Monday, January 7, 2019

How to Deal

In December, Claudie Graner made a comment on the "Where's Our Ally?" blog post asking the following:

Kelly, I was wondering for the start of the new year if you wouldn’t mind creating a practical blog post about ways to deal with the perpetual stress and tension, especially in those minute by minute interactions we have (“The binder failed?Whaaat!” “The assessment was no good? Why?”) Invite others to share. I’m going to need something as we start “implementation”....Being in constant PBLA crisis mode is unhealthy for us all...
I agree that being in constant PBLA crisis mode is unhealthy.

While we are all in the same boat, some of us have life jackets while others don't. Each of us is at a different point in the roll-out of PBLA. We belong to different cohorts. How our respective administrative teams enforce PBLA varies wildly from one agency to the next. I know of more than one place of employment where teachers are completely stressed out trying to please a micromanaging supervisor. One SPO director is--rumour has it--even using artifact quotas to create a bottleneck to keep classes full. At the same time, I have also been told about a college where the supervisor, someone who understands how stressful this entire mess has the potential to be, has said, "I am not going to check any binders." This supervisor has made an executive decision that I think is ethical and admirable. Hopefully this person is also advocating on behalf of staff whenever the opportunity arises. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Claudie is asking for all of us to chime in with ways to deal with the stress and tension, the overall stress but also with the day-to-day difficult interactions with students around those artifacts, binders, progress reports, and progression decisions.

I will get the ball rolling by sharing what I do while acknowledging that what I do will probably not work for someone in one of the more dire situations.

To begin with, I do my best to put my self-care first. If I am not taking care of myself, I'm going to be stressed and come across as stressed. I'm going to break in front of students or perhaps even snap at them. If that day comes, I'm in the wrong job.

In order to lessen the probability that such a scene could manifest, I am authentic with my students. They know exactly how I feel about the binders and they know they are free to have their own opinions about this assessment framework. Some of them may like it or even adore it, and that's fine. (I haven't met that student yet, but my learners understand that there's room for all opinions.) Some of them may not like it or may not have an opinion, but we all understand that for now the government could take away our funding if we don't do it. So we make the best of it and make artifact collection as painless as possible.

Besides eating well, exercising, meditating and getting enough rest nightly, one thing I do to ensure PBLA will not drive me to a nervous breakdown is to stay organized. In my file cabinet I have folders labeled: About Me, Inventory Sheets, Goals, Needs Assessment, etc. In each folder I keep plenty of copies of each form. When one type of form is running low, I always replenish after school rather than letting myself get caught without a needed form while class is in session.
Staying Organized - OCD helps ;)
One of the best decisions I ever made was to compartmentalize and corral PBLA so that I'm not continuously interrupting the week's lessons to pass back marked papers, etc. My students know that binders must be at school every Tuesday and only Tuesdays. That's when I pass back marked assessments. I keep two file folders in my valise: orange for literacy and blue for seniors. Things to be marked go into those two folders all through the week, but I always know I have until Monday night to complete my marking.

Because paper pass-back is always on a Tuesday, students get used to the ritual. Even literacy students can follow along. Once they have binders open on their desks, I first announce the skill and write it on the board in the corresponding skill colour. We have colour-coded our binders, so this is helpful for literacy learners. Next, under the skill, I write the date and assessment title for students to copy onto their inventory sheets, e.g., "January 7, 2019 | Call 9-1-1". I also tell them which box to tick of the four competencies. As I come around the room and pass back the artifact with rubric stapled to the top, I point out the date on the rubric and the task title on the rubric. They are the same as what I've written on the board. So everyone is copying the same info at the same time. After some months, this becomes a really a calm and orderly process. Once everyone has finished filing that assessment in the binder and is giving me his or her full attention, I erase what's on the board and we start the whole process over with the next skill. At the literacy level, I really don't have any issues with arguments over scores or progression. Those not ready to move on almost always know it and don't want to move. Those making good progress toward promotion generally know it and are not stressed.

Higher levels are another story altogether.

I know that many CLB three and 3/4 teachers are having a very difficult time with students who are stressing over that magic level 4 achievement for citizenship. I cannot offer suggestions for how to defuse these confrontations. I know colleagues whose students have threatened them or become violent. Someone else will have to speak to that.

How about you? Do you have any wisdom to share with fellow teachers just now starting to implement PBLA, or to those who have been doing it for a while but are struggling with the questions Claudie posed above? Let us know in the comments.


