Fisticuffs don’t work: time to change the bargaining process in the BC Education dispute

It is not easy being part of British Columbia’s public education system these days. As a teacher on strike standing up for public education, these past few weeks on the picket line have been bittersweet.

The picket line has highlighted many layers of dysfunction in the education system in British Columbia dating back to the 1990’s when the collective bargaining process saw teachers happily give up a salary increase for language in the contract on class size and composition. In 2002 however, the government stripped this language out of the contract we supposedly had in place. In 2011 the Supreme Court declared the government’s actions illegal and ordered them to remedy the situation within one year. Nothing happened.

Again in 2013, the BC Supreme Court declared the government was breaking the law and stipulated that class size and composition language be brought back into the contract. The government’s response once again was simply they were not going to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

As a result, for more than a decade, schools have been underfunded and understaffed and children have been denied the quality education they deserve. The government seems to be above the law, tearing up agreements and making their own rules along the way. Clearly they are out of touch, not accountable to the electorate and their hearts are frozen.

This past month, I have managed to wear out my favorite running shoes on the picket line and take the brunt of many jokes due to my squeaking orthotics! I have taken advantage of this unsettling situation to build a ConnectZone among three schools in south eastern Burnaby. It has been well worth the daily discomfort, and I have burned off loads of excess calories in the bargain. I’ve walked off my mounting frustrations with the government while personally connecting with as many colleagues and comrades as I can. Each day, I have been deeply moved by their devotion to their work and their love of kids and families. It is these connections with my colleagues that have prevented me from running out of emotional gas.

School’s been out for 3 weeks but I have returned to the picket line on two occasions already this summer. Confrontational practices have led negotiations nowhere and the divide seems insurmountable between teachers and the government. To prevent a return to the picket line in September, it is blatantly clear that a new, better and more positive approach is required. We know the ConnectZone approach works because it has been used successfully to build solid, sustainable bridges in schools-with pupils, staff, parents and the community. The bargaining room needs to become a ConnectZone—a safe, warm, welcoming, supportive, inclusive place. The ConnectZone approach will work equally powerfully in this situation because it offers an environment of human connection, open communication, collaboration, trust, compassion and tolerance. It nurtures a community of care of meaningful relationships, physical and emotional safety, security, exploration, self-expression, growth and maturity. Certainly if we are to resolve the strike, both parties will need to soften their defences, be kinder and gentler with each other, attend to each other, show fairness, value and acceptance of each other. Both sides will need to work with, not against, each other and will need to look to others, e.g., a mediator, for assistance.

Do you think this change is possible?

Bev Ogilvie

Bev is Associate Professor at City University and temporary instructor at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC. Bev has 30 years of professional teaching experience in public schools, colleges and universities. She is a Master Instructor with the Crisis Prevention Institute, a member of the BC School Counsellors Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the BC Association of School Centered Mental Health Coalition. She is co-founder of Project Hope and the Collaborative for the Study of Connectedness in School Communities. Bev was awarded the 2009-2010 British Columbia Registered Clinical Counsellor Professional Care Award for exhibiting special creativity and effectiveness in providing counselling and professional care.

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