Sunday, December 07, 2014

How then to shrug and walk away

Strange as this may seem, since the return to work in BC schools after a long labour dispute, school boards across the province have been asked by the public education employer's association (a government-controlled body called BCPSEA) to give extra vacation time to principals and vice-principals for the perceived extra work-load during the teacher job action and strike. This information was revealed at our local public board meeting on Nov 25th and has been a topic of discussion in BCPSEA circles, among administrators, and among #bced tweeters for some time. I'm not sure how many boards in BC took up this cause, but in my school district it appears to have been a closed-door decision at some point between BCPSEA's request and the Nov 25th board meeting. I guess the board forgot an important and necessary step of releasing the outcome of their talks (the decision to award vacation time), thus putting administrators in an awkward position of being informed of their extra holidays but in theory not being allowed to know about it. Imagine the awkward moment when a principal puts in a leave application for a day off for which he or she is not supposed to be aware.

At any rate, after the public board meeting we now know about it and can begin to consider why it is that managers should receive extra vacation time when employees engage in job action. The irony in this situation is that with empty schools -- almost no staff and no students for 5 weeks -- administrators can hardly be said to be overworked. No doubt concerned parents made their usual phone calls, and everyone left in the building had to scramble when the government ordered report cards to be salvaged from disrupted school year, but I'm at a loss to figure out how this scenario translates into the need for extra vacation time. The conversations I had with principals and vice-principals during the job action (the ones that stopped at the picket line to talk) confirmed this -- they wished us well and acknowledged that it was a bit dull on the inside without staff and students. There were similar comments about Phase 1 -- the modified work-to-rule that preceded the full strike. While management had to pick up extra supervision duties (except for recess, which they cancelled), they also had no staff or committee meetings, no emails with teachers, less paperwork, no involvements with learning teams and other special meetings. There was perhaps some new stress, but no more that what we all felt, especially those having to defer mortgage payments. Maybe it's about danger pay -- there was the prospect of zombies showing up to summer school after all. Adding to the BCPSEA bizarro, we now see that stemming from the same time period when BCPSEA was taking 10% of teachers wages by locking them out of mainly voluntary duties, administrators are being gifted vacation time for... um, for what I'm not quite sure. Who comes up with these things, and which of our trustees voted in favour of this?

Recently I came across a "Michael Fullan" graphic (shown below) from the Nov 14th BCSSA/BCASBO (educational leadership) conference that encouraged districts to pursue "lateral capacity building, a culture of trust and collaboration, and building connections with teachers as activators." At the end of the strike in September we also heard from the BC government that they wanted to patch up the relationship between teachers and the employer after the mudslinging during the job action and the turbulent history going back 12 years. In light of this, I'm trying to think of an angle from which it does appear that BCPSEA's request to compensate management (while each teacher gave up $1000s in wages) seems cynical and ill-timed.

Why do I care? Why should others care? First, there is the fairness of a decision to reward management for a labour dispute -- profiting from another employee group's loss. This is not fair to management -- I know for a fact that many do not want to be put in this position again (administrators were gifted with an extra 5 days vacation during the previous job action in 2011), and it is not fair to teachers. I also care because the decision does not seem like a positive step towards improving our education system and mending relationships, which should be a priority for both school boards and BCPSEA. This sets us back.

As a background note, I have been a public education advocate in earnest for about 4 years, an observer and intercessor on local issues for about 7 years, and an active agent for educational change and mutual accountability for my entire teaching career. My spouse was a local school trustee for the last 3 years and we share many of the same beliefs about how our education system can be improved. That has led to some awkward moments over the last few years because she knows stuff that I can't (and don't want to) know about, so a careful dance has been necessary, and yet we have also discussed the things she can talk about because we are both interested in organizational health and the evolution of education.

She is finished with being a trustee now, and we don't have to walk that line anymore. I can see her stress levels easing off by the day, and I'm even feeling a need in myself to back away from the advocacy role and devote more of my attention to creative pursuits, my family, and my students. Maybe by the time the next labour dispute, teacher strike, or local hot issue flares up we'll both be able to join the ranks of people who are able to shrug, block it off, and carry on our way. Not likely, but definitely worth a shot.

As I have sometime noted at the end of blog posts over the last decade, if anyone has comments, corrections, or concerns with what I've written, please leave a comment below or contact me. Having recently had my hand slapped for apparently saying too much about this topic at the wrong time and place, I thought it was important to craft a "slow" piece on this topic. My thoughts can be summed up in one statement: if the BC Government, BCPSEA, and local boards actually want to rebuild trust and "develop lateral capacity" they need to see these beliefs visited upon all of their decisions that affect the organizations in which we work (together).