In the third week of April
2004, fifteen teachers and five teacher facilitators from across B.C. gathered
to participate in the British Columbia Teachers’ Institute on
Parliamentary Democracy. These teachers, selected by a committee of their
peers, came to the Parliament Buildings to experience first-hand the workings
of our parliamentary system and enhance their knowledge of B.C.’s
political system. This article looks at the development of this program
and its inaugural meeting.
Launched in spring of 2004, the B.C. Teachers’
Institute on Parliamentary Democracy is an opportunity for teachers of social
studies and related courses from across British
Columbia to come to the Parliament Buildings to
experience the inner workings of parliamentary democracy, share insights and
expertise with their colleagues and learn about and exchange new classroom
activities in this essential subject.
The Library of Parliament has
been offering a national institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy since
1996. In Saskatchewan,
the Legislative Assembly, through the Speaker’s Office, has recently
offered its’ third institute to the teachers of their province.
Following upon the success of both the national and provincial programs,
the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Public Education and Outreach,
launched a B.C. Institute this year.
Although there are numerous
opportunities for youth in British Columbia to
become aware of and involved in our parliamentary system, such as field trips
to the Parliament Buildings and the various youth parliaments, there is
no such opportunity for the teachers of British
Columbia. Until recently with the launch of the
Legislative Assembly of British Columbia’s “Discover Your
Legislature” CD-Rom, B.C. teachers have had to rely upon federal
resources to teach this fundamental topic on Parliament. However,
teachers also need more than resources, they need to personally understand our
parliamentary system in order to effectively teach it to their students in a
creative and captivating way
Applications for the B.C.
Teachers’ Institute were widely distributed in the fall and early in
January 2004. Applications were included with registration packages at
two fall conferences: the B.C. Social Studies Teachers’ Association
(BCSSTA) and the Provincial Intermediate Teachers’ Association (PITA).
Applications were also available online at the Legislative Assembly of
British Columbia with links also available on the B.C. Teachers’
Federation Professional Development Calendar and the B.C. Social Studies
Teachers’ Association websites. An announcement and advertisement
were also printed in Dimensions, the quarterly Social Studies newsletter
for B.C. teachers and Landscapes, a quarterly newsletter of FORED BC.
Furthermore, a letter with accompanying poster, brochure and application
form were electronically mailed to all principals across British Columbia. The deadline for
application was January 23, 2004.
At that time, all applications
were reviewed by the Selection Committee. The committee was made up of
one volunteer from the executive of each of the following organizations:
the British Columbia Social Studies Teachers’ Association, the
Provincial Intermediate Teachers’ Association and the British Columbia
Primary Teachers’ Association. The criteria for selection were
provided to the committee together with an evaluation form to rank candidates
based upon their professional development, curriculum planning and shared
professional expertise along with a letter of recommendation and resume as
supporting documentation1. The successful candidates were
chosen from across British Columbia
representing both public and independent schools2 as well as urban
and rural communities3. They were notified in early March and
letters of recognition were sent to the candidates’ local school district
Superintendent. A small registration fee4 was required and
successful candidates were responsible for their own substitute teaching costs.
The overall objective of the
intensive three and one-half day Teachers’ Institute was to provide
teachers with a professional development experience that would promote a
greater understanding of B.C.’s parliamentary system. Their
hands-on experience was to stimulate them to implement and share innovative
classroom activities with their colleagues in their schools and communities.
Indeed, it was a requirement of all participating teachers to provide
workshops and share their resources upon their return. Numerous
participants have written articles to their local newspapers and for upcoming
teacher newsletter and magazine publications. At the annual B.C. Social
Studies Teachers’ Association conference in October, several participants
will be hosting a workshop on the success of the inaugural B.C. Teachers’
Additional objectives of the
Institute were to enhance their knowledge and understanding of B.C.’s
political system and promote discussion and critical inquiry into key issues in
parliamentary democracy. The Institute was to facilitate the sharing and
development of ideas, resources and teaching methods about parliamentary
democracy in relation to B.C.’s social studies’ curriculum.
