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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 3, November/December 2004

Web page launch: Teaching to diversity

In 2002—03, the BCTF Research Division, with the support and assistance of the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association and the Nanaimo and District Teachers’ Association, conducted a research project in Coquitlam and Nanaimo. The project considered how funding, legislative, and contractual changes affected students, classroom teachers, and specialist support teachers (special education, learning assistance, and ESL). Fourteen teacher researchers from the two school districts, and BCTF research staff collaborated in collecting data from over 500 teachers and dozens of parents. They also accessed enrolment and staffing data, and wrote 45 reports—the most extensive current B.C. research into this province’s inclusionary practices and issues. The reports are published on the BCTF web site at bctf.ca/education/InclusiveEd/ResearchProject.

Two findings prompted the development of the web page:

1. In a BCTF survey, 43% of teachers in the two research project school districts stated that they felt unprepared to teach to the diversity in their classrooms.

2. With the abolition of ratios for learning assistance/special ed/ESL teachers, and with cuts in these areas, there was less time for the provision of LA/SE/ ESL services. In addition, many experienced teachers in these roles were quitting the specialist support role and opting for classroom placement. Consequently, classroom teachers have fewer sources of information and advice, and less experienced specialist support teachers are struggling to meet classroom-teacher and student needs.

The new web page (bctf.ca/TeachingToDiversity) uses the findings of the union’s research in two districts as a starting point for action to support the professional needs of members in all districts. In addition to BCTF research staff, the project involves BCTF staff from several departments, and three PSAs (Special Education Association, Learning Assistance Teachers’ Association, and English as a Second Language Provincial Specialist Association).

The web page is intended to:

  • offer union-led, professionally oriented solutions for both classroom and specialist support teachers who are working to meet diverse student needs.

  • provide a source of "information as needed" to teachers, so that teachers can access the site when faced with an unfamiliar area of exceptionality, or when they wish to check out different teaching strategies appropriate to a given exceptionality.

  • encourage utilization of the page as a source from which professional development units could be built and shared.

While the web site will be in construction during the rest of this school year, many great resources are already there:

  • The Resource Inventory, with its learner profiles, teaching approaches/strategies, adaptations, and lesson plans. Teachers in combined ESL/LA/ Special Ed roles will find sections on assessment and documentation of utility.

  • A PSA-developed Glossary of Terms, with almost every acronym known to teachers. A great resource for newer teachers or for pre-service teachers.

  • Provincial policies and reports (Special Ed and ESL), as well as the widely used BCTF/CUPE report outlining teacher/teacher-assistant roles and responsibilities.

  • Links to B.C. community organizations’ web sites (that have a focus on inclusive education), with many more links to come.

  • Online journals including publications from the International Reading Association, Council for Exceptional Children, and Learning Disabilities Online.

  • Monthly highlights, where we will feature sections of the page relevant to topical issues in the media or events during the school year, such as reporting.

  • A moderated discussion group, where you can share ideas or pose questions to the group moderator and a panel of teachers from the PSAs.

  • Information about an ongoing pilot project in Nanaimo, Coquitlam, and Prince George, where the BCTF, local teacher associations, and the school district are collaborating to build inquiry-oriented approaches to supporting inclusive education.

One of the strengths of the project has been the partnership between the three provincial specialist associations and the BCTF, now expanded in the pilot project to include the PD chairs of local teacher associations and district staff in each of the three school districts and locals. Representatives from the three PSAs recommend online resources, and they have also contributed print-based resources that the BCTF is making accessible online. Their time, expertise, and enthusiasm have made the project possible.

We will be providing updates on both the site and the pilot project in future issues of Teacher, and posters of the site will be mailed to staff reps in schools. But check out the web page as it evolves for the latest on approaches to including all students in B.C.’s public schools.

– Charlie Naylor