Talking to members

The Ontario government's wish to "revitalize" the College gives members a chance to provide input on the future of their regulatory body. The College is listening, says Council Chair.

by Marilyn A. Laframboise

In May last year, during my first address to College Council, I said there were three things that we needed to look at if we want to have a positive influence on the teaching profession: leadership, partnership and governance.

Seems I've found a partner in Ontario's Education Minister Gerard Kennedy with respect to College governance.

During his address to Council in June, the Minister clarified statements in his discussion paper Revitalizing the Ontario College of Teachers. It's the government's role, he said, to help change perceptions and "neutralize" some of the discontent about its value and purpose.

In response to the Minister's paper and request for feedback, the College struck an ad hoc committee on governance comprising Council members and the Registrar. Using themes from the Minister's paper as the basis for questions, we consulted with College members, education stakeholders and the public in six cities during May and June.

We sought ideas about how to ensure the independence and "depoliticization" of the College. We asked for input on the type and number of elected and appointed Council members and a process for validating of future public appointments to Council. We invited ideas for attracting more candidates in Council elections and improving voter turnout. We asked for opinions on the need for conflict-of-interest guidelines for elected and appointed members. We also wanted to know what people thought the role of the College should be in fostering a better understanding of the profession.

People took the matter of governance to heart. Consultation sessions were well attended. Frankly, I was surprised and pleased with the participation. People came to complain and to share concerns. But they also came to offer considered advice and ideas, varied options and direction. A number of education organizations presented different models for the governance of the College.

People came to offer considered advice and ideas.

Perhaps most telling were the notions of what the College is and does. Some wanted the College to take a much more active role as an advocate on behalf of the teaching profession. One teacher suggested we advocate "much like doctors do." She was asked "Are you talking about the College of Physicians and Surgeons or the Ontario Medical Association?" "It doesn't matter," came the reply. Others said that advocacy was not the College's role.

Some of the best ideas came not from the carefully prepared and erudite presentations themselves but from the questions and dialogue that followed. There was a genuine desire to learn more about the College.

Although there was some criticism of the expense of travelling to Sudbury and Thunder Bay to hear from members, the people in those communities who wanted to participate thanked us for coming. Toronto, they reminded us, is not the lone source of innovative ideas.

Reaching out to communicate is an important ongoing process for the College. And we extended the consultation to this year's second annual member survey. So, in addition to the strong, personal anecdotal information received face to face, we also have statistically valid, cost-effective data through the COMPAS survey of 1,000 of our members.

It's important to hear from our members. It's important that we learn how they want us to communicate with them. Why, for example, did so few bother to vote in the last Council election? Was it because it was the first time an election had been conducted exclusively online? Or were there other equally important reasons? We want to know.

The Minister said he's not rushing to judgment about the College. Better to get it right. I agree. The public and the profession deserve a self-regulatory body that is not subject to changing political agendas. When the College speaks on behalf of the teaching profession as it is mandated to do and provides its best advice to the government of the day, that advice should be welcomed, respected and reflected in legislation.

The organization is only seven years young. Nevertheless, we welcome the chance to discuss change and participate in any process that will strengthen our ability to serve and protect the public interest and support the profession of teaching.