From the VP: Sometimes you just have to say "no"

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been working with groups of QTU members on assertiveness and effective communication at work and beyond. One of the first questions I ask people is: “Why are you here?”

Overwhelmingly, the reasons teachers and school leaders give for seeking out this type of training fall into three categories: managing interpersonal communication with colleagues and parents, speaking up to ensure that their industrial and professional rights are being met, and managing workload at the personal and/or the school-wide level.

Given that the QTU has chosen November to shine a light on matters of workload and wellbeing, let’s talk about something many in our profession find difficult to do: saying no.
There are a range of reasons it can be difficult to say no. For supply and contract teachers experiencing insecure employment or new and beginning teachers going through probationary or provisional registration processes, it can feel as though saying no to something will be a career limiting move. In these cases, it is important that all staff in the school are there to offer support to these colleagues. For others, it can be challenging to say no where the culture is strongly that people take on additional work tasks without question, or when the person putting the ask on you is a respected colleague or school leader.

Regardless of how confronting it may be, if we are to manage our workload, ensure our core duties are being attended to effectively, and look after our own wellbeing, sometimes it is necessary for the answer to be “not right now”, “yes, but not this term…”, “I might be able to do this but I’ll need some extra time or support” or sometimes, simply “no”.

So, in no particular order, I’d like to propose that next time you are asked to take on an additional task or another “thing”, you ask yourself these questions or talk them over with a trusted colleague.

  • Do I have time to do this?
  • If I prioritise this by making time for it, what else won’t get done?
  • Do I have the capacity, knowledge and resources to do this?
  • Can someone else do it, or part of it, so that the load is shared?
  • Will I enjoy doing this or will it make me feel stressed?
  • Is it a reasonable part of my job to do this?

The answers to these questions can guide you in your decision-making. They may not necessarily lead to a “no”, but they might help you to plan ahead or identify support you may need. For example, while it may be stressful to take on an acting promotional position, knowing this might lead you to seek the support of a mentor as you undertake the role. And while you may be willing to take on an additional role, identifying that you might require some additional professional development or time to do it can form the basis for a negotiation or discussion with the person asking you to take on the task.

It may sound like a cliché, but there is truth and empowerment in accepting that we cannot keep all people happy all the time. Accepting the limitations of our personal stores of energy and workload capacity may feel uncomfortable, but the reality is that no one else is going to attend to your needs and wellbeing in the way that you can. The people or person asking you to take on additional work cannot know how it will impact on you, and you have every right to tell them.

And remember, if there are changes being proposed that will impact on the workload of some or all QTU members in your workplace, then you have a right to consultation. And the six questions outlined above, along with many other resources available on the QTU website, are a great place to start.

Sam Pidgeon                                                                                                                        Vice-President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 7, 6 October 2017, p9