OSSTF/FEESO and resarchED Ontario

Insisting on evidence-based practice

It’s ironic that a conference grounded in evidence-informed practice began with what seemed like confirmation of the age-old Friday-the-13th superstition. As with good pedagogy, though, careful planning and consideration of contingencies meant that we did not succumb to the ice storm that was brewing outside; the conference went ahead, and did so to an overwhelmingly positive response from the nearly 300 attendees.

With dozens of workshops, an international panel, and a keynote address by Dr. Daniel Willingham, professor, author, and perhaps the most authoritative voice on the use of cognitive science in the classroom, researchED Ontario provided educators with a full array of profoundly useful information on everything from early reading and math instruction to behaviour management to Dr. Willingham’s cogent presentation of what educators need to know (and don’t need to know) about cognitive science to inform their practice.

I am extremely proud of OSSTF/FEESO’s decision, through approval of the 2017/18 Annual Action Plan, to support this conference, and equally proud of the fact that so many OSSTF/FEESO members, among a roster of internationally respected educators and researchers, volunteered to conduct workshops of their own. I am also proud that so many educators—OSSTF/FEESO members and others—committed a Friday evening and Saturday to attend. This confirms what I have long held to be true—that there is a powerful appetite among our membership to perfect their professional practice within a collaborative atmosphere for the sake of the students in our charge. Educators also want to be supported in their ability to choose professional development that meets their needs and implement their learning in accordance with their professional judgment.

OSSTF/FEESO, by virtue of its statutory obligations and its own mission, will always place the advancement of members’ interests at the forefront. Through collective bargaining and member protection, we will ensure educators are treated properly. It is comforting to me that this mission does not conflict but rather coincides with our union’s declared purpose of protecting and enhancing public education. Decently remunerated education professionals who have a solid defence against arbitrary and unfair treatment do not detract from the attainment of educational goals, they contribute to it.

It is equally important to acknowledge that educating students is a deeply human pursuit. The infinite complexity of human interaction means that education will always be partly an art. Deciding what is needed in the case of a particular student or in the pursuit of a particular objective will never be determined by algorithm or flowchart. The combination of knowledge, experience and professional judgment is the key to sound, and indeed excellent, professional practice. All of which is to say that engaging with an organization like researchED, along with other initiatives approved at the OSSTF/FEESO Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly (AMPA) 2018, is not in the least about imposing particular practices on our members. OSSTF/FEESO has neither the authority nor the will to do so. It is rather about responding to a need, often expressed by the membership, to be supported in the exercise of their professional judgment. In doing so, we contribute to our members’ professional fulfilment and buttress our ability to affect education policy and negotiate on their behalf.

Be assured, this reclaiming of our professionalism will not go without opposition from certain quarters. In some cases, our employers will fear ceding decisions to those who actually work face to face with students. Others will misunderstand our goals, perhaps deliberately. And those who have a stake in promoting some new “Magical Ingredient X” that they claim is indispensable to effective education will fear loss of turf. But this should not dissuade us, when someone insists that a new strategy or technology or other innovation must be adopted, from asking the simple but powerful question, “What evidence do you have that this will work?” While it is likely the case that “nothing works everywhere and everything works somewhere,” as Dylan Wiliam has said, there are better and worse bets for what is likely to be most effective. As long as time remains an educator’s most valuable commodity, we can’t afford to waste it on imposed initiatives that can’t begin to address that question.

Over and over again, it has been reinforced for me that our members want to do the best they can for students in the various settings in which we work. For as long as they want us to do so, OSSTF/FEESO will continue to find ways to support them in exercising their professional judgment.

About Harvey Bischof
Harvey Bischof is OSSTF/FEESO's 66th provincial President. He was first elected to the Provincial Executive as Executive Officer in 2007 and as Vice President in 2011, 2013 and 2015. He was elected President in 2017.

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