Relationships critical when it comes to dealing with workload intensification

February 22, 2018

President's forum

One of the topics local association leaders addressed during Presidents' Forum was how to work with their respective school divisions to deal with workload intensification for teachers.

Judging by the dialogue from the various table groups at Presidents’ Forum, the issue of intensification for teachers is clearly not the same in all school divisions.

The common denominator, not surprisingly, was the sort of trust and relationship teachers had – or did not have – with their respective central office and school board personnel.

One of those who lauded the relationship was Todd Handspiker from the North West Teachers’ Association.

“In our division our greatest challenge is the geography with such a large division, but for the most part I would say we work well together. We’ve managed to make some significant progress in this area from every grade level, from elementary to high school.

“In our conversations, the division has responded well to most of what we have had to offer and they seem to be on board. It’s exactly as you would expect, that it is all about relationships. There are going to be some bumps along the way, but overall it’s been positive and it’s worked well.”

There were others who spoke of tangible progress being made in their respective jurisdictions.

Debbie Ward from the Regina Catholic School Division, for example, spoke of how they have worked together to reduce the frequency of common assessment, which has gone some distance in reducing the workload of teachers.

Gwen Paul of Prairie Valley School Division said she’s encouraged by the progress being made in her division, although she added an interesting twist in suggesting that “sometimes it seems like there can be an issue with implementation if it’s not their [school division] initiative, but the dialogue we’ve had has been pretty positive.

“Sometimes we’ve experienced that teacher voice is not always heard, and it’s our job to bring those conversations to the forefront. We want to make sure the division is getting the full story. I’m always hopeful, and any time a conversation occurs it’s positive because it keeps the doors open. Any influence we can have on those discussions to lessen the workload is definitely a step in the right direction, but it can be a challenge.”

The importance of solid data gathering was cited as vital to conversations with employers and that can mean anything from a survey to question-and-answer sessions with superintendents, for example. 

According to Paul, there are bound to be areas where the sides disagree but stressed the importance of relationships. “It has to build on communication and teachers having a shared voice. If you have that in place, you’re hopeful.”

Carolyn Vis, Vice-President of the Prince Alberta and Area Teachers’ Association said in their case they are on the second cycle of their three-year task force and progress continues to be made.

“Our central office gets that happy teachers are productive teachers and so it’s a positive when you can work on identifying and trying to address what the stressors are.”

Brian Knowles of Prairie Spirit School Division, who facilitated the session, summed it up by noting how respective divisions need to see the value for students, “and hopefully we leave this session with something we can try in our own situations.”