Regina Public proves effective template in addressing teacher workload
REGINA – The conversation surrounding increased teacher intensification has been – well intense you might say.
As much as the majority of attention is often centred on development of a cap on teacher time, as recommended by the Task Force on Teacher Time, for many teachers the primary issue has been the increased intensification they are experiencing. And as has been espoused by local association presidents in this space previously, the experiences across the province have not all been equally positive in terms of boards of education and teachers working together to address the issue.
By all indications though, one of the examples that has thus far fared the best in terms of a collaborative approach would be how Regina Public Schools Director of Education Greg Enion and Regina Public School Teachers’ Association President Jeff Perry seem to be singing off the same song sheet in not only what has been realized thus far, but also equally when envisioning the future.
Enion attributed the progress to the division’s approach to the set of nine recommendations specific to Regina Public that were identified in a shared communique between the employer and the employees’ group. As he stressed, once a working group had been established there were three recommendations that were targeted as imminent (and have now been completed) and another six which are in progress.
Among the most tangible examples of working collectively to lessen the intensification was the reduction from three to two reporting periods in the system’s elementary schools.
“Our process from the start has been pretty straight forward and we chose to focus on the intensification aspect because I feel the whole issue of teacher time is more complex. The philosophy we took was to look at where we could have an immediate effect and make improvements. That has enabled us to have some quick wins and gains,” Enion related.
Perry lauded the commitment of Enion and his staff in having the vision to make some of these changes before teachers returned for a new school year.
“So teachers could see that their concerns were being addressed and that they had been heard. That was very important for us as an association because it confirmed the commitment and it showed support. Between Greg [Enion] and his staff, they came up with some great solutions to meet some of our needs,” he said.
According to Enion, “what we really tried to do is to make things more efficient and by reducing the intensification it allows teachers to spend more time with their students in the classroom.”
Enion alluded to the focus groups that he and colleagues, as well as Perry, had attended at the outset in listening to teachers’ concerns as having set the right tone.
“Certainly one of my philosophies is to provide opportunity for all of our employees to have a chance to provide feedback. I was interested to hear the challenges teachers are facing, and then we took that information and looked at how we could improve the workload conditions. It’s very valuable to hear what your front line people are experiencing.”
Reflecting on the focus groups, Enion acknowledged the one surprise was the number of teachers who identified student attendance as a main concern and so that has led to looking at initiatives, including working with the United Way of Regina.
According to both individuals when it comes to teacher time, one of the key factors is to allow for teachers to use their time most effectively in order to help their students.
As Perry said, when teachers see positive results – both for themselves and their students – they feel better about the time they are investing when they have a voice in what they do. “It’s a lot easier to put in the long hours associated with teaching when their concerns are being addressed.”
They concurred that the sought-after efficiency can sometimes prove elusive because teachers are dealing with increased student diversity, as a prime example. Perry noted that this invariably requires more professional development time.
“We have to be mindful of all the kids in the classroom and there are only so many hours in a day so it requires support to be in place for our teachers and that’s a paramount issue.”
From Perry’s perspective, the sharing of data and a positive, open working relationship has been at the heart of making this work.
“As far as I’m concerned Greg [Enion] has been the catalyst to this process and it’s allowed us to move forward in the way we have in terms of finding solutions.”
For his part, Enion openly acknowledged the importance of drawing on his own experience as a classroom teacher and administrator in looking at the so-called big picture.
“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and certainly my own experience led me to understand the values of collaborating and wanting to hear what teachers had to say. I haven’t been in the classroom for a number of years, but I still pride myself in being a teacher at heart.
“Collaboration takes energy and it’s hard work. You have to be willing to put in the work, but it leads to a much better relationship and it’s going to pay off for teachers and students.”
Enion and Perry both said they have received plenty of positive feedback, whether that’s been in person or via email correspondence, which Enion said has been very powerful.
Perry added that “our teachers are happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish so far and we are pleased that the commitment is going to continue so this won’t be just a one-time thing. We look forward to continuing the conversation and how to do more good things in the future. Policy is one thing; making it work is another,” he added.