From the VP: Time to back our teachers and school leaders

The results of the latest annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey released in February were met with shock and surprise by many in the community and the media. Of course, to those of us who work in education and are active in the QTU, the results simply reflected the experience of school leaders and teachers across the state.

While much was made of the reports of physical and verbal violence and harassment from both parents and students, the survey results (www.principalhealth.org/au/2016_Report_AU_FINAL.pdf) also showed that the two greatest sources of stress for principals are consistently the “sheer quantity of work” and the “lack of time to focus on teaching and learning”. Discuss workload with any teacher or school leader and time and time again you will hear a dedicated professional lamenting that the job they are doing is all too often a far cry from the one they signed up for.

The response to reports of violence and bullying in schools all too often sees them characterised as a "reflection of what is happening in broader society". This characterisation is unhelpful and in some ways condones the unacceptable parent and student behaviour we are increasingly seeing in our schools. Regardless of what is happening in broader society, schools must be sanctuaries where all members of the school community feel respected, safe and supported to get on with the task of teaching and learning.

Education campaigns encouraging members of the community to respect school staff are admirable and well-meaning, but I can’t help but think that those perpetrating violence against school staff aren’t doing so because no one told them it was wrong. Zero tolerance cannot mean that if you display these behaviours you will be reported or punished. Zero tolerance must mean that the behaviour will not occur in the first place. Violence, and that includes verbal abuse, must stop at the school gate. Better still, it stops before that. Some parents need to reflect not only on how they talk to principals and school staff, they also need to think about how they talk about teachers and school staff in front of their kids.

Parents should also consider the profound effect that vexatious or petty complaints against school leaders and teachers can have, not only on the individual who is the subject of the complaint but on the whole school community. Gossiping about teachers and school leaders has always happened, but the nastiness and increased incidence due to the rise in use of social media can make one wonder at times why anyone would want to work in a school.

As educators, we know that most students are at school to learn; those who are there to disrupt can negatively affect the school day for everyone else. In the same way, most parents are constructive partners in their children’s education; those who are not can negatively affect the whole school community.

Increasingly, QTU members are reporting that they are struggling under the weight of their workload. That includes administrative tasks, calls to record all kinds of data, directions to teach according to a particular pedagogical framework, seeking to meet the requirements of not only the school community but also those of the regional or central level. These demands constantly take us away from the core work of the school. We must fight for a return to teacher autonomy. We must also ensure that principals are freed from constant scrutiny and the bureaucratic demands that take them away from their core work as leaders of teaching and learning.

The violence, harassment and vexatious parent complaints must stop. The bureaucratic asks and constant criticism of the performance of schools and individuals must stop. It is stressful to have to focus on the things that shouldn’t matter at the expense of the things that do. Principals and teachers do fantastic work every day. Trust them. Back them. Kids and society will be better for it.

Sam Pidgeon                                                                                                                     Vice-President


Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 2, 10 March 2017, p9