This post is a part our Colony Educators series, written by Rob Ficiur. Rob Ficiur has taught in colony schools in Alberta for over a quarter-century. In his tenure, he’s attended many conferences in addition to contributing to various newsletters and publications. Learn more about Lesson Planning & Colony Resources here.
The Alberta Distance Learning Centre’s Hutterite Education committee has been looking into the logistics of providing support for the creation of a Hutterite Teachers Specialist Council.
The following is some historical background and some ideas to consider.
Manitoba colony teachers are served by the Colony Educators of Manitoba. I don’t know much about what the CEM does or how it runs.
The Saskatchewan Hutterian Education Committee (SHEA) has been in operation for 20 years, although Saskatchewan has about half the number of colony teachers as Alberta does. The SHEA model involves having English teachers and assistants act in cooperation with the colony ministers and German teachers.
SHEA holds a conference every October in either Saskatoon or Swift Current. As with the International Colony Educators Conference and the Alberta Colony Educators’ Conference, the SHEA conference consists of colony teachers presenting to colony teachers. SHEA, also like other conferences, brings in keynote speakers. The ones I know of include Ronald Moorish (keynote speaker for Alberta in 2017); Duane Stoltzfus, author of Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites during the Great War; and Michele Borba, who present on teaching virtues in school.
The SHEA conference takes place at a great time of the year, when teachers have had two months back in the classrooms. This means that new teachers know the reality of their new settings, and veteran teachers can pick up pointers to help fine-tune their programs.
SHEA’s main mission is to organize the annual conference; they aren’t involved in curriculum design or resource preparation for colony schools.
Alberta, which has more colonies than any other province or state, has had no formal structure to serve the colony teachers in this way. In 2001, attempts were made to have colony teachers join together to form a specialist council, but the idea didn’t gain widespread traction. I then heard nothing about colony specialist councils until we started talking about the idea again this year.
Alberta has had its own bi-annual teachers’ conferences since 1997. Originally, this was organized by the Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium. In recent years, different school divisions have volunteered to head the project.
What will the needs of Hutterite Colony Education be in the next 20 years?
For two years, the ADLC committee has been looking to the future to try to predict what the needs of colony teachers will be. Several points stood out:
- Resources – 20 years ago, colony schools and public schools used basically the same resources. Now, public schools have moved to more online resources, and this trend will likely continue over the next 20 years. Given the pen-and-paper education that colony schools use, colony schools will share fewer resources and strategies with public schools.
- Multi-graded classroom instruction – I’ve delivered the presentation “Simplifying Instruction in a Multi-graded Classroom” at least 20 times in the last eight years, both at colony conferences and at public school teachers’ conventions. Of the approximately 1000 teachers I’ve presented this session to, only three teachers had completed any university course work on multi-graded classroom instruction. Even teachers in a single-graded classroom have a full plate. When we add two, three, or more grades to a classroom, the reality of classroom instruction becomes much different. Who’s going to help the multi-graded classroom teachers of the future? If they don’t get the help they need, will they simply find other jobs in education that aren’t so demanding?
- ??? – Your ideas
What other challenges will colony teachers face in 20 years? Veteran teachers can look back and see what’s changed in their experiences. What does that look like in the future? New colony teachers can compare their previous reality and training to the colony experience. What specific kinds of help do colony teachers need now? How will that be different in the future?
Please email me your ideas (big or small), and we’ll share these in the next issues of the Hutterite Teachers’ Newsletter.
Options for Specialist Council: A year-long discussion.
Option 1 – Annual Alberta Colony Teachers’ Conference in October
In August 2015, I spoke with two new colony teachers several times. Both asked me when the next conference would be. My answer was, “At the end of your second year.”
In 1990, the first colony teachers’ conference was organized to coincide with the religious holiday of Ascension. In this way, schools wouldn’t have to pay substitute teachers because there’s no school on those days.
Eventually, most of the conferences moved the schedule up by ten days so attendees could begin participating on the Thursday of Pentecost, followed by the Friday and Saturday. In most cases, there were still no costs for substitute because school divisions set aside those days as meeting days.
The Alberta Colony Educators’ Conference could be moved to October and held either annually or bi-annually. Just as we set aside one staff meeting day for the day after Pentecost now, the division could set aside two days in October as staff days, and no subs will be needed.
