Expand Capacity to Build on What’s Already Working
The entire BCTF is already working hard and is pushed to its limits given the crisis we are now facing together. Thanks to the leadership of the union at all levels, both local and provincial, and the support from union staff, we made it through the first phases of this crisis.
We Can Expand Our Capacity
We can now look at ways to expand capacity by widening the circle of engagement. We should do this not only for the sake of engagement, but also because with more people involved more work can be done.
This requires setting up processes that won’t add to the burden, but that instead share the burden. The following plan provides lots of ideas for doing this. I share it to get the conversation going.
Let’s Work Through Democratic Processes
I am open to lots more ideas, and to coming up with a balance of approaches for supporting teachers and the public schools.
Of course, this is only a proposal and a set of ideas to get the conversation going. I share it as one way that we could focus our work through increased member engagement during this crisis.
Any proposal must be developed by the various bodies of the BCTF and I welcome the changes, additions, and improvements that would come from this process.
COVID-19 Strategic Responses
Engage, Communicate, and Protect
COVID-19 Special Advisory Committee
Given the complexity and stakes of COVID-19 for teachers, students, families, and other school staff, now is the time for:
- More, not less, member engagement in our union’s response to COVID-19.
- Proactive leadership by the teaching profession through our union.
- Thoughtful, inclusive, focused, democratic, and equitable approaches to working together as a union of professionals.
Form a special advisory committee in response to COVID-19 that should:
- Represent membership broadly – with a mix of existing advisory committee members, local presidents and local table officers, and members with other (informal) leadership roles in the profession.
- Be appointed by the Executive Committee with a mandate of equitable representation by teachers who are Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour, who identify as a woman, who are working primarily with students in poverty and other vulnerable communities, teachers who are disabled, LGBTQ2+ teachers, and members of other equity-seeking groups.
The mandate of the special advisory committee should be to:
- Bring representative voices to the decision making table to broaden the circle, widen engagement, reflect the diversity of the profession, and bring more expert views from professionals who are currently working in classrooms and schools.
- Make pro-active proposals as policy recommendations to the Executive Committee, Representative Assembly, and Annual General Meeting.
- Review and provide feedback to the Executive Committee on all matters related to the BCTF’s response to the pandemic.
- Promote equity for all members within the BCTF and the teaching profession, high standards of professionalism, access to public education for all students, student well-being, teachers’ professional autonomy, fair and reasonable teacher workloads, good working conditions for teachers, and teacher health and safety through its work as a committee.
- Members are appointed by the Executive Committee when feasible (with a mandate of equitable representation by teachers of equity seeking groups, see above for details).
- There should also be a mix of teachers working in urban/suburban and remote/rural communities from all regions in British Columbia. All of the subcommittees should be broadly representative and equitable in composition.
- Seven subcommittees with 5-10 members per subcommittee:
- Elementary and Middle School Working Conditions Subcommittee,
- Secondary School Working Conditions Subcommittee,
- Professional Issues Subcommittee (Includes Student Health and Safety),
- Teachers’ Occupational Health and Safety Subcommittee,
- Aboriginal Education and Reconciliation Subcommittee,
- Vulnerable Communities and Other Equity Seeking Groups , Subcommittee, and
- T.T.O.C. and Adult Education Subcommittee.
- Since all of the subcommittees will overlap with existing advisory committees there should be a mix of members from existing relevant advisory committees and members who come from different perspectives. Overlap will foster more engagement at all levels of the union.
- Each subcommittee should be co-chaired by at least one person who identifies as a woman and at least one co-chair should be a member of an existing advisory committee (ideally one would be on an advisory committee and one would not).
- Co-chairs should be appointed by the Executive Committee with the same mandate for equity as for the overall representation of the special advisory committee (see above).
- The subcommittee co-chairs would form a coordinating sub-committee, which would be chaired by the two co-chairs of the special advisory committee.
- When making appointments, teachers in K-3 should be broadly represented across all subcommittees given the unique challenges of COVID-19 for teachers working with young children.
- The Executive Committee should appoint the two co-chairs of the special advisory committee (at least one would be a person who identifies as a woman) – who would not serve on the various subcommittees given the work of coordinating the committee as a whole.
- Members of the special advisory committee could work on behalf of the Executive Committee to help expand support for local unions, through existing networks of the BCTF.
