By Brian Washington
Collaboration between educators and district leaders in Virginia has led to changes in Prince William County that will give teachers more time to do what they love–teach students.
Earlier this year, Prince William County educators took a survey that revealed their biggest concern was a heavy workload that took away valuable classroom time from students. Some of their concerns included too much paperwork, a duplication of duties, and an excessive amount of assessments that many found not to be useful or meaningful.
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“It was a huge amount of work,” said Riley O’Casey, who has taught middle school in Prince William for more than 16 years. “When you have 25 to 30 kids in a first grade class, for example, and you’re collecting fourteen or fifteen different assessments or grading items a year, that’s a lot.”
Workload concerns among educators rippled throughout the system at every grade level. O’Casey, current president of the Prince William Education Association (PWEA), which represents about 4,000 educators throughout the district, said educators decided it was time for school administrators to address the issue. Former PWEA President Jim Livingston came up with the “It’s About Time” campaign.
“It was a three-pronged attack of things that could decrease educator workload but wouldn’t cost the district any money,” said O’Casey.
The campaign had three specific asks:
- Limit the number of meetings and the amount of professional development taking place on professional work days—giving teachers more time to prepare and get their classrooms and activities ready for students;
- More control over flex days—letting educators decide when is the best time to use these days for professional development or to prepare for students; and
- More planning time to differentiate lesson plans for students
They drafted a resolution and presented it to the school board.
“We got teachers to stand up at school board meetings to talk about the lack of planning time, the heavy workload, and the collection of data just to meet a requirement when the data isn’t meaningful or informative,” said O’Casey.
Finally, the school division (district) said let’s talk about this. We’ll listen and work with you to come up with some type of solution.
After several discussions with educators, over the summer, the Deputy Superintendent issued a letter to school administrators. It said they were to respect and honor teachers’ time, especially in relation to flex days, professional development, and meetings during the work day. They also reduced the number of required grades for the gradebook from 18 to 9.
“There it was in black and white–it was saying respect your teachers’ time,” said O’Casey. “For a letter to go out to administrators, verifying the kind of concerns that we brought forth, that was a huge step.”
District leaders also addressed a concern that was big among elementary school teachers. It had to do with what they referred to as the “orange folder.” Elementary school educators collect more than 60 required items–including various writing samples and informal assessments–from students in kindergarten through grade 5. These items are put into an orange folder.
However, as a result of one of the meetings between educators and district officials, the number of items required for the orange folder has been dropped down to 12.
“Once again, it’s reducing the workload,” said O’Casey. “It’s going to impact kids because perhaps now it will mean a lot less tests that they are going to have to take (and educators will have to give), which means teachers will have more time to teach.”
O’Casey says, within the last year, PWEA has worked hard to continue collaboration with the school district. And now it looks like the hard work is beginning to pay off–for educators and students.
“We’ve been saying over and over again that it’s about giving us the time to teach and our students time to learn. What’s exciting about this is that we had the conversation, they (district leaders) listened, and now our students are going to benefit.”