When I landed my very first job as a secondary school administrator, a friend took me aside and handed me a copy of The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. Trust, she said, was the most important part of relationships and the key to success in leadership.
I believe that. I work hard at being a trustworthy person. It pains me when I let someone down, even if by accident or because it was unavoidable.
Our schools are built on trust. We tell students “if you do this, you will be successful”. They trust us, and we follow through. Teaching is a rules-oriented profession. Every day, we play by the rules, we ask our students to play by the rules, and we expect others to play by the rules.
So when I read Stephen Hurley’s blog post about “The Schools we Want“, where he asks us to write about our vision for public education, I had to respond. I think that calling the current situation “labour unrest”, and talking about the need to find a resolution to it, misses a fundamental point. For me, the broken system we have right now is not about labour unrest, it is about the destruction of trust.
Permit me to share my story, with apologies to those who have heard it too many times already.
I have given every ounce of energy I have to the public education system for the last 30 years. My family would suggest I have given more than that. I have marked through the night to meet deadlines on many occasions. I have taught online with a broken arm, cast balanced carefully so that some of my fingers could reach the keys. I have been punched in the stomach by a student, and punched in the face by another student. I have spent a small fortune on classroom supplies, food for hungry students and sports fees for kids who couldn’t afford to play. I will continue to do this because I believe with every cell in my body that public education is society’s equalizer, and that given the opportunity, our children can do great things with their lives. And this is my work.
I have worked my way up the salary grid by taking courses at night and through the summers, I have driven 2000 km round trips on weekends to take courses. One course required 10000 km of driving. But that’s what we do up here.
I have also earned my retirement gratuity by banking my sick days, because this was my short-term disability plan. “Plan” is the operative word here, because when you know the rules, you can plan accordingly. Never, ever, did I ever expect that the McGuinty government would break the rules.
Four years ago, I accepted a position with a different school board. This is not uncommon for principals, and I believe it is good for public education. It results in a mixing of ideas and connections, and more learning for everyone involved. The “rules” of my transfer were that after five consecutive years of working for my new board, I would be able to retire with my full (and already fully earned) retirement gratuity.
Like all other principals in this position, and there are many, I trusted that both sides would follow the rules. Not in my wildest dreams did I anticipate that the McGuinty government would pass Bill 115, making it illegal for my board to allow me to have that gratuity.
When I tell people outside of education that my earned gratuity has been taken away from me, they say “They can’t do that!”. But they did, and just like that, the trust is gone.
It takes a lot to flatten me. I am a trapper’s daughter, and resilience is my strongest characteristic. But this has literally taken me out of the game.
How do I go back into that school and teach students Civics? How do we teach our Careers students that they have labour laws to protect them, because they don’t. How do we teach our students about the Human Rights Code, because now their government can just pass laws to say it doesn’t apply to them. What about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
So @Stephen_Hurley, before we can have any vision for where public education needs to go, trust must be restored. Agreements must be respected, democracy must be held in high regard, and the very people who are entrusted with student learning need to be valued by people in this province, including those in power.
Kathleen Wynne can’t put a bandaid on this. Our wounds are too deep, and assaulting the very people who give so much free time to our province’s youth is the wrong way to make public education work.
“Fish discover water last…In a similar way, we… discover trust last…We take it for granted-unless it becomes polluted or destroyed…Without trust, society closes down and will ultimately self-destruct.” The Speed of Trust, Page 273