Having an October conference gives us a whole new year ahead of us to use the ideas we collect. One weakness of our current system is that all the new ideas gained in a May conference don’t get any practical use until the next year. If the conference is in October, new colony teachers can get tips and make contacts that will help them through the year.
The initial suggestion is as follows:
May 2017 – Alberta Colony Educators’ Conference
October 2018 – Alberta Colony Educators’ Conference
If schools know by May of 2017 that the dates of the conferences are going to change, we can build the dates into our calendars well ahead of time.
Once the ADLC committee that’s assisting us with these efforts began discussing this idea, it led naturally to the next question: What about a specialist council?
Specialist Council Ideas
As part of a year-long discussion, the Hutterite Teachers’ Newsletter for the 2016/17 school year will include articles examining the options, advantages, and logistics of organizing and/or joining one of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Specialists Councils.
In this issue, I’m suggesting three options. You might have other suggestions.
At the May 2017 Alberta Colony Educators’ Conference, Alberta teachers will decide what they want their future to look like. Most colony educators will be at the Medicine Hat conference, so a formal vote on all the proposals brought forward could take place at that conference.
Preamble: All three of these proposals are based on the idea of forming a Specialists Council within the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The ATA has the resources and expertise to administer the councils, including money that would be available to us that we couldn’t get to if we were to organize our own group. Because educational assistants and colony members can join as associate members, they won’t be left out of the process.
Idea #1 – Form a Hutterite Colony Specialist Council
This group, if organized, could administer the annual conference.
- Starting up a new Specialist Council requires 200 members. These 200 members must all be ATA members as well (membership is free). There are 160 colonies in Alberta. Can we gather enough members to even begin building the council?
- The council would need to maintain a minimum of 100 members at all times. In theory, this should be easy. In reality, would we have enough members willing to volunteer their time and energy to keeping a Hutterite Colony Specialist Council meaningful?
- This group’s singular focus would be the needs of colony teachers.
Idea #2 – Join the English Second Languages Council
Ronalee Orr (former Colony Principal in Livingstone Range School Division) has attended this council’s meetings in her position as a colony school principal. This May, she met with them and talked about the logistics of colony schools becoming a sub section of this group.
- We wouldn’t need to maintain a minimum number of members
- The structure and resources would be shared with another council that has needs similar to those of colony schools.
- Even if I master all the ESL ideas, how do I use those in my multi-graded classroom with limited technology? Potentially, this group might not meet the unique needs of colony teachers.
Ronalee, however, thinks this group will meet our needs. In the November 2016 newsletter, we included a full-write up from Ronalee about why she thinks the ESL Council should be our new home.
Idea #3 – Create a Multi-graded Specialist Council
In 2011, I was invited to share my session “Simplifying Instruction in a Multi-graded Classroom” at a PD day for a school division in a rural central Alberta jurisdiction. The organizer said that this would be great for the colony teachers in the area. About half of the participants were public school teachers struggling with how to do this multi-graded thing. In rural Alberta, multi-graded instruction has been, and will remain, a reality in the face of declining enrolments.
City teachers in multi-graded settings are the most desperate for help. In many cases, their multi-graded situation is a year-by-year administrative decision. They’re trying to teach two (or three) grades the same way they did one grade, and it’s not working. Unlike colony and rural teachers, they don’t have the option of cycling courses because no one knows what the next school year will bring.
There’s certainly a need for more specialized help for multi-graded instruction. And rural and colony teachers have expertise they can share with other teachers in the province.
- Colony teachers would be leaders in multi-graded classroom instruction.
- Multi-graded instruction is one of the biggest challenges educators face. If teachers can find strategies that help reduce the multi-grade effects (including shortage of resources) on classrooms, we will have reduced the workload by 50%.
- Is there a need? Who else might join?
As seen in the November 2016 Hutterite Teachers’ Newsletter:
- Why the ESL council? The benefits and logistics of joining the ESL council will be explained.
- Feedback on other ideas and new ideas that you’ve shared for re-organizing Alberta Colony Teachers.
- Also, at the May 2017 conference, a-group session will be devoted to discussion about what structure will best meet the needs of colony education for the next 20 years.