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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 12, Number 5, March 2000

Everything you always wanted to know about PD days

by Keith Coates, Charlene Hodgson, & Mike Lombardi

Do PD days shorten the school year? Why do teachers need professional development days? Can’t teachers do PD on their time? These questions and others continue to be a matter of discussion for teachers, parents, and the public.

History of PD days

Professional development days represent a hard-won recognition of our needs and responsibilities as teachers. For many years, the BCTF made representations to our employers and the Ministry of Education to recognize the importance of teachers having the time and resources necessary to engage in professional development.

In 1972, PD days (non-instructional days) were added to the school calendar at the request of the teaching profession after years of advocacy from the BCTF. The inclusion increased the number of days of work for teachers with no loss of instructional days for students. PD days in the school calendar recognized that teachers needed time during the school year to hone their skills, improve practice, and stay current with changes related to teaching and learning

During local bargaining most locals of the BCTF were successful in achieving provisions regarding PD days. In general, the contractual provisions provide for school and/or local PD committees to determine and plan the activities for PD days. A related provision of local agreements provides most local PD committees with control over the allocation of PD funding for teachers.

Value and purpose of PD days

Professionals in most fields routinely network with fellow practitioners, conduct and review research, and talk to experts and colleagues about trends, issues, and plans for ongoing professional development.

As active learners, teachers use PD days to keep on top of changes that affect their work with students, such as new technology, new ideas about teaching and learning, and different community needs. PD days help keep teachers current.

Topics for PD days come from the classroom experience of learning and teaching. Teachers decide individually and collectively the issues to address. They attend workshops and conferences, participate in mentoring programs, pursue self-directed professional development, and undertake other activities designed to enhance teaching and learning. They take their new skills back to the classrooms.

In addition to PD days many teachers attend university, take evening classes and weekend workshops, read professional journals, and attend summer school. These experiences promote a culture of teaching and professional development that has teachers working together as members of a learning community, rather than in isolation.

Effective school-based PD day planning

The starting point for effective school-based PD day planning is a needs-

assessment process. The school PD representative should work with other members of the teaching staff to identify needs and plan training to meet those needs.

Over the past 20 years more than 20% of the schools in the province have called on BCTF PD associates (trained teachers) to facilitate the school-based needs-assessment process (currently called, “Take Your School to New Heights: Group Process Facilitation”) on PD days. This interactive process leads to the development of a school PD plan.

PD days under threat

The use of PD days for activities such as accreditation seriously undermines our statements about the need for time for teacher professional development. The BCTF recognizes that school accreditation is a major concern for teachers. It is onerous, ineffective, and a significant waste of time, energy, and resources. In response to teacher concerns regarding accreditation, the BCTF has developed a school self-evaluation process (“Schools Taking Action and Review,” STAR). We have requested the Minister of Education to eliminate the mandatory school accreditation programs. If the accreditation program is retained, we have asked the minister to authorize a limited number of schools to participate in a pilot of the BCTF STAR process. The Federation has also asked the ministry to provide six additional non-instructional days over the six-year accreditation cycle for schools.

The BCTF recognizes that using PD days for accreditation is largely attributable to lack of release time for accreditation. The Federation strongly recommends that school staffs not use PD days for accreditation activities.

School staffs may want to consider reviewing the article, “PD days not for accreditation” (Teacher, May/June 1999) for practical ideas for dealing with accreditation.

The use of PD days for activities other than professional development, such as sports tournaments, also undermines our statements about the need for time for PD.

As a result of government/ employer-mandated training such as child abuse protocols and health and safety, teachers are under pressure to use PD days for in-service training. In October 1999, the BCTF RA adopted a motion stating that schools should not use PD days for WCB health and safety training, including violence prevention. The Federation has requested the ministry provide an additional non-instructional day for mandated training.

Issues such as school-wide discipline, anti-bullying, and other related professional development needs, as determined by school staffs, are appropriate for PD days.

The BCTF has also asked for the ministry to provide additional non-instructional days for curriculum and program implementation. We have secured one implementation planning day in the provincial school calendar, however, some school staffs are using PD days for implementation purposes making it more difficult for the Federation to secure additional non-instructional days.

The intensification of teaching and other local factors are leading teachers in some districts to consider taking their PD days in late August. This decision provides teachers with an additional week of vacation at the Spring Break. This could lead to a longer school year. In response to this development, and acting on advice from the Professional Development Advisory Committee, the BCTF Executive Committee has adopted a policy encouraging locals to organize school-based or district-based PD days during the school year rather than during the summer. If schools want to use PD days as a group they can schedule the days at the beginning of the school year or at some other time during the school year. When some teachers are prepared to use their PD days in the summer, it is difficult to argue for the retention of our PD days and for additional non-instructional days without adding days to the school calendar. Perhaps we should consider negotiating a mid-winter break into the school calendar to support teachers who are dealing with the stresses and challenges of teaching today.

Working together to support professional development

The challenges raised in this article can be addressed if we work together. As a union of professionals, we must use a strategy that includes bargaining, advocacy, professional influence, and communications to support teacher professional development.

Keith Coates and Charlene Hodgson are co-chairpersons of the Professional Development Advisory Committee. Mike Lombardi is director of the BCTF’s Professional Development Division.

To book a needs-assessment workshop, contact the BCTF PD Division. To order copies of the brochure, “Why No School Today? The Facts About PD days,” contact the BCTF’s Organization Support Division.