Monday, September 15, 2014

What's the End Game?

So, as I mentioned in the last blog, public schools should be open, no matter what. Negotiations between government and teachers should take place outside of student learning.

In an increasing climate where public education is under threat, where government is methodically chipping away at public education and increasingly providing financial support for alternative private school options, we need to do everything we can to provide a dynamic, innovative, program of attraction in public schools. Here and now.  With the resources available, with the conditions we have right now.  While we continue to advocate for the resources and commitments for our students, we continue to work at providing best practice with the current conditions.  

How do we negotiate,  then, if we choose to refuse to use our previous and potent "bargaining chip"? How do we negotiate when the balance of power is heavily weighed in one corner - The Liberal Government?

I don't have any magic answers here, and I wish I did, but I do have some thoughts.

When I teach students conflict resolution skills, I begin by pairing the students  and having them face each other, grab elbows and try to use all of their force to push their partner.  The catch is, that when they have determined which of the partner's has more force (power), the partner with more power, let's up just enough as to create a field where both partners are keeping the tension. Both partners are working towards creating a maintaining a fluid field of dynamic force, while keeping it "balanced".

This little practice is what waging good conflict looks like. Both parties choose to hold the tension, stay connected, and move with the "dance".  The partner with the "most power", continues to agree to hold equal.  If you participate in this activity long enough, the balance of power changes and moves from partner to partner.  The most important value is not "winning" or claiming more "power".  The most important value is relationship.  Both partners hold on and work at finding the middle.

When both partners value relationship, conflict resolution can be a transformative opportunity.  Ideally, conflict helps all parties learn about each other and themselves. 

What do we do when the two parties do not have equal power and when the value of the individual with the greater power, chooses not  to move towards understanding, relationship and balance? When I pose the question to my students, it does not take them long, to understand that they need to give more power to the individual who has less power.  Students will come alongside the partner who is being "pushed over" and they will create more pressure, until the two sides are balanced.

The BCTF - Government dispute is not balanced. Although there is a growing attempt by parents, other unions and other political parties, it is no where near enough pressure to balance out the government tactics.  I am not suggesting here that the BCTF is all good and that the BC government is all bad.  There are layers of grey and complexity all over the place. 

What is important, though, is that the task of providing a balanced approach is collective.  When there is a huge imbalance of power when two community forces come into conflict, it is the community that decides whether they will mobilize to equalize the two sides.

Where is everybody?

We all seem to be passively waiting for "leadership" to take care of this for us, and I include myself in this "we". This blog is my small part in equalizing the balance of power and not waiting for leadership to fix this for us.

While the two sides are apparently still talking, I fear this is another ruse and resource depletion from the Government in order to set up back to work Legislation, now that parliament is back in session.  More resentment, more disrespectful rhetoric and more erosion of public education.  

I am thinking we are going to have plenty of opportunities to work at creating enough force to balance out the enormous inequity.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ramblings on the Picket Line #3 – Students

It is a grey Monday morning, and the dispute continues, seemingly both sides more entrenched in their positions than ever, with no sign of a truce.  It appears that I will be writing quite a few of these before I return to my school work routines, and quite possibly, a good piece of Fall will be behind me. As rumors of strategies and action plans run rampant on social media and on the picket line, public school students remain at home.

What has the cost been for students while this dispute continues?

In high school, the cancellation of summer school has meant that students who failed classes did not get an opportunity to ‘get a second chance’ and repeat the classes so that they could stay with their grade and potentially graduate on time.  Routines, structures and consistency have all been on hold.  Of course this effect is greatest on the very students teachers are fighting for when advocating for class size and composition guidelines.  While public school is closed, students in specialized classes, or students with special needs and their families, these are the communities that are compromised most when public services shut down.

Parents now are doing what they can to find programs and educational plans while all of these adults figure out what is best for them.

In the meantime, education, and especially the delivery of education is changing – quickly.  Students and parents have more and more choices as to how they learn.  The proliferation of private education opportunities, especially online and blended options will only increase.

Public schools must be one of the educational options and it should be a program of attraction, not, as it is now operates in some American School districts, as the option of last resort.

Disrupting school time weakens that option.

Right now, there is an active dismantling of public education by the current government, with a specific agenda in creating a three-tiered system of education. And lets be clear, this job dispute has been a very careful, sophisticated, calculated and successful procedure by the Government in bringing this about. The forty dollar a day per student incentive is just the beginning and we will see Clark and the Liberals roll out more of the plan in the weeks to come.

We need to keep our students at school, in school, at all costs.  Striking and removing our services worked in a different time period but it doesn’t work now. It works against public schools and that is the heart of or should be the heart of our communities.  Communities need to trust and know that public education is a constant.  Public schools need to build a reputation based on consistency, innovation, risk taking and “a sure thing”. 

In this new era of learning, these are the values that are going to matter most.

Mediation needs to happen outside of the classroom and it should be easy.  Both sides bring their best pitch to an independent party who picks the best one. Done. Of course this would require both sides to share their power equitably and that is not going to happen anytime soon.

We can save all that money on public opinion campaigns, lawyers, mediators and general silliness.

We need to keep our students in public schools.  This needs to go beyond an “essential service”. This needs to be a sacred trust where regardless of what political party exists, we promise our children they can count on school.

