Not surprisingly, given the scrutiny that public education is seemingly under in the province lately, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Patrick Maze altered from protocol in his address to the Annual Meeting of Council.
The fact that he shared the head table during the opening day session with various education partners made for the perfect backdrop, as his remarks were clearly meant not only for councillors in the room but also those whose positions have not necessarily aligned with those of the STF in recent times.
Addressing the recent governance review, Maze didn’t mince words when he reminded those in the audience that “education doesn’t happen in the boardroom or in the legislature–it happens in the classrooms. We need to constantly pay attention to the teaching and learning relationship, and remember that education is not an administrative endeavour, but a human one.”
Maze assured councillors that “we [the STF Executive and senior administrative staff] depend on you to help advance the teaching profession by fostering unity from a multitude of voices from the entire teaching profession.”
Maze was also eager to remind those listening that teachers are working in a strained and tense environment.
“Over the past decade teachers have begun to face a dizzying array of new initiatives in education related to curriculum, testing, data and ‘accountability.’
“And now, we face the prospect of major legislative changes to The Education Act, 1995 without the consultation of teachers or the general public.
“This is a major challenge that teachers will need to address together as we move forward. Each of you, as individual teachers, sees how this story is playing out in your individual classrooms and schools across the province. In travelling across the province, I hear many compelling stories from individual teachers–how they continue to do their best for students under our current circumstances, but also how they are struggling to do that,” Maze said.
He added it is critical that in working with the public and our partners in education, we are going to change how this story is written.
Repeating a claim he has stuck to since first being elected as president two years ago, Maze underscored the importance of listening to teachers and making sure your voice is heard by everyone at the provincial level.
Alluding to the wishes of the STF Executive and senior administrative staff to enhance teacher engagement, Maze said he was pleased with initiatives such as the collective bargaining survey, for example, which he indicated had very positive feedback. “We heard from many members across the province what their priorities are for upcoming negotiations.
“Another part of rewriting the story of education in Saskatchewan is our commitment to multiple areas of advocacy–particularly with regard to educational governance,” Maze suggested, while citing the Federation’s response to the aforementioned governance review.
He also said the review made it clear that if changes to governance would occur in Saskatchewan, the only justification would be improved teaching and learning.
“The Federation put forth a vision of diverse, school-centred education that will empower teachers to do what they know best–teach without unnecessary and excessive interference.”
In his address, Maze also touched on other areas of advocacy, including bringing teachers’ voices to the table, in particular, and working with our partners in education by giving feedback and criticism on various areas of policy such as the Education Sector Strategic Plan and Inspiring Success.
“And while the Federation has some reservations about a number of ongoing initiatives in the sector, this year we continued to show commitment to getting things right in order to improve teaching and learning,” he added.
However, although Maze expressed his reservations about the current relationship among the education partners, he nevertheless emphasized that the key part of the story, which we need to be writing as we move forward, has to be the importance of working relationships with our partners in education and rising to whatever challenge is presented to us with a collaborative approach.
“We’re also committed to the relationship we have with every single teacher and member of this organization. Our unity and coming together as teachers during Annual Meeting of Council does not mean that we all agree with one another, or that every teacher in Saskatchewan thinks the same way about the issues we face.
“We are a democratic profession and a profession of thinking people, each of us bringing a personal and professional background to our important work. During my time as a councillor, I particularly enjoyed entering into dialogue and debate with my colleagues from across the province,” Maze noted.
“But, as every Annual Meeting of Council demonstrates, when we meet as teachers, we can be confident that we all have the well-being of the profession and of public education at the forefront of our concerns. I think that the multitude of voices and perspectives that we bring to the table is a source of strength, and our ability to effect positive change comes from our desire to work together and meet challenges together.
“The fact that we are all assembled here today is proof of this. If we’re going to change the story of Saskatchewan education that has been written over the past several years, we can’t do it alone as one individual teacher or even one small group of teachers. We have to work together as a collective whole, and we have to foster our professional and political unity as a profession.”
Acknowledging the challenge of sometimes gaining consensus, Maze agreed that working together with 13,000 others will take more time, careful consideration and sound judgment than it would if we all simply go it alone.
“Working together and taking into account the multitude of voices and perspectives will sometimes seem frustrating. But as a profession, we speak from a position of strength when we know that we have consensus and that everyone is on board.
“But we can’t do it alone. We need to work with others–government, parents, students, school boards and everyone who is concerned with public education. I think it’s important to remember, councillors, that although teachers do not always agree with their partners in education, we have a duty to continue to work with them in order to improve public education in Saskatchewan.”
Maze suggested it is our duty as educators and partners in education to provide a world-class, high-quality public education in a fair and equitable manner in every classroom setting. This is our central challenge–the diversity of our communities and of each individual student’s learning style, ability and background.
Returning to a well-worn narrative, Maze said the challenge is best met by working together.
“We meet it by understanding that each partner in education understands their respective roles and responsibilities. We meet it by entering into respectful, deliberate dialogue with one another that recognizes the knowledge, experience and perspectives of each different educational partner.
“Moving ahead, if we want the story of Saskatchewan education to be more positive, teachers need the assurance that they are being respected, that they are autonomous and that they are being heard as professionals.”
Maze underscored the fact that teachers, for their part, are committed to upholding productive working relationships in the education sector by sharing their perspective honestly and openly with others. Teachers understand that they may not always get what they want, and that they are not always in decision-making roles with regard to some areas of public education.
“But teachers expect that, as those doing the hard work in the classroom day in and day out, their voice and perspective will be heard and taken into account when major decisions are being made.
“Partners in education, this is the challenge that I would respectfully call on you and your organizations to consider. Despite our different roles and responsibilities, teachers remain eager and energetic to work constructively with you.
“I promise you that teachers are ready to provide new, innovative solutions to our common challenges and in order to meet our common goal–educating students for the good of the entire province. We remain firmly committed to our professional duty of providing high-quality education to every student in Saskatchewan, no matter their background or abilities.
“History isn’t over. Let’s forge ahead and write a better story of education in Saskatchewan as we discuss the future of the sector and of this province,” Maze summed up.