Barb Dobrowolski, the newly elected president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA).

New OECTA president ready for challenges

By 
  • May 2, 2021

As the newly elected president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), Barb Dobrowolski vows to advocate for educators to ensure they have the support they need.

Coming into this new role in a year wrought with challenges, she knows first-hand the sacrifices educators across the province are making to give the best they can to their students and wants to make sure they know someone is fighting for the best for them as well.

“I’m really honoured and humbled to have been elected as president of this association,” said Dobrowolski. “I’ve always felt strongly that teachers need good advocates because they often don’t think of themselves and put everybody else’s interests top of mind. That means that they are very liable to not take care of themselves as much as they can, or as much as they should. I think that’s true of a lot of professions that are dominated by women. People like that need good advocates who will fight on our behalf.”

Dobrowolski began her teaching career in 1992 and over the past three decades has served students and teachers in a variety of positions within OECTA at the local and provincial levels, including tenures as president of the Eastern Ontario local unit and first vice-president on the provincial executive. 

Dobrowolski officially takes over from outgoing president Liz Stuart on July 1 as leadership grapples with the impact COVID-19 has had on the education system.

As Dobrowolski prepares for the 2021-22 school year, what she does know is that the pandemic is unlikely to be in the rear-view mirror, so taking a proactive approach will be imperative.

The shortcomings of online learning throughout the pandemic have proven there is no substitute for in-person education.

With variants circulating and tending towards younger population, it’s hard to predict how that will impact students who may or may not be vaccinated by that time.

Dobrowolski says advocating for students to be able to safely come to school and ensuring supports for those who have fallen behind academically with virtual school will be top priority.

As an educator Dobrowolski understands the close-knit community of teachers and their ability to come together in support of each other and students when it’s most important. Her confidence in their ability to work together when it is most needed gives her the assurance that they have what it takes to get through the next season.

“I know that teachers rally when there’s a challenge, so I know that I can count on the membership to rally when they’re needed,” said Dobrowolski. “They certainly have in the last year during the pandemic.

"When times are tough, we rally"

“They have worked tirelessly to try to support students whether it’s in person or virtually and to reach out to those who maybe we’re kind of dropping between the cracks. It’s been a very challenging and difficult time for everyone, but when times are tough, we rally.”

Another top priority out of the gate will be mental health. Isolation has been very difficult for students and has impacted social and emotional developments. Dobrowolski will be working hard to overcome any challenges stemming from this.

Growing and strengthening diversity groups within the Catholic education system in Ontario will also take precedence as the province works to combat issues of racism, homophobia and other salient challenges.

Dobrowolski, who has been a champion for women’s causes throughout her career, also plans to work to break down the barriers that keep women from leadership roles as school executives, trustees and in political positions. She hopes to put measures in place that will build confidence in women who she says tend to be overly self-critical and self-doubting and question their own abilities when applying for leadership positions.

“We try to encourage women to get past those kinds of barriers and see themselves as the leaders they should be,” said Dobrowolski.

“We know that women have a different style of leadership and often can be much more collaborative, which is a real strength in fact. It’s great to bring that to the table.”

Dobrowolski is pleased at the recently announced federal investment of about $30 billion over five years towards the cost of early learning and child-care services. She believes it will go a long way in supporting women to pursue opportunities they often had no choice but to put on the back burner due to the demands of raising a family.

Beyond that, she says her mission is to see to it that the province has a very strong, publicly-funded Catholic education system for years to come. 

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