Monday, November 14, 2016

BCSSTA conference and LSA inquiry

Van Tech Secondary
On Oct 21st I attended the BC Social Studies Teachers' Association annual conference at Van Tech Secondary in Vancouver. First of all, what an interesting school -- at the front entrance were annotated photo panels of Van Tech students who went off to WWI and WWII. The building is castle-like, but stark, and has been used as a movie set for a prison show. The vendor displays were interesting -- all related to Social Studies in some way. The keynote speaker was Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist who was imprisoned in Egypt for over 400 days due to his association with Al Jazeera, a news service based in Qatar and seen to be sympathetic towards the Muslim Brotherhood. I attended most of a session on teaching Economics, and then presented on the topic of Heritage Inquiry.

Last year I was approached by BCSSTA past president Wayne Axford, and also Kim Rutherford (who is also a member-at-large) about whether Prince George was interested in forming a Social Studies LSA (Local Specialist Association). At the time I did not get the sense that it would fulfill a need. There are already opportunities for Social Studies teachers to collaborate at their school and across the district, and our PD events for Socials teachers on PD days are rarely full. Those that have the time belong to various networks, and those that don't have the time quite possibly don't need "one more thing" with which to be affiliated. 

New information may have convinced me otherwise.

While at the BCSSTA conference I attended their AGM. The BCSSTA has funds for chapter support. At present, they have two LSAs that are properly affiliated with the BCSSTA -- North Peace (Ft. St. John) and Central Okanagan (Kelowna). There may be other Social Studies LSAs but they are not formally tied to the BCSSTA, e.g. I know there is one on the Sunshine Coast. Based on the 2015-16 BCSSTA budget, most of their annual allotment for chapter support remains unused. Being a Pro-D-minded fellow, I would love to see some funds support the work of local teachers and perhaps help us bring in great presenters and facilitators from time to time. I also learned that they are launching an academic journal that will require both an editorial board and contributing writers. I have joined their executive as a member-at-large and let them know that I will test the waters for an LSA.

I see the following as the main pros/cons of forming an LSA:

  • new funding opportunities for Prince George SS teachers and their professional development
  • opportunities to be involved with the activities of the BCSSTA e.g. their new journal
  • connection to a broader network of teachers, resources, and ideas
  • keep up the multi-year momentum of renewed focus on curriculum
  • promote Social Studies Education, the need for the Humanities (i.e. History and other Social Sciences), as well as Physical Geography
  • we already have opportunities to collaborate (PD days, Learning/Innovation Grants, Pro-D Fund, small networks) and share resources (e.g. Teach BC website), etc.
  • LSAs as source of teaching resources kind of faded away in conjunction with the rise of the internet
  • there are currently few barriers to PD opportunities other than time (which is always in short supply)
  • having an open inclusive group can create multiple agendas, leave the formation of a committed core to chance, and awaken personality dynamics (let's face it, some teachers go to great lengths to avoid each other)
For me, the tipping point is that there is not much to lose in giving this a try. I'm intrigued by the possibilities and think it can be wrapped up each year with a minimum of meetings (1 or 2 annually), a few good PD events (1 or 2 annually) and a greater sense of collegial bonhomie -- "cheerful friendliness, humour, and geniality." I feel that, along with others, I have been working hard on the "Social Studies" file for many years and that we have been doing some of the work of an LSA without actually being an LSA. We have literally provided thousands of hours to provide leadership on curriculum, build and share teaching resources, and mentor new teachers -- so my thinking is that these efforts might just as well be linked to similar work going on elsewhere in the province.

So, if there are any SD57 Social studies teachers that would like to discuss the inauguration of an LSA, perhaps look at a draft constitution and establish some roles, join myself and others at the Black Clover on Friday Nov 25th at 3:45 pm. If we can find support to get this started, we'll schedule a general meeting in the New Year. You can also email me about this.

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