SPDU experiences unprecedented increase in contracted workshops

Column: 
September 13, 2017

It’s going to be a busy fall for SPDU staff as they hit the road. The team is comprised of (from left) Michelle Naidu, Terry Johanson, Connie Molnar, Lindsay Shaw and Linda Aspen-Baxter

Director of the Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit Terry Johanson and her colleagues don’t tend to do things in a random manner. So if you go seeking a generic answer such as what does the multi-coloured chart in their work area signify and could they really be that busy this fall?

The response is yes. To back that up there are all number of comparators from previous years and the inevitable Excel spreadsheet.

So try this on for size– the three-year average for contracted workshops is 86 from July to the end of October. This year’s data indicates 113 workshop days with an ever-growing cadre of facilitators. That’s a 31 percent increase.

As for how many teachers will be utilizing these ever-increasing services, the numbers are 3,600 days of teacher time, which represents a 63 percent hike over the three-year average.

Doubtlessly the single biggest reason for this spike is the funding cutbacks school divisions are faced with this coming year. This has resulted in professional development opportunities outside their own respective jurisdictions have all but dried up, meaning the option of having the SPDU team or its group of facilitators attend events all that more attractive. That includes attending facilitating teacher association conventions for the first time. Johanson said that could not have been done three years ago before the capacity grew substantially through the provincewide facilitator community.

The number of community members has also more than doubled from 41 in 2014 when this initiative was started, to the current level of 91. This covers a wide gamut of subject areas.

“We’ve more than doubled our numbers, but more importantly we have increased our ability and capacity to have trained facilitators who could do this on their own and don’t necessarily need a partner from SPDU’s core team. That opens up the ability for us to have folks in areas of real need,” Johanson said. She noted that there’s still a need for more in the humanities area and in practical and applied arts, in terms of having cohorts.

That’s all part of the Unit’s assessment of meeting future needs. At the thought of this, Johanson and Associate Director Linda Aspen-Baxter muse about the question as to what SPDU will look like when it “grows up” and if 
it will be sustainable in its current format.

“We’re trying to do the best we can in terms of meeting the needs of teachers. But there’s such an increasing demand, and we want to be able to do our part in making a difference,” Johanson said.

According to Johanson, that while there was a carefully crafted three-year plan, the sort of exponential growth in the last couple  of years couldn’t have been predicted. The growth has been due in large part to the budget cuts. She doesn’t anticipate the current trend to slow down when envisioning the next three-year plan, which she reckons will see even faster growth.

Budget cuts aside, the other primary reason for the growth is the positive feedback provided by teachers who have attended these SPDU workshops. It’s been a successful transition of the aforementioned provincial facilitators into full-time SPDU associate directors. 

This includes Lindsay Shaw, the most recent member of the team and Connie Molnar, who joined SPDU full time last summer.

Aspen-Baxter came to SPDU in similar fashion, having experienced first-hand the tangible rewards these professional development opportunities can create.

“Particularly in rural Saskatchewan you can find yourself teaching in a silo and to go to these workshops and see how committed teachers are, you come to realize you share so many experiences and concerns and you’re not alone. You feel empowered and that’s what this is all about. It’s a space to come together and we all learn from each other. There is such a space for generosity and knowledge and understanding. You just leave knowing it’s going to make a difference for your students, and so you become a better teacher and it’s mutually beneficial.”