To PD or not to PD?

The intricate relationship between health and learning is indisputable. Gone are the days where education is solely about catering to the ABCs of learning. The connection between the determinants of health and learning outcomes calls for Educational Governance that is viewed in all its capacity, at all times, and in all realms, through the lens of health and well-being.

As a seasoned Trustee I have initiated many motions and have celebrated their successful implementation knowing that on some level a difference has been made. The scope has been varied ranging from fiduciary matters to improved communication to health and wellbeing. Yet if I take a scan, the great majority of my work has centered on those matters that directly affect the health and wellbeing of our students and hence, learning.

More and more I find that my passion to see healthy happy students has played itself out in the form of motions, advocacy and policy changes that center on health prevention and promotion. This emphasis started early in my career as a Trustees with my first motion in 2007 addressing air quality in and around school zones. This led to anti-idling zones for all Edmonton Catholic Schools. Since that time, I have continued with my goal to drive change, seeking strategies to improve or save lives as evidenced by my calls for, fentanyl and vaccination awareness, motions for age appropriate training to support students in reporting sexual assault, mental health initiatives, and calls for a vaccination database. Of course, on the other end of the successes are those areas that will continue to need support such as programming and services for vulnerable LGBTQ and FNMI students. Still, I can’t articulate in words how grateful I am that my path has afforded me the opportunity to impact the quality of another person’s life.

Through the years I have sought to find meaningful professional development to support my goal to improve outcomes for students at a policy and governance level. One of the best experiences I came across was the annual mental health conference in Halifax. But these experiences I have noted are not always of a similar caliber nor do many conferences lead to substantive impacts in terms of new and innovative or evidence based policy development or programming designs. Of course, there are the perks of travel, nice dinners, down time poolside, and even tours of Disneyland all wrapped in the warmth and sunshine of the usual destination. One such example is the Religious Ed Conference in Anaheim, California. I myself have attended the conference in the past but have since abandoned it as a form of meaningful PD. No question, this conference was enjoyable and uplifting.  However, this conference has not resulted in concrete tangibles that I speak of as necessary to justify the expense.

Now, I don’t wish to discredit anyone who chooses this avenue to advance themselves personally. However, I would earge that reflection and scrutiny  in seeking PD opportunities be evaluated on the basis of what it offers in terms of rigor, academic depth and measurable outcomes. Professional development that has not led to concrete and visible outcomes at the Board level should be reconsidered. Further, and in light of current economic realities, including a $1.31 CDN to USD exchange rate, PD abroad should be seriously re-evaluated.

In searching for the best way to legitimately enhance my own skill set and hence, provide the greatest value back to the taxpayer I have determined that this is through education. It takes discipline, dedication and sacrifice but given the importance of our role should we give any less of ourselves? I think not.

I have asked myself where is it that I want to focus in terms of trusteeship and ultimately, what will best support me in achieving the desired outcome? Clearly, my passion takes me once again to health. So how do I continue to grow so that I can continue to advance the numerous health needs of the district? In contemplation, I made the choice to forego the trips. Instead, I have enrolled into the Masters of Public Health at the University of Waterloo as it offers the program online, allowing me flexibility in fulfilling my Trustee obligations.

Hands down this is the best thing I have ever done in terms of professional development. This program offers a broad and comprehensive approach to health prevention, including mandatory business management and policy development coursework. I can’t imagine what I could have done to better advance my skills given that this encompasses all the essential pieces to effective trusteeship ( business and policy) all within the scope of my greatest passion…improving student lives and outcomes through health promotion.

The learning curve has been fast and furious. Free-time has  been replaced by long hours poring over data banks, reading research papers, and contemplating their application to advancing health through varied designs. None the less, this has come to be a gift that is immeasurable. I would need a book to write on all the information that has been transferred into my arsenal in just a few short months. But suffice it to say, Public Health boils down to two words, health prevention.

As I continue to build in my own professional capacity, I am looking forward to bringing a new level of sophistication to my role as a governor and policy maker for students. Research skills yielding evidence based data will undoubtedly lead me to advance solid initiatives;  identify system needs and gaps; lobby for targeted programming and supports; and advance policy. All this is encompassed within a vision to improve learning and quality of life for this generation of students now and into their future.

I am proud that my work has already resulted in one tangible for the district since embarking down this path. ECSD has now started a BOK’s program at Frere Antoine School. In short, it is a collaborative between Reebok Canada, researchers at the University of Waterloo and school jurisdictions to introduce a morning/or reverse lunch/ exercise program with the potential to quantify the impact of morning activity on learning. This is important and aligns with a philosophy a trustee from another board once shared, “if three tangibles do not surface from a particular PD then it has not been a good use of dollars.” This comment has resonated with me, supporting my belief that it’s not the PD that matters as much as the path it will set you on, one proven by results.

Hoping to see a better return on the dollar, my PD amount has accrued over several years. As it would not be uncommon to see costs of $5,000 CDN for a 3 day conference, it has been my intent to direct these monies towards education; a direction I would like to encourage more trustees to take. Although it may not be possible for all to delve in at a Masters level given that one must forego taking another job and given the time commitment, however and arguably, coursework over conference style PD has proven to be more advantageous and should place high on ones PD priority list.

Of concern  is an Edmonton reporter who questioned the board over my decision to use PD for education. To this day I cannot wrap my head around a position that would see more value in conference PD over educational PD. Prior to this inquiry my PD for the first term of this program was approved according to policy with no questions asked. However, since her probing my PD request to have the remaining tuition for this year reimbursed was denied. I will resubmit on a term by term basis and hope that colleagues find this more palpable.

Based on some of research and data analysis that I have recently under taken I will be advancing matters related to sexual education, physical health and mental health. Data for Alberta indicates some troubling trends. There is much to be done if we are going to make inroads that improve student outcomes as they relate to learning, determinants of health and quality of life.

If you are a parent in my ward and would like to learn more about this program or what I am currently wanting to tackle in terms of student health and wellness, please join me at the Riverbend Second Cup on April 10th, from 7-8 pm.

Finally, a huge thank you to my constituents for allowing me the opportunity to serve you and your family.


Vice-Chair Marilyn Bergstra




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