I have no idea what the end game for this strike is, but what I do know, is that the loss of wages will be the least of our worries. It will be winning back the trust and the support of students, parents and community members.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ramblings on the Picket Line #2 - Union

Yesterday, I wrote about the Government and today, as promised, I am going to ramble about my view on the BCTF.

Marshall  McLuhan, oh so many years ago, wrote “the medium is the message” and in this digital age of instant information, this has even greater significance.  Packaging of content has just as much importance as the content itself and at the same time, the rapidity of information and the speed at which we can blurt out our opinions ideas and thoughts mean that we are inundated with information, most of it, practically stream of consciousness.  We are consuming information in a growing number of mediums and from a growing number of sources.

This means that we need to be mindful that the packaging matches the content in the delivery of every message.  Every presentation of the teacher’s contract requests should be geared towards this understanding.

Fassbender, Clark and the BC Liberals understand this and have executed an excellent campaign in spreading their message.  Fassbender always appears well groomed, clear, and precise. He is quick to get his message out and the message is on the offensive, and action focused.  “We want a deal, We cannot afford to meet the teacher’s over the top demands, Wage demands are twice as high as every other public sector”, and on and on it goes.

The BCTF on the other hand, has appeared unsure, weak and on the defensive. Worse, their sound bites have been general and have not included some of the important positions.  “Let’s make a deal, we are ready to negotiate, I am requesting a meeting with Christy Clark so we can get our students back to classes and our teachers back to work”. What needs to be front and centre, loud and clear, needs to be the mantra of something like, "Honour the Supreme Court Ruling! Reinstate the Class Size and Composition Language that was illegally stripped by the government!"  Keep the message clear and constant, and save the long press releases for blogs and websites.  The information war is won on visual and 110 character sound bites.

The BCTF has not evolved in its mediation and communication practices.  We are no longer in a “Norma Rae” world, and the big demands the BCTF first began (start high and whittle away to the middle) set up the “greedy teachers” mantra.  Government has done a much better job at communicating their disinformation to the public.  Christy Clark’s weekend tweets on teacher’s demand for double the increase of all public sector workers  without a single mention of the Class Size and Composition Supreme Court ruling is a good example of this, compared to Jim Iker, quietly demanding a face to face meeting with Christy Clark. 

Compared to the Government’s controlled and consistent media presence, the BCTF has appeared na├»ve, and unsophisticated.  It feels as if the BCTF has run a campaign expecting everyone to play by the old rules.

But things have changed exponentially even from two years ago.

The Liberal Government doesn’t have to “obey” the Supreme Court Ruling and they don’t have to play by the rules.  They hold the purse strings on both ends – they have an unlimited pocket to fund their court cases courtesy of BC taxpayers, and they can continue to stall public education – and make money every day by doing so.

The BCTF has underestimated the scope and the strategy of the BC Government at every turn and continue to struggle to make the changes necessary in order to communicate a confident, strong offensive.

Our physical, media and language messages need to work at matching our demands. The messages need to be short, professional and focused and they need to come across as proactive, directive and clear.

As the strike continues to drag on, it will become increasingly more important that the BCTF works at polishing the message throughout all of the mediums and to focus the message on what matters most: honoring the Supreme Court Justice Ruling on Class Size and Composition.

Next Blog Post I will be writing about the student perspective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ramblings on the Picket Line #1 - Government

This is a painful blog post to write.  I have stopped talking about the strike because the feelings from everyone are strong and fiery, and almost always framed in a way that leave me defending the teacher union position.

Let me start by saying I am on the picket line. I am a due paying member of the BCTF and I am also a taxpayer.  This means that I am paying for both sides of the labour dispute.

I echo the sentiments well summarized in Alex Tsumakis’ article. The intention of the government is not about restoring public education, nor is their intention to negotiate an agreement.  This is personal, and there is a strategic, well calculated plan to break and bankrupt the BCTF. 

Fassbender introduced the 40 dollar a day scheme and comprehensive website that was two months in the making.

As Neil Godbout from the Prince George Citizen writes:

The Liberals came to the table with a [simple] strategy. Break the union. It was never about the kids or about education. It wasn't even about winning. It was about administering a crushing defeat in the most humiliating fashion possible

The Liberal government has been clear by their practice, that they are not willing to take any responsibility for the Supreme Court Ruling supporting Class Size and Composition Language.  This is a big deal if you are a teacher in a classroom with a group of students with increasingly complex and diverse learning needs and challenges.  This is a big deal if you are a parent of a child who has complex and diverse learning needs and challenges.  It should be important to all of us but I am not so sure it is.

More importantly, the government has relinquished its responsibility to ensure children have access to public education.  One of the key responsibilities of any government is to protect our public spaces and public education.  Children should be able to assume that they have access to public education.  As 16 year old Callista Ryan writes, public education is a basic human right according to the United Nations Treaty on the Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

This should matter to all of us.

The BCTF has their part in this, and a mighty big one I might add and I will definitely get to that in my next blog post, but our elected government has the responsibility to ensure public education remains open.

Instead, government has chosen to use their power and their financial resources (which we all have provided via our taxes) in toppling a union.  That is fundamentally not okay with me, and it should fundamentally NOT be okay for all of us desiring a society that puts access to education as a non negotiable.