The details of a timeline would depend on many factors and would need to be worked out through a process involving the Executive Committee, other BCTF bodies, and the union’s staff. But there are a few possibilities to keep in mind, such as:
- Being proactive and taking advantage of the summer to prepare for September.
- Recognizing the seriousness of the current crisis and therefore moving quickly to expand member engagement.
- Asking members to volunteer their time in ways that are effective and productive, keeping in mind the need to avoid burnout and the need to increase access by removing barriers to engagement.
The committee’s work should be focused on sharing information, supporting locals, providing feedback, making proposals, and sharing advice with the decision making bodies of the BCTF. It should only focus on areas directly related to the pandemic and should rely as much as possible on existing processes and resources within the union and teaching profession.
The aim of the subcommittee should be focused on expanding capacity by involving more members in doing essential work on behalf of the union and its membership. The union’s staff should provide critical input on how to do this without adding to their already stretched workloads given the many pressures caused by COVID-19 for all workers.
Share Essential Information with Teachers
Teachers, schools, and communities want to hear more from the experts on education – teachers themselves – through our union. Given this, we should:
- Be proactive in our messaging to the public and teachers about the standards for students’ education and well-being.
- Notify members and locals of upcoming government announcements and have more vetting processes in place (such as through the COVID-19 special advisory committee or other regular advisory committees) so that the BCTF can quickly and proactively respond to government plans.
- Use and support existing networks within the profession and union by supporting local unions in holding union staff meetings at worksites, holding round tables, convening expert panels, and engaging in visible action to communicate teachers’ priorities of education, student well-being, and teacher/other staff safety during the pandemic.
Details would depend largely on advice from locals, BCTF staff, and advisory committees and should be developed as part of a more fleshed out plan. The point is to prioritize communication to members and the public and to expand capacity as quickly as possible.
Develop & Promote Effective Standards
Protecting members’ health and safety is facilitated by the following sets of strategies:
- Informing members…
- Know-your-rights materials, trainings, webinars, resources.
- Rapid distribution of scientifically vetted and evidence-based research on COVID-19 for workers and students and in schools and school-like environments.
- Investigating ways to protect ourselves and our students…
- Soliciting ideas and questions from teachers on issues and possible solutions and then vetting possibilities based on scientific research, public health experts, and workplace safety experts.
- Advising government – based on our expertise as teaching professionals…
- Elevate policy recommendations that are developed by union researchers, the special advisory committee, and existing regular advisory committees through public communications.
- Engage in policy-centred lobbying of government based on teachers’ expertise, medical information from science-based research, and workplace safety experts to help drive the government’s response to COVID-19.
- Develop a long-range advocacy plan through the special advisory committees and in consultation with local Executive Committees to help inform government of issues and concerns well in advance of later stages and transitions.
- Be transparent in how information is vetted and how policy is developed internally as a union.
- Developing standards of practice during COVID-19 – as a union of professionals…
- The BCTF should develop standards of practice that are based on the BCTF Code of Ethics, policies of the BCTF, the collective professional knowledge of the teaching profession as represented by our professional body (the BCTF and local teachers’ unions), the principles set out in the Charter for Public Education, and the Collective Agreements.
- There should be two sets of professional standards for teachers during the pandemic: One set related to the provision of education on an equitable basis and one set on minimizing student exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Both sets should be developed and promoted by the BCTF and local teachers’ unions. The development of these BCTF-developed standards should be an urgent priority for our union.
- These standards should be based on the teaching profession’s collective understanding of how to provide education on an equitable basis while ensuring students’ health and safety.
- Members should be informed of the BCTF’s standards and every effort should be made to get the government and local school districts to align their standards, policies, and practices to those of the BCTF. The BCTF alone can reflect the collective judgement and knowledge of the teaching profession and should be leading in this regard as a union of professionals.
- Enhancing supports for Occupational Health and Safety representatives and committees in schools…
- Increase release time for trainings.
- Forming regional networks for sharing information and resources.
- Work with other labour organizations to expand our capacity as a union.
All of these ideas would need to align with existing policies or new policies may need to be approved so that we can navigate through these difficult times effectively. They will also have to respect our Collective Agreements with the BCTF staff, whose work is invaluable and supports teachers and the profession.
This process should be fair, democratic, and transparent. It may therefore take longer than we’d all like – but our democratic institutions as a union are important to respect. We can both respond effectively and follow our longstanding traditions and processes as a democratic union of professionals.