Bev Waterfield

Drive onto the grounds of St. Margaret’s School in Saanich and you feel miles away from the bustling neighbourhood surrounding it. Tall trees line the road onto the 22-acre campus. To the north lies rich farmland; to the east, the beautiful Lochside Trail that connects the campus with downtown Victoria, Sooke and Sidney. Girls sporting the signature SMS red blazer convene on walkways, under trees and by the tennis courts. They exude energy, confidence and enthusiasm for learning.

The all-girls boarding and day school, with around 350 students from junior kindergarten to grade 12, celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2018. Teacher Beverley Waterfield is proud to have been there for the last 22 years, teaching every grade from 1 to 7. This school year, she’s teaching grade 5.

In an all-girls environment, you have “a chance to explore who you are as a person in a supportive structure,” Waterfield explains, noting that small class sizes mean teachers “can work with the parents on specific goals and help their daughter become the best she can be.”

The school is a real community, Waterfield adds. In addition to teaching, she enjoys being part of extra-curricular activities such as the Middle Years Council for grades 5 to 8, where the girls learn leadership skills as they plan presentations and activities for younger students.

Waterfield cherishes the moments where she witnesses the girls achieve something they didn’t think was possible. It could be a skill, a concept or a personal challenge. She remembers watching a girl who’d had heart surgery explore rocks on the beach for the first time, on a school trip to Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew. Then there was the time a tween girl got up the courage to stay overnight, away from her parents, on a school camping trip. “I’d built up a relationship with her for three years. There was a trust there that she could do it,” Waterfield remembers.

Waterfield’s family has been associated with SMS since 1969. She and her sister attended as students; her mother worked there for 27 years, serving mostly as the Junior School coordinator; her niece was involved in the rowing program; and her son worked in outdoor maintenance for a summer. When asked whether she had expected to become a teacher at her alma mater, Waterfield said, “It was one of those things that wasn’t planned; it just sort of happened.”

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and sociology from the University of Victoria in the early 1980s, Waterfield worked as an analyst for BC’s Ministry of the Attorney General. Once she had her son, she reconsidered her career path and was drawn to teaching.

“My mum was really involved as an educator, and I was interested in that field,” she says. “I’m really happy that I did change careers.”

She re-enrolled at UVic, this time graduating with a teaching degree in 1994. In 2006, she returned to complete a master’s in education leadership studies.

At the time she graduated in the mid-’90s, teaching jobs were hard to come by. She was working as a substitute teacher in the public school system when a position came up to teach grade 4 at SMS. She didn’t get the job, but when the person who was hired didn’t work out, Waterfield gladly took over the class, overlapping with her mother, who retired from SMS at the end of that school year.

A lifelong learner, Waterfield says her teaching work provides continual opportunities to expand her mind and try new things. She explains: “I always like to challenge myself to do something different. I enjoy moving classrooms or changing grades because I think it keeps you fresh, and I think it gives you an opportunity to look at things from a different lens.”

Her passion for helping kids learn is reignited all the time. “The joy that you see in the students when they learn a new concept… That’s renewed every year when you get a new class,” she says.

Although she’s happy in her role, Waterfield has eyed administrative work at the school, looking for ways to challenge herself and advance her leadership skills. While waiting for the right opportunity, she’s become more involved with the PEA, first as a member at large in the SMS chapter, then by taking on the chair position. For the last three years, she’s also served on the Association executive.

“I chose to become more involved in the PEA so I could use my leadership skills to help with communication between the PEA and the school and make that relationship a little bit stronger,” she says. “I find being on the PEA executive really beneficial,” she continues. “It’s different than being in the education field. You get to see a glimpse of other work environments and ways of dealing with conflict, budgets, organization of a meeting. For me as an educator, that’s helping me be a lifelong learner.”

Just as Waterfield had a family history at SMS, she has a family history with the PEA. Her father, an architect with the BC government, was one of the first presidents of the newly formed union in the 1970s. From stories she’s heard, Waterfield says her dad wasn’t one of the ringleaders who created the union but was “probably the voice on the sidelines offering ideas or suggestions.” He and his professional colleagues “wanted to make sure they had an association they could rely on.”

Waterfield was at SMS when the school joined the PEA in 2000. Around the millennium, the teachers had been asking the administration for a salary comparison with other schools in the region. They discovered that SMS salaries were lower than both the public schools and other independent schools. Around the same time, Waterfield notes, the school was involved in a human rights case that left teachers feeling in need of “a little bit more protection and answers to the wage questions we’d been asking.” The teachers voted strongly in favour of joining the union. Support staff, including kitchen and maintenance staff and bus drivers, joined two years later.

Looking back on it, Waterfield says the decision to unionize “was a really positive move.”

SMS is in the third year of its current contract (Waterfield served on the bargaining committee). The head of school retired at the end of December, so a change of leadership is forthcoming. But Waterfield says the executive is focused on what they can do to support the membership.

The school’s motto is Servite in Caritate—Service with Love. It is a motto that speaks to the kind of education the students receive at SMS, and also to the kind of environment the staff help to create, for the girls and for each other.

Says Waterfield: “I really feel that we can create an atmosphere where the staff feel validated and know what they need to do and what is expected of them.