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Apr 22

Chris Smeaton

A message to the government

Tomorrow, Albertans go to the polls. This provincial election has been one of the most intriguing in many years as there appears to be no clear cut majority. However, that decision will be left up to all of the people who cast their votes for the candidate and party of their choice. My blog today is not meant to be leading but rather, I want to express a message to the government regarding education regardless of the winning party. Education is on the cusp of greatness and therefore as a passionate educator, I desire that our government and for that matter any government provides an ear to the right people to continue this massive transformation. So here goes…

Board of Trustees– Trustees are the elected officials in our system and responsible to the community. They provide an excellent context and focus on what is best for students. They are typically under-appreciated and that is disheartening. They certainly don’t provide their leadership because of the pittance of pay they receive. They do this often 24/7 job because they care about providing high quality education to students and want the best for the community they serve. Trustees understand they are required to make tough decisions to be good financial stewards but don’t throw them under the bus. Listen to their ideas, dreams and hopes… they will assist greatly in the transformation of education.

Senior Administration– These education (CASS) or business (ASBOA) officials are a great source of information. They have typically come to these positions with a wide range of experiences. Superintendents have been classroom teachers and school principals and so their expertise is vast. They are also leaders and leadership is required to make a difference for all children in education today. Senior administrators view the system from the balcony and the dance floor simultaneously and live in both the political and non-political world. Their insights are crucial in leading a transformative culture.  

Teachers– Improvement of any system must include collaboration with those who work “in the trenches.” Teachers provide the expertise of the here and now. They understand pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. They are charged with the implementation of transforming education at the classroom level and therefore must be part of the conversation. They are able to create opportunities for growth and remove many barriers to guide success. When research suggests that the number one contributor to student success is the quality of the teacher, they cannot be ignored in the conversation.

Parents– We’ve typically liked parents who support us in education and criticized those that don’t. Parents are partners in the education of their children and in reality are their first teachers. There is a need to listen to parents who are satisfied without becoming ecstatic as well as parents who are dissatisfied without being critical. The engagement of parents has never been more important, as they can and will lead the paradigm shifts in thinking required by our communities. Engage them and the system will receive the necessary boost!

Students– “Children should be seen not heard” was probably not acceptable in the past but certainly is not acceptable now! In fact, student voice is essentiall if we truly want to move education forward. Education is not something that we do to our students but what we do with our students. And the only way to truly education with, is to listen to. Students need to be recognized as an important part of the solution. We cannot continue to ignore their dreams, their input and their ideas. There is no one group that has the market on ideas. Student voice is required and we must be open to hear and ultimately confront their sometimes brutal facts!

Tomorrow a government will be elected and soon after a Minister of Education will be named. While there are many others who will provide you expert advice on education, please don’t forget to listen to and engage with the above groups! They will lead Alberta through transformation!

3 comments

  1. Renee

    Support Staff – an often not thought of group of dedicated, passionate trench workers in which an inclusive education system would not survive without. While “student supports” are always mentioned in conversations, what isn’t mentioned is that those supports come in the form of people who are underpaid and often under appreciated except by parents who know their child would not make it through the day without them.

    EA’s working with high needs students provide personal care, medical care, physiotherapy, life sustaining techniques such as suctioning, tube feeding, seizure management, airway management, behavioural interventions and much more. They sometimes get spit on, puked on, peed on, objects thrown at them, hit, scratched, sworn at, cried on, hugged, confided in, loved and hated.

    They often eat lunch with their students to ensure they are not missing out on social opportunities. And breaks? What are those? They are more often than not relied on to adapt and modify curriculum. They must understand how to use assistive technology and how to apply it to classroom settings. They are sometimes assigned to 6 students at one time because the school will not hire more support and so they are spread very thin, like teachers. Everyone agrees that an inclusive education system cannot work without supports, but we must remember who those supports are and what is involved in supporting the students.

    We are now building an inclusive education system. Support staff must start to be “included” in conversations as an equal stakeholder in the education of our students. Try proving inclusion without them.

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Hi Renee,

      Point well taken! I don’t disagree with anything that you have said. But right now, there is no formal structure for government to interact with support staff and the message is to our government. Support staff have to be part of the discussion on education transformation in all school divisions. Their insights have to be highly regarded and sought after if we want the full picture. In the past, our surveys have been limited to teaching staff only. This year, we have made the change to ensure that support staff can provide the same level of input. In order to achieve true engagement at the division level, all employees must be be involved and the entire community must be part of the process.

  2. Renee

    No, there is no formal structure set up…yet.
    But, I sat beside Mr. Lukaszuk at a support staff consultation a month ago that was set up by our association and was pleased to have him say that he agreed, support staff are rarely mentioned and yet we are vital to the success of Alberta’s inclusive education system.

    The government will provide a formal structure for us once they understand that we have a wealth of knowledge to share. That we have years of experience implementing inclusion.

    However, I believe this will happen only if our education leaders get the ball rolling by bringing our work into the government’s view. If our education leaders understand our contributions (which I know you do) and also ensure we are mentioned in conversations alongside teachers, then the government will not be able to continue to see us as just an added bonus when afforded, but instead an essential element to the classroom and school.

    Teachers partnering with assistants is a common classroom practice these days and therefor deserving of the recognition.

    Just because there is no current formal structure for support staff to interact with government does not mean we should not be mentioned as a stakeholder group. (I know that was not your intention of course 🙂

    They can talk to us if they want.

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