By motivating teachers to be champions of effective citizenship, the
Institute extended the discussion of parliamentary democracy with their
students, schools and communities. The idea is to foster a network of
ambassadors who will be able to assist their colleagues at the school and board
level in developing and implementing new strategies to teach parliamentary
democracy and civic education. To assist in this regard, the teachers
were supplied with two resource boxes filled with teaching materials on
parliamentary democracy; legislatures, elections and history from across Canada and British Columbia to further enhance their teaching.
Teachers need to have
innovative teaching strategies and classroom activities that are simple to use
and that inspire students to learn more about the institution of Parliament.
At the B.C.’s Teachers’ Institute, the fifteen teachers were
formed into three groups to develop a classroom activity to be shared with
teachers across the province. Activities developed by teachers for
teachers based on their personal experience will assist them to share their new
knowledge of our complex system of parliamentary democracy. The three
groups were determined based on the grade level of teaching that the teachers
were presently employed within.5 Each group had one facilitator, a
B.C. teacher who had previously participated in the national Institute on
Canadian Parliamentary Democracy.
The facilitators acted as the
first point of contact for questions, encouraged discussion amongst the groups
and kept them focussed on their classroom activities. Their goals were to
monitor, debrief and troubleshoot as well as assist with curriculum
connections, instructional design and access to resources. Facilitators
were drawn from the advisory group and were most enthusiastic about their
involvement with B.C.’s first Teachers’ Institute. The
facilitators were provided were a modest honorarium6 and had their
substitute teaching costs covered, where applicable. The facilitators
arrived one day early to meet as a committee prior to the commencement of the
Institute. There were also regular debriefing/updating meetings over
breakfast each morning and a final wrap-up meeting on Saturday afternoon.
An extra member from the
advisory group took on the role of observer and is in the midst of finalizing
his report on the Institute. Although not a completely independent
observer, his comments will assist in the planning and improvement of the
Institute in following years.
The three groups met on a
regular basis throughout the week in teamwork sessions that were scheduled
within the ambitious agenda. Each session lasted approximately 1 to 2
hours and provided the teachers with an opportunity to reflect on the
day’s activities and ask questions. It was a guaranteed time each
day to share information and work on the development of a group classroom
activity. During these teamwork sessions, the groups had access to a computer,
internet and printer as well as Legislative Assembly research staff to assist
them in locating the information they needed to develop their activities in a
timely manner. In one of the groups of five teachers, they decided to
break into three smaller subsets and hence at the end of the Institute, there
were two additional classroom activities presented.
The networking among the
teachers from all over British Columbia [from Prince George to Kamloops
to Vancouver and Parksville] was also an important dimension to the learning
experience. The teachers commented on the excellent opportunity that the
hospitality suite offered each evening in terms of debriefing on the
days’ activities and sharing professional opinions and discussions with
their colleagues from across B.C. In a full day of classroom teaching, it
is rare that teachers are able to communicate with their fellow colleagues in
their own school setting, let alone with others in their school district.
It was a welcome addition to the busy program to unwind and recount the
events of the day together with fellow teachers from around the province.
Introducing the teachers to
the various public education resources and supports available through the
Legislative Assembly’s Office of Public Education and Outreach was also
an important result of the Institute. As a result of the Institute, the
Office of Public Education and Outreach has designed, with the input of
participating Institute teachers, a poster for students highlighting the Parliament Buildings
and the history of British Columbia
together with classroom activities on the back. This new poster will be
distributed to all schools in British
Columbia in the fall of 2004.
The true substance of this
professional development opportunity was the intensive agenda of presentations
activities. There were formal presentations from the Claude Richmond,
Speaker of the House, on his role as both an elected official and non-partisan
Speaker, and E. George MacMinn, QC, Clerk of the House, on the history and
traditions of parliamentary democracy. Other senior parliamentary
officers offered lectures on A Day in the House, and How a Bill Becomes Law.
Information and discussion sessions were also held with Hon. Mr.
