The current educational climate is awash in uncertainty. The decision by Justice Griffin regarding the unconstitutionality of Bill 28 and then the subsequent Bill 22 that was the government’s attempt to remedy the original judgement, has everyone in the public education sector wondering about its implications. There is uncertainty as to the immediate impacts this will have on the educational system not just in Burnaby but provincially, and what the final outcome might be, particularly as the government has announced its plan to appeal the ruling and apply for a stay of the rulings implications. The ruling is complex, and the Board of Education and District staff, with support from the BC School Employers’ Association, the BC School Trustees’ Association, and the Ministry of Education, are working to determine an appropriate response to the ruling and the appeal.
Teachers and government are currently in contract negotiations. The history of bargaining between these two parties has been difficult in the past and resulted in disruption to programs, services, extra-curricular activities and even brief periods of school closure. Hopefully the two parties will reach a freely negotiated settlement. Whatever the results of the impact of the decision by Justice Griffin and the contract negotiations, it is certain that these results will change the future organization of public education in British Columbia. How that will look is uncertain.
How do we respond to uncertainty in the system and still keep students engaged in their learning? While pondering this question last week, a student whom I had taught 14 years ago sent me an email to let me know how well he is doing. He had faced many challenges when I last taught him, but seems to have found a way to take the road less travelled and turn his life around. He expressed gratitude for our conversations, that weren’t about curricula or the benefits or limits of collective agreements, but focused on the hope and potential I saw in his future if he worked hard to change his path and priorities.
This email reminded me of a letter that was written to my maternal grandmother, who had been a teacher, decades ago. Her former student took the time to write and thank her for how she treated his family during World War II given the internment they were forced to endure, being Japanese Canadians. He did not speak of the learning he achieved under her tutelage, but rather the care and the dignity she provided him and his family. She respected their humanity and kept the focus on the possibilities that were available to him. He in turn paid that kindness forward. He became a successful business man, employed others and improved the lives of many.
Every time I visit schools, I see staff taking the time to treat our students with this same dignity. In the classrooms, teachers and educational assistants are taking the time to engage students in discussions about what is possible, asking those critical questions that give cues to learning. Our students are excited to learn. They feel respected and capable of learning – even if it is hard sometimes.
These observations give me hope that what has been true for decades is still the key to successfully facing uncertainty today. The truth is both simple and challenging. Stay focused on the most important teacher-student aspect – building positive, respectful relationships that embrace the dignity of each person, provide hope, and give each student a belief in their own ability to learn for a lifetime and to succeed.
Positive relationships are powerful and do make a difference. Let us all keep that in the forefront of our minds as the system moves forward.