Supporting the well-being of our teachers and students through advocacy, research and action
“Wellness in our Schools: Time to Act” was the theme of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s (CTF) largest professional learning and public education event this year, the Canadian Forum on Public Education. Over 150 teachers, union leaders, and others with an interest in strengthening public education gathered together in Montréal in early July to better understand the challenges to mental health and well-being in our schools, and to consider initiatives and approaches that will lead to improved student and teacher wellness. It was inspiring to see so many professionals gather, during summer holidays, to collaborate on this important issue.
Immediately following the Forum, delegates to the CTF Annual General Meeting (AGM) continued the focus on mental health and well-being by convening in pan-Canadian groups, to discuss concerns regarding the wellness of teachers and students, promising practices to improve student and teacher well-being, and potential asks of provincial and territorial governments. The discussions were rich and reflected both the cultural diversity of our country and classrooms as well as significant commonality of concern and the collective commitment of teachers’ organizations to the well-being of our members and students.
Analysis of the discussion groups’ composite input, by CTF staff, underscores the commitment noted above and will serve as a valuable guide for the work of the CTF Board of Directors and staff in several key ways. In the coming months, CTF will step up advocacy efforts across the country to call upon relevant federal as well as provincial and territorial ministries to understand the many challenges Canadian children and youth as well as teachers face that can take a toll on their mental health and well-being. We will also put forward concrete suggestions, such as:
- Establishment of a Commissioner for Children and Youth: a national office responsible for ensuring federal legislation and policy accounts for the best interests of children and youth;
- Further exploration and possible development of “Integrated Services Delivery” (ISD), similar to the one begun in New Brunswick;
- Programs that address the particular needs of students and teachers from minority groups, including the LGBTQ community, francophone Canadians, refugees and immigrants;
- Curricula and programs to make schools safe spaces for all, including teachers.
As a federation, CTF will also continue to collect and disseminate valuable information and resources across our membership, including:
- Examples of language in collective agreements that specifically addresses teacher well-being, including the “duty to accommodate”;
- Initiatives that encourage respect for teacher professional judgement (as the link between the professional autonomy and wellness is clear); this is in addition to entrenching such language in collective agreements as has recently been achieved by Ontario unions;
- Support for teacher well-being, such as the Balance program provided by The Manitoba Teachers’ Society;
- Raise awareness regarding “time intensification” and its impact on teachers and students through sharing of research such as the work of a joint committee involving the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation;
- Resolutions like that of The Alberta Teachers’ Association advocating for teacher preparation to include health and well-being;
- National partnership programs with organizations such as the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
On behalf of the CTF staff team I have the honour to lead, my sincere thanks to the CTF Board of Directors, participants and presenters at the 2016 Canadian Forum on Public Education, and delegates to the CTF AGM. The theme of the 2016 World Teachers’ Day is “Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status” and, at CTF, we can think of no better time than now to truly take care of teachers! After all, every child deserves not only to be taught by a qualified teacher,1 but also by a well-supported teacher who has the preparation, resources, environment, and time to provide the very best to this highly relational profession. We look forward to contributing further to teacher and student well-being.
1 Please see Education International’s Unite for Quality Education Campaign for further information regarding the three pillars of quality education and each child’s right to a quality education.