New pilot project should benefit ‘overworked’ NWT teachers

Fraser Oliver, left, and Rita Mueller present to reporters during Monday's technical briefing.
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Teachers in the Northwest Territories are generally overworked, but education officials hope that will change with the launch of a new pilot project (pdf) at the start of the 2017/2018 school year.

Representatives with the territorial government, the teachers’ association and various school boards announced plans for a program called Strengthening Teacher Instructional Practices on Monday.

RELATED: Read a full backgrounder here (pdf)

The flexible and optional initiative will allow teachers to redirect up to 100 hours of instructional time per school year starting in the fall.

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This won’t result in more days off work, but it will provide teachers with more time to plan lessons and collaborate with their peers.

“Research shows that teachers have the greatest impact on student learning,” said Metro Huculak, superintendent of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1).

“Giving teachers more time to prepare, collaborate and professionally develop their teaching practices is critically important.”

Huculak says the importance of quality education can’t be understated.

In 2015, the Northwest Territories had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in Canada at 67 per cent.

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Even though that number has been trending upwards in recent years, it’s still well below the national average of 78 per cent.

Fraser Oliver is president of the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association. He says the best way to improve teaching is to address workloads.

Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak.

“In order to strengthen instruction, teachers must be well,” he said. “There is a misconception out in the world today that teachers have a lot of time off.

“In fact, if we looked at the data we can see that teachers work a considerable amount during the school year compared to the average GNWT employee. This workload is not reasonable or healthy for our teachers.”

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On average, Oliver says teachers in the territory work 52 hours a week during the school year. A typical GNWT employee works 37.5 hours in that time according to data produced by the joint committee.

Instructors based in the Northwest Territories are even working harder than their southern counterparts.

That’s why the committee has proposed slashing the minimum number of instructional hours per year from 1,045 to 945 – a move that would bring the territory in line with the rest of the country.

The idea has already been met with enthusiasm from schools under the purview of the GNWT and Yellowknife Education District No. 1.

In fact, the agreement has already been worked into collective bargaining agreements (CBA) between the teachers’ association, the territorial government and Yk1.

Yellowknife Catholic Schools is still working on ratifying its own CBA, though Oliver says he’s confident the pilot project will make its way into theirs as well.

Rita Mueller, assistant deputy minister of education, says packages for the pilot project are being sent out to superintendents now.

School boards will then have the option of implementing it or not once the calendar process begins.

“We believe that this is going to be a game-changer,” she said, adding that instructors aren’t obligated to redirect any hours at all.

Once the program is off the ground, Oliver says it will be evaluated based on factors such as student performance, student attendance and teacher wellness.

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