  1. I pretend that PBLA does not exist to the extent that I can. I ignore it. I pay lip service if my superiors / management insist on looking at binders.(I have dozens left behind by students who've moved on - I mean how much $$$ waste can the govt actually afford?) Honestly, the students really don't give a ... 'hoot' about the binders and I don't encourage them to care about them. I give them a safe space to catch their collective breaths, to unwind, to learn and enjoy life a little bit away from the stresses of their every day lives. I remember how it used to be and have promised myself I will not forget. What I DO encourage them to care about is learning, having fun, making plans with their lives (again - I can only do this by mostly ignoring PBLA) I teach a higher level, so if management asks about the binders, I tell them to go ahead and look at the binders. If managers start nit-picking and micromanaging about details of the binders, I try not to react at the absurdity of it all and try to keep the students out of it (shoulder the stress) I guess I'm confident enough that I am right and the whole PBLA experiment is wrong, that I simply can't get tied into knots over something as silly as binder control. If the binder-makers (aka students) have 'failed' that's not my fault because I'm busy trying to teach a language but I'm not going to make the students feel like failures because they don't know how to organize a binder, especially since most of them are so tech savvy that they hadn't even touched a binder in years prior to coming here. I think some of the students see binders the way I might see a large old wall mounted telephone quite frankly but that's another story. I have never seen a student look at the massive waste of paper in the front of the binders. How did anyone ever justify printing up this silliness knowing that all of our students know how to use Google? Well. Anyway. I am not going to sell my soul to the devil because I know how to teach (have been doing so for 30 years now). I mean I learned the following a long time ago: I will try to the best of my ability to make things right and scream until my lungs burn, but after a year of screaming if nothing has changed, in order to preserve my sanity, I will stop screaming. A light went on at some point when I realized how utterly wrong PBLA was. I realized I had two choices. I could quit my job but it's too hard to find work and if I quit now I will lose too much (pension etc..) I could keep doing what I've always done and trust in the strength of my convictions - and if called upon to verify that I am in compliance, I will speak my truth, because truth always has to win in my world. This way I can sleep at night.

  2. Just going to do the minimum until they realize that they’ve turned our classes into high stress testing centres, everybody is doing something different and while the goal was consistency, that is the last thing this has become. Why are they doing this to our refugees?

    Those responsible should be held accountable for this fiasco.

    Sign me,
    Fed Up

    1. Dear Fed Up,
      I couldn’t agree more. —KM

    2. New online conference reports on Harts/Clars...ya! But no training...not nice. But that's what happens where I work. Did anyone get PD?

    3. Dear No Training on HARTs,
      Yes, at my place of employment, the admin assistant came around to each teacher. It only took about five minutes. It's pretty easy. --KM

  3. Anonymous January 7, I was surprised to read you have a pension. My impression has always been that most of us do not.

  4. anonymous Jan. 12th - just barely (just started a few years ago after more than 20 years of teaching and paying union dues - and trust me we had to fight for it!) It's why I have to work until I can't stand up : ( Pretty sure I'd be out of the game if I could swing it financially.

  5. Where I work we just got extended health, but those with more than 3 years in have had vested pension for some time. We are not unionized. These benefits are a big part of why I stay. —KM

  6. The impact of PBLA at my workplace is evident in staff behaviour/malbehaviour:

    Disorganized thinking

    Speech or language that doesn't make sense

    Unusual behavior and dress

    Problems with memory

    Disorientation or confusion

    Changes in eating or sleeping habits, energy level, or weight

    Not being able to make decisions

    All have been exhibited by staff to varying degrees. It is sad to see what has happened to staff here.

    PBLA is bad

  7. Unusual dress?

    1. People are feeling defeated, anxious and depressed because of PBLA workload. Pride in appearance is declining.

  8. With all my levels, I use the analogy of a wooden bridge with slats missing. One that would be particularly dangerous to cross. We talk about crossing to the next level safely and with adequate knowledge AND experience. This has been helpful in explaining why I don't move people who miss many classes. It is a great visual

  9. I enjoyed the comments from the person who says they just teach the way they know how and hide that fact from the pbla police. I've tried to do this, because I truly want to help the students improve their English, but unfortunately, my school monitors what we teach in the classroom and freak out if the students happily say they are learning grammar and love it! The lead teacher goes in and talks to the students behind our backs to find out what we are doing. Needless to say, the atmosphere at my school is toxic!


Thank you for participating in this forum. Anonymous commenting is available, but is not intended to shield those taking pot shots at those of us challenging PBLA. If you are here to do that, please use your name.