Concerns continue with Teaching Excellence report

“We believe strongly that we have excellent teachers in Alberta” Brad Vonkeman, president of the Alberta School Councils Association

A report containing 25 recommendations to improve Alberta’s education was released last month, and Albertan’s are still giving feedback on a number of issues, including teacher evaluations, parent involvement, and perceived threats to principals positions.

A teleconference was hosted May 27 by Education Minister Jeff Johnson and Task Force for Teaching Excellence (TFTE) members Ron Young and Michele Mulder. It provided Alberta’s school councils an opportunity to voice their opinions on the report and asks questions.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the report, as many different educational groups, such at the Alberta Teachers Association, as well as individuals across the province feel its intentions threaten teachers with the call for evaluations every five years.

A majority of the teleconference was spent explaining the thought processes behind that recommendation and dispelling confusion and anxiety.

“We believe strongly that we have excellent teachers in Alberta,” said Brad Vonkeman, president of the Alberta School Council Association. He added the task force document was created to strengthen an already sound system.

“It’s not a report about getting rid of bad teachers, it’s about making everybody better. This report, I think, moves everybody along that continuum,” added Young.

With the report covering a broad range of subjects Johnson says the document is not about pinpointing weak teachers, but instead is looking to build on all matters that will provide more advantages and opportunities to the students. “I want to emphasize that we’re extremely proud of our system . . . but we’re only strong because we look to continual improvements.”

One of the report’s recommendations states teachers should turn in a professional growth plan each year with an evaluation of those plans by their principal every five years to keep teachers accountable.

Further explaining the non-existence of a threat to teachers, Johnson says the evaluations are not meant to expose bad teaching practices through that process, because if there were a bad teacher in a school, the ministry would not wait for the five-year process to run its course to remove them.

A related concern centered around how, not only parents, but the community as a whole could and should become more involved with the education of students. “I think the parent voice and the community voice is the one that’s been missing from education,” said Mulder.

This is why the report recommends parents have a place in evaluating teachers she added.

A listening council representative questioned why it would be necessary for teachers to receive feedback on their own individual professional growth plans.

Mulder likened the practice to a professional growth exercise. “It’s only that too often a person is too close to themselves to the areas that need improvement.”

Johnson and the TFTE members feel allowing parents and students to evaluate teachers will help close the gap between how teachers feel they are providing for their students and, in turn, how the students feel they are being taught.

“It’s not meant to be a threatening thing . . . if it’s managed properly, it’s not meant to be a free for all,” said Mulder.

Another concern seems to be how teaching excellence will be defined and why some practices already common in the province were named as recommendations. Johnson says those recommendations were made to ensure everybody will have access to those “best practices.”

“What goes into those portfolios of excellence we need to have continuing dialogue about,” he added.

More unhappiness stemmed from the belief the TFTE sought to remove principals from their Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) membership. However, Johnson and the TFTE members stressed to the more than 50 councils listening in on the teleconference that the document was not being put in place to create a “bureaucratic nightmare” or remove principals from their current roles.

Mulder says the report works to keep the checks and balances within the system and ensure the best is set before Alberta’s students.