The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) — a model of a learning organization

This past week I spent almost four days with The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) at the Banff Centre, at their Summer Conference.

For more than 60 years the ATA has hosted this Summer Conference, and if my memory serves me correctly I have attended four as their guest — once as Minister of Education, twice as Executive Director of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta, and just now, as a citizen committed to public education.

The experience has always been inspiring for me.  You can’t spend four days with teachers — young and old, new and experienced, from primary grades to high school, in English, French, and E.S.L. — without being ‘provoked’ in the best possible way, to think more expectantly about what we can accomplish in our community.

To my knowledge, this is a unique event.  The ATA gathers together more than 425 teachers from across the province — from metropolitan centres, mid-sized cities, towns and villages.  Many of them are currently employed in their vocation, and some are recent retirees.  They are the Presidents of ATA locals, representatives of bargaining committees, curriculum specialists, teachers committed to professional development conferences, those committed to effective communication, and others. They are the heart of the grassroots leadership of the ATA (but imagine that there are an equal or greater number of others like them who were at the Summer Conference last year, or will be at next year’s conference).   In different ‘streams’, they work with the Provincial Executive Council, Table Officers, and senior staff of the Association.  Apparently, the objective is to better understand the three equally important mandates:

1.  the professional development of teachers;

2.  the quality of life and economic interests of teachers; and,

3.  advocacy for public education in the context of community well-being and sustainability.

The secondary objective, of the Summer Conference and of the ATA, seems to be — not simply to understand the mandates better in contemporary context, but — to imagine, plan, and commit to execute.  The intended outcomes are:  a clearer vision of a great provincial community with a great public education system; a clearer understanding of how to get from ‘here to there’; better ideas for connecting with the community as a whole; and, workable plans for manageable steps toward the goas, with local and provincial commitment to carry them out.

I know of many professional organizations that provide professional development to members, and whose leaders meet regularly to develop positions about public policy and their profession.

I don’t know of any other professional body that has made — and persisted with — such a massive commitment to inter-active leadership (provincial and local), collaborative learning, and injecting the learning into the community as a whole.

Nor do I know of any organization that, having accomplished so much, is so impatient to accomplish even more.

It will be instructive to watch how the ATA evolves in the next seven to fifteen years.

The ATA is a learning organization.

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