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 (the number has fluctuated over the past 10 years). The present regulation provides both man- datory and discretionary days (i.e., days a board must designate as PA days, and days it may designate). As long as negotiators stay within the limits of the regulation, they enjoy considerable latitude in bargaining. Locals are also free to negotiate for union input into the programming of PA days.

Designated funds for professional learning is another bargaining issue. Funding typically takes the form of a negotiated lump or per capita sum that  members can  access. Governance mechanisms vary from agreement to agreement; many funds are jointly administered by the board and the union, while others are administered solely by the local. One teacher local, Hastings-Prince Edward, has even negotiated a special technology fund that  members can access periodically to help defray computer costs.

The  funding  that  every  teacher  collective agreement now contains came about as part of the  provincial   framework  agreement  reached in  April  2005.  A  $500  “teacher  development account”  was  made  available  to  each  teacher as reimbursement for purchases of computers, software, professional materials, and professional development courses.

In part, this money was a  sweetener to  the overall negotiating package. But it was also a rec- ognition that for a long time teachers have been subsidizing their employers by funding their own professional learning.

The  teacher  development  account,  however, was  a  one-time  event.  While  PD  funds  have been  a  feature  of  many  collective  agreements for decades, they have continually been prey to larger economic forces.

For example, the Social Contract in 1993 froze yearly increments for three years. For teachers not at maximum salary, this was a considerable financial hit. It was, however, possible to “buy” the increments back, by negotiating savings in other parts of the  collective agreement. Among other measures, a few locals and boards started putting their PD funds on hold.

By 1996, locals had more or less bought themselves out of the freeze, but were quickly faced with a new funding model, school board amalgamation, Bill 160 – and Mike Harris. In the district school board teacher  agreements covering

1998–2000, 21 out of 31 contained some form of negotiated PD funding. Since then, three of these funds have been somewhat increased, two have been somewhat reduced, nine have stayed the same, and seven, or one-third, are no longer in the agreements. In each case, these provisions fell victim to funding pressures.

For occasional teachers, the overall trend has been somewhat better. Far more so than their teacher colleagues, occasional teachers have had to fight for professional recognition and respect. Teaching is not the only occupation in which a pool of replacement employees is deployed. No one would accept the notion that a replacement nurse  needs any less training than a nurse who works every day. Yet counterintuitive as it is, that has sometimes been the employer mindset with respect to occasional teachers.

One way to counter this attitude is to negotiate for more PD opportunities for occasional teachers. In a couple of cases, this has taken the form of one, or one-half, paid PA day per year, though this type of provision has been quite rare. For collective agreements covering 1998-2000, there  were  only  two  occasional  teacher  locals with negotiated  PD funds. Today there are 10, with funds generally administered by the union and including funding for individual PD and/or PD days sponsored by the local. While not large, these funds have been growing in both number and dollar amount. They represent a significant achievement in occasional teacher collective bargaining.

It  may  well be  that  for  all  ETFO members the  increased  profile  gained  for  professional development in  the last bargaining round will carry over to next year’s negotiations. We can only hope so – for the sake of the  new teacher, the teacher mid-career and the teacher nearing retirement.


Courtney White standing in front of school wearing mask, carrying books and hockey stick

Courtney White anticipates the upcoming year as an occasional teacher in the context of COVID-19.