Justice Malcolm D. Macaulay, Supreme Court Judge, on the role of the
Judicial Branch of government and Herb LeRoy, Private Secretary to the
Lieutenant-Governor, on the role of the Lieutenant-Governor in a constitutional
monarchy. Professor Ronald I. Cheffins, QC,was a wonderful addition to
the end of the Institute and summarized the presentations on the three branches
of government and challenged the teachers’ learning. A media panel
discussion on the role of various forms of media coverage on British Columbia politics proved to be both
insightful and entertaining. A highlight for many of the teachers was
attending Question Period. Although they can and do watch Question Period
from their classrooms, the excitement and passion is far more persuading when
observing from the public gallery.
The informal dinner with Members of the Legislative
Assembly was another highlight of the program. Most of the teachers were
able to meet directly with their own MLA and the dinner provided for an excellent
opportunity to mix and mingle with over fifty MLAs present. The Speaker
welcomed everyone to the event and introduced Premier Gordon Campbell who
addressed the crowd with words of congratulations to the teachers for their
commitment and dedication to the education of British Columbia’s children.
Meeting with the MLAs, talking and questioning them about their
experiences as elected officials, and generally becoming acquainted with the
names and faces they hear and read about on a political level was a tremendous
Interaction between the
participants and the presenters, parliamentary staff and Members of the
Legislative Assembly was a vital aspect of the program. The teachers
rated the access to key individuals who are both committed and passionate about
the work they do as a significant feature of the Institute. Meeting
directly with the various staff of the Legislative Assembly, such as Hansard
and the Library, contributed to their understanding of the whole democratic
system. The program also included tours of both the Parliament Buildings
and Government House.
The farewell banquet at
Government House with Her Honour, The Honourable Iona Campagnolo, PC, CM, OBC,
Lieutenant-Governor of British
Columbia, was a very special evening. Her
remarks were educational and highlighted the various responsibilities of
the Office of the Lieutenant-Governor including an explanation on
“reserve legal powers”. Her Honour’s greetings both
welcomed and congratulated the teachers on the nature of the work they do on
behalf of all British Columbians in terms of acquainting our children with an
understanding of the government structure in our complex country. The
Deputy Speaker, John Weisbeck, MLA, commented on his personal experiences visiting
classrooms to share his insights on the role of a Member of the Legislative
Assembly and Deputy Speaker. He provided the teachers with humorous
anecdotes as well as praise for the important and often unrecognized work they
perform. Following both presentations, the teachers were invited to come
forward and receive their recognition certificate for teaching excellence and
have their photograph taken between Her Honour and the Deputy Speaker.
This was a grand evening where the teachers felt honoured and recognized
for the significant responsibility they hold with the students of tomorrow.
On Saturday morning, the
teachers presented and shared their newly developed classroom activities.
There were five presentations made from the three groups, all on different
aspects of the Institute’s program. The benefits to the teachers
and the Legislative Assembly are many. The classroom activities will be
posted on the Legislative Assembly’s website for teachers all across B.C.
to incorporate into their lesson planning for future years. The classroom
activities outline the student audience, learning outcomes/objectives,
activities/methods and materials/resources required. The five topics
the Purpose of Provincial Government
- Understanding the Role of Media in a Free and
- A New Voting System for B.C.
- Order of Precedence for B.C. – Guess
Who’s Coming to Dinner?
- The Influence of Media on Decision Making
Classroom activities created
by British Columbia teachers who have had personal experience with the topic
and professional experience with B.C.’s curriculum is an invaluable and
tangible benefit of the Institute.
Overall, the inaugural B.C.
Teachers’ Institute was a resounding success. Comments from every
participant echoed the sentiments of Institute as the best professional
development of their careers. They were rejuvenated, enlightened and
enthusiastic about teaching parliamentary democracy!
1. Criteria: 10% Personal
Development, 40% Curriculum Planning, 20% Shared Experiences, 20% Letter of
Recommendation and 10% Resume.
2. Breakdown: 18 Public,
3. Breakdown: 12 Urban,
4. Fee: $150.00
(materials, accommodation and meals were covered; travel subsidies were
also available for those teachers travelling great distances.)
5. Breakdown: 10
Secondary, 5 Elementary.
6. Honorarium: $150.00