14 professional development sessions over a five-year period in order to keep their certificates. ETFO members refused to participate but found it difficult to pursue their own self-directed professional learning because many traditional providers were offering only PLP courses. ETFO offered its own programs and showed members how to track their own  self-directed  and  PLP-free  professional  learning.  The  campaign against mandatory recertification involved all areas of the organization and every member, and was ultimately successful.

Surprisingly, there was a significant bright spot amid all of this misery. In our first year, the Ministry of Education provided the federations with funds to offer summer curriculum courses for teachers. These courses, offered by teachers for teachers, were immensely popular. When 5,000 teachers applied for  1,500 spots, the ministry provided additional funding.

ETFO  worked  with  OECTA, AEFO,  and OTF  to  offer  these  programs  annually  until in 2002 the  government insisted that they be tied to the PLP. Our response was “Thanks, but no thanks!” Instead we found  resources, hired staff, and offered our own Summer Academy program. These courses continue to be popular: this  year some 2,500 teachers attended ETFO courses in all corners of the province. The election of a more education-friendly government in 2003 may have slowed change in some areas, but it increased the pace elsewhere.

The Liberal government’s oft-stated goal of having 75 percent of grade 6 students achieve level 3 or 4 on provincewide tests has resulted in an unprecedented focus on literacy and numeracy. However, unlike its predecessor, the current government has focused on consultation and providing  resources. When  the  Literacy  and Numeracy Secretariat (LNS) was created, it initiated focused literacy and numeracy plans, and it put significant resources into the system – in fact, more than at any other time in Ontario’s history. Teachers received extensive support and training, so much so that at times they wanted it to stop. How quickly things change!

Unfortunately our  occasional teacher and ESP/PSP  members  didn’t  receive  this  same level of professional  support. ETFO urged the government to provide them with professional learning opportunities and, while we have had some success, this work is ongoing.

In another significant initiative, the government eliminated the widely disliked test that new graduates had  to  pass to be certified and replaced  it  with  a  comprehensive  system  of supports. The ministry and many boards based their plans on the ideas espoused in a popular ETFO resource, ProfessionalBeginnings: An Induction Resource Guide, published in 2003.

ETFO recognized that members who were mentors  to  new  teachers  also  needed  support. The Ministry of Education identified our hugely successful workshop for mentors as an exemplary program. We hope to  capitalize on this  success by  developing a  Mentorship AQ course.

The  government’s intention  to  create full- day,  every  day  kindergarten  programs  will require that  members receive significant support. ETFO’s professional resources, Kindergarten Matters: Learningthrough Play and Observation, will be invaluable. ETFO has also developed a Kindergarten AQ course that focuses on  play-based learning. Last year, we received significant funding from the Ministry of Education to develop  programs to support JK/SK educators.

After  extensive  dialogue  with  stakeholders  the  ministry  recently released The Partnership TableReport on Teacher Professional Learning. Its recommendations about effective professional  learning will have a significant impact on our work in the years ahead. Already many of our programs involve multiple sessions over the course of a year so that participants can examine their professional practice in a deep and meaningful way. Programs such as Teachers Learning Together and Reflections onPractice are more expensive and complex than single-session workshops, but our research shows that they have a significant impact on teachers, classroom programs, and students.

Perhaps the best example of the difference in this government’s view of teacher unions occurred in 2006 when ETFO received $8 million from the ministry for professional learning. This funding allowed us to provide new programs and to enhance some existing popular offerings. Among the new initiatives was ETFO’s Poverty and Education program, which focuses on supporting students from impoverished backgrounds. Additional grants from the Council of Directors of Education has allowed the continuation of this program.

That ETFO received these funds recognizes our status as a provider of  high-quality professional learning. Our programs  meet the diverse professional learning needs of our members. Many projects include an extensive evaluation and impact analysis because we want to gain additional insight into what influences members’ professional practice to help us with future planning.

Involving members  and  the  broader  community

The professional zeal of our members has supported our work. Over the past 10 years members have completed multiple surveys that have helped us  identify areas of need and focus. Members eagerly participated in focus groups to ensure that  new documents and programs were useful and reflected classroom reality. Our Summer Academy and the wide range of courses it offers is one example.

Another example is the recently published resource, ETFO Arts. Teachers told us that the focus on literacy and numeracy and the cuts to specialist teacher positions meant there were few professional supports at a time when more classroom teachers  were teaching their own arts programs. Our new resource has been repeatedly praised by educators and specialists in arts education.

Member input, research, and best practices have allowed us to develop programs and resources that are more sophisticated than ever. Our services are widely recognized for their practicality and their success in supporting members and their students.

Today,  unlike  10  years  ago,  ETFO  Profes- sional Services staff are often called upon to ensure that the voice of  elementary educators is heard in all areas of the education sector. We meet with officials at EQAO, the Ontario College of Teachers, the LNS, and other branches of the Ministry of Education.

Recognizing that education is far more com- plex than in the past, we have forged links with experts in medical fields and  universities, and with international groups. We developed Reflections of Me, our curriculum on body image, with the Hospital  for Sick Children. We undertook research on  teacher working conditions with the Ontario Institute for Studies in  Education. Staff from Ontario faculties of  education are working with  participants in  Teachers Learning Together. And  we are working with Right to Play to bring a more play-based program to students in developing nations.

We have also worked with subject associations to ensure they develop a greater elementary focus. This has allowed  us to better tap into their expertise to meet our members’ professional needs. The influence that ETFO has throughout  the  education sector is significant, and the change that we have been able to bring about has been positive – a far cry from  the exclusion we experienced 10 years ago.

In her first report to the ETFO annual meeting then-president Phyllis Benedict identified our first year as a time of  change not seen in Ontario  since  the  time  of  Egerton  Ryerson. Looking back, it seems that every year of our first 10 years has been full of change. Each and every time the federation has met the challenge head on, never shying from a difficult task, and in the process far exceeding the goals it set for itself when it was formed.


teacher with students in class

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