Assignment Paper: SBM Changes to a Reality Tunnel

There has been a great awakening. A change. An inspiration. This awakening has occurred in my understanding of how Site-Based Decision- Making (SBDM) can work in a school community. Never before had I considered all of the variations of Site-Based Management (SBM) and how they could impact my role as a classroom teacher and leader in my school. SBM forces teachers to reach beyond their traditional roles and out of their comfort zone to work on issues that had once been unattainable. It encourages teachers, parents and administrators to become involved in the decision-making of their school in order to increase student achievement. SBM is really intended to work for the benefit of the student population and I think that often this mandate is overlooked by those involved.

In entering Site-Based Decision-Making 619.07, I had a certain perspective as seen through my reality tunnel. Our school is involved in a form of SBM although I am not sure if the staff realises that this is the term by which to denote it. Due to size, distance from Board contact and removal of some major constraints found in other regions, our school works on the principles involved in SBM. I work in a small, isolated Inuit school in the Central Arctic. The school works primarily on a consensus model for staff decisions although the principal is somewhat bound by external factors from the Education Act. As a teacher in this school, I am encouraged and able to make many decisions concerning how my school is run. These decisions effect not only my practice as a teacher, but also my school culture, my students and the community.

There are a number of SBM and Site-Based Budget (SBB) which I can identify. For one, we are given a school budget at the end of each year in which to plan for the next. This budget is brought to the staff and we decide as a team how we wish to use the money. This year, we saw a need for mathematics material because we will be implementing the new Mathematics Western Protocol. Because extra spending was to take place in the subject area, other teachers had to be willing to surrender funds. It was a staff decision which will directly benefit the students in the area of mathematics; next year we may decide as a staff that science or language arts is a priority area. As teachers in this staff decision making process, we expect that if a need does arise, our voice will be heard and funding will be made available.

 

We also order our own resources; the curriculum is very flexible when it comes to the resources by which to teach the content or skills. We are encouraged to go beyond the recommended text for the course and find other resources to supplement our lessons. In Language Arts, I can choose the novels, plays, stories etc to use to achieve the curriculum requirements. In this way, I can make the learning relevant to the north and my students will directly benefit. Although other areas have a bit less freedom in content, those teachers can buy resources to bring to the curriculum to make the content relevant. These decisions are not handed down by the administration but are those decisions that create a sense of ownership within the teachers.

Teachers also get a voice when deciding the length of school year, school timetables, course offerings, teaching assignments, staffing needs, attendance policies and discipline policies. We are encouraged to be involved in committees which write curriculum and develop educational resources. From my perspective, teachers at my school get much of what SBM was envisioned to be. We get a voice in decision-making and many of our decisions are made with student achievement in mind.

Teachers are also encouraged to participate in District Education Authority (DEA) meetings. The DEA is made up of elected people from the community who are interested in education. Some are parents and others are simply those people wanting to get involved in the school. DEA is much like what was discussed in class as a parent advisory committee or community action team. The DEA has a budget and is able to support school events, cultural inclusion funding, breakfast programs etc. A DEA member also participates in the hiring of new staff members. They are advisors and give input on issues like the Discipline Policy and School Policy Handbook while also acting as a liaison between parents and the school. In this way parents and community are given a voice by which to express their opinions and suggestions. DEA is to work for the benefit of the student which is in line with the SBDM philosophy.

Nevertheless, I was somewhat shocked by the negative feelings that I confronted about SBM that evolved out of our discussions in the first class. I had not fully realized how poorly Alberta had introduced and mandated SBM and the same time as cutbacks in funding. Unfortunately, Alberta’s motivation for SBM appears simply political and economical without keeping the student achievement as the foundation for reform. People working in Alberta seemed quite bitter that SBM had been forced upon them in such a way. For the longest time, I could not understand why the comments were so negative in nature; for me, SBM and SBDM were a way of my professional life and gave freedom that I enjoyed. I now value their perspective because I have been given a look through their reality tunnel. I can see that SBDM needs to be supported financially so that information can be disseminated and training for those involved can be achieved. People need to know how their role in SBDM fits with the philosophy before they can reap the benefits of such reform.

However, one has to be careful not to place the blame of the politicians on the model of SBDM. It becomes apparent, after doing research on this area, that the cutbacks that Albert faced during the introduction of SBM was not how SBM was originally envisioned. Politicians have used SBM with underlying motives. Hopefully, Nunavut can learn from the negative experiences of Alberta and support the efforts of SBM financially and morally.

I think the important thing to keep in mind when discussing this issue is that the intention of SBM is to improve student and teacher learning. The model of SBM gives teachers, parents and administrators ownership of the school and their personal learning. Professional Development, staff training and shared knowledge become very important in this issue; this takes time, money and hard work on behalf of all those involved. SBM gives a process to express thoughts and feelings. It limits what can be "done to" these important stakeholders and allow opportunities for what can be "done with" them.

One way I feel our school needs to improve is how we get parents involved in the process. Much of our discussion talked about teachers and administrators but I had difficulty envisioning myself as a parent in the SBDM equation. This was a stretch for my reality tunnel. Once parents come into the process understanding that SBM is intended to improve student achievement and have appropriate training by which to do a good job, SBM can be really work. I must start the process by giving parents more opportunity to be part of the school community and make information about the school readily accessible. Teachers and parents have traditionally been seen enemies when it came to school issues; teachers may have to be the first to let down their guard. I would like to see our schoolwork towards more participation and collaboration with parents; we need their support.

 

Some of the models and examples in Alberta Teachers’ Association: Site-Based Decision-Making Resource Guide are perfect for use in any group setting where decision making is a function. These skills are valuable and transferable for working with others. These skills can be taught to all levels and I would like to use more consensus techniques in my junior high classroom. These students are our future parents and this is the ideal time to let them learn ways to collaborate with others. Students who learn in school become wonderful advocates of the school experience.

We discussed at length what a poor image that teachers have portrayed to society. There appears to be an element of distrust that may stem from inadequate teachers from the past. For the Native population, the educational experience is riddled with much pain and suffering. Perhaps SBM can help to heal these wounds and help them come back to the school in a positive way. One issue we omitted discuss was what image our federations give to our professionalism. An argument I had to content with was that no other professional field has a union. Our union is seen to protect its members at any cost whereas an engineer professional association is seen to protect the public. I see the teacher federation as a unit to teachers get professional development and to be a positive resource. It for things like class size so that the public gets the best education possible for its youth. Obviously, the public has a different view and cannot see beyond the money issue when teachers get upset. Something must be done to change this image so that parents and community members begin to support teachers and the education system.

My reality tunnel has definitely changed and been modified through our Site-Based Decision-Making classes, lecture discussions and group work. I was able to get a glimpse into other people’s reality tunnel. My reality tunnel is a dynamic and changeable element. This class forced me to take the time to see how others think and react while reflecting on myself as an educator in a site-based decision-making model.