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Teachers give department a bad grade

Most Yukon teachers lack confidence in the Department of Education's leadership. In fact, only 29.2 per cent of those who filled out the 2010 employee engagement survey said they have confidence in senior leadership.

Most Yukon teachers lack confidence in the Department of Education’s leadership.

In fact, only 29.2 per cent of those who filled out the 2010 employee engagement survey said they have confidence in senior leadership.

The rest don’t.

And the department’s numbers aren’t much better when you widen the focus beyond its teachers.

Only 47 per cent of department employees who filled out the survey have confidence in the leadership.

“They’re not alright for us,” said assistant deputy minister of Education Christie Whitley, responding to the results.

“We would like to see them improve and are hoping that they will improve.

“We are looking at whether or not it’s the right tool to get at the information we need. It opened up a lot of questions for us. Any information is information worth looking at. But do we have information that counteracts it? Yes, we do, in terms of some of the feedback we’ve got from our committees and from our administrators. But we can always improve. And if we get indicators we need to, we need to look at it.”

The question of teacher confidence in senior leadership was particularly unclear, said Whitley. There are multiple layers of senior leadership within schools, and then further within the department. Respondents weren’t sure of which people the question referred to, she said.

The 2011 survey will be clearer, she said.

And all the numbers reflect a department in transition, said Whitley.

“A few years ago, we were handed over 400 recommendations for change,” she said. “Just that, in and of itself, has been hard on our teachers. And any time an organization as big as Education is asked to change, it’s going to be difficult for people to kind of embrace those changes. And it’s been a challenge to put it all together.”

The department received 409 recommendations in 2008. Some came from First Nations, others from the auditor general.

With that many suggestions, few things were left without criticism. Curriculum, communication with partners, addressing specific First Nation concerns, and leadership were all included.

There was little mention about how the department hires and promotes its employees.

Yet only 23.3 per cent of teachers who filled out the 2010 engagement survey - only 27 per cent of department employees overall - believe promotions are fair and free from favouritism.

Only 29.5 per cent of teachers and 36 per cent of the department overall feel that hiring is based on merit.

“We’re doing a strategic (human resource) plan to identify where those areas of concern are and, also, to include the teachers in developing that plan,” said Whitley.

And officials are debating whether the engagement survey is “the right tool” to assess the department.

“We don’t have the participation rates we might like to have,” said Whitley.

Education employees could fill out the survey by mail or online. In 2010, only 36 per cent of all employees participated.

“Our teachers work really hard,” said Whitley, offering a possible explanation for the poor participation.

“They put in long days and some of them have certainly said, ‘We just don’t have the time to do it.’ We’re getting much better information when we talk directly to the YTA and to our teachers.”

The 2010 survey also asked employees whether they were aware of any actions taken by the department to address issues identified in the 2009 survey.

Only 45 per cent said they were.

But, like the survey and its results, these actions were outlined for them in notices and online, said Whitley.

“We put that out for them too,” she said. But many of them were not paying attention.

“Their priorities are kids, not always what’s coming out of the department,” she said of teachers, specifically.

Nunavut is the only other region to use an engagement survey with their teaching staff.

“It’s designed for ministries and departments,” said Whitley. “So is it the right tool? I’m not sure. What we’ve decided to do is use it, take the feedback and dig deeper into it through conversations.”

The 2011 survey wrapped up last week. The results are expected by the end of August.

This will be the fifth year the Yukon government has conducted the survey, in all departments.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at