Palliser's 'unsung heroes' have their day

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Substitute teachers get to know one another through icebreaker activities at an evening of professional development hosted by Palliser Regional Schools.

LETHBRIDGE – They’re the unsung heroes without whom a school division can’t operate.

On Wednesday Palliser Regional Schools showed its support for substitute teachers with an evening of food and professional development.

“Often these people are called at 6:30 in the morning, they’re asked to come in, they look at a page of notes and teach our kids for the day or a couple of days. That’s a challenging job,” said Director of Human Resources Ryan Brennan. “We really want to recognize them and show them they are valued.”

There are more than 300 substitute teachers registered with Palliser. This year marks the first time such an opportunity has been made available – a similar event was held in Calgary earlier this month ­– with the move consistent with the division’s focus on professional development and collaboration for staff.

In the long run, Palliser is investing in its students by providing substitute teachers with the tools they need to be successful.

“Research show students achieve and perform better when anxiety levels are lower, and there’s nothing like showing up for school one day and having a strange face in front of you when you are expecting the regular classroom teacher,” said Brennan.

Teaching subs how to develop relationships and maintain consistent procedures and order in the classroom can greatly reduce the students’ anxieties, he adds.

Palliser expects more of its subs than just a warm body.

“We don’t want instruction to stop because the regular classroom teacher isn’t there that day,” Brennan said. “We want meaningful learning activities in our classrooms every day, no matter who is in front of our students.”

The Substitute Teacher Professional Development Evening featured a meal, followed by information on Palliser’s literacy journey and how that impacts them. It also included practical tips on classroom management and other best practices, as well as information on the automated system for booking subs.

Time was also set aside so the subs could network.

“Being a substitute teacher is a lonely gig sometimes,” said Brennan, who spent some time on the sub list early in his career. “If you’re not in the same school over and over again, you are in and out and it’s kind of a solo job.”

The evening offered them a chance to build some relationships so they can bounce ideas off one another. He said Palliser is fortunate in that it has many long-time subs with a lot of expertise they can share.

Feedback provided at the Calgary event included interest in some way – perhaps digitally – to share resources and knowledge among the group.

The evening also doubled as a recruiting tool of sorts. Palliser’s sub pool includes retired teachers, who want to fill in on occasion, and those who are juggling multiple careers. There are also a lot of recent university graduates, however, who are looking to get their foot in the teaching door.

“We hire a lot of our subs for short-term contracts and that often turns into a probationary contract and that can turn into a continuing contract,” said Brennan. “So it’s really valuable to have a sub in our building and to get to know them. And they get to know our culture and they get to see if we’re a good fit for them, too.”