FOCUS ON: What’s New in the Education Act

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by Caroline Missal, MEd, Project Manager at Safe and Caring

Alberta’s new Education Act passed in the Legislature on December 10, 2012, and is expected to come into effect in time for the 2015/2016 school year.

Under the existing School Act, school boards must provide a safe and caring environment. The Education Act takes this a step further, providing a frame of reference for students, parents and boards to work together to create a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging.”

This shift towards a more proactive approach has a strong foundation in research and places an emphasis on creating and maintaining schools and classrooms that are welcoming and caring, where students feel they belong. Students learn best when they feel safe – emotionally, psychologically and physically.

The Education Act addresses and defines bullying, distinguishing it from other forms of conflict like teasing, rude or mean behaviour, and directs school boards to develop student codes of conduct that focus on building welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments. Punishment and ‘one size fits all’ policies are not effective at attaining long term change. Rather than listing inappropriate behaviours and fixed punishments, a shift towards ‘differentiated discipline’ – similar to ‘differentiated instruction’ – requires boards to address behaviour issues responsively and take into account the needs not only of students impacted by inappropriate behaviour, but also of those who engage in it.

The Education Act also recognizes that others have an important part to play in building safe and caring learning environments. Students have a responsibility to positively contribute to their school community, and to “refrain from, report and not tolerate bullying or bullying behaviour directed toward others in the school,” even when it occurs outside school grounds or hours. Parents have the responsibility to engage in and foster positive relationships within their child’s school community.

With these changes on the horizon, how ready are you? Your students? Your school? Your school board?

Safe and Caring, in partnership with Alberta Education, the Alberta School Boards Association and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, is creating a variety of resources to support teachers, school boards, students and parents as they navigate these new expectations.

This article appeared in our October 2014 News Bulletin. Click here to read the rest of the bulletin!

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