Editorial: Now it gets even more interesting!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 6, 16 August 2019, page no. 5
The most common reservation or complaint about the proposed agreement has been about its workload provisions.
It has a tangible improvement in non-contact time (NCT) for primary and special education teachers from 2022 – the first movement in over 25 years – but there was little tangible for secondary teachers dealing with implementation of a new system of secondary assessment and tertiary entrance (SATE). The Workload Advisory Council is a substantial mechanism to address workload, but it is a process yet to be established.
Workload is priority #1
The question of workload was prominent in the discussion of the department offer by the QTU Conference – 250 elected teachers and principals from around the state. The Conference Statement nominated the sustainable reduction of workload as the number one priority of the QTU for the two years up to its next meeting in 2021 (as well as a series of resolutions about SATE, to be pursued urgently and independently of EB).
In doing so, it recognised that it takes more than words in an EB agreement to reduce workload, because we have done that before. The 2016 EB agreement and at least two joint statements included lots of words aimed at workload reduction. Yet workload continued to increase.
A definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein can be paraphrased as “doing the same things and expecting different results.” To reduce teacher and principal workload, new approaches are needed.
The Union has made a choice to prioritise removing the causes of excessive workload rather than providing first aid for those injured by excessive workload, or resilience-building so that more workload can be taken on.
Here are three new or revitalised approaches to reducing workload near the top of the list:
- Cut down on change.
- Get rid of unnecessary work.
- Change culture and thinking.
- Reduce the flow of changes.
There is no point in eliminating work now deemed unnecessary if it is simply replaced, or more than replaced, by new demands.
We can’t expect that education and schools will not change. But the flow of change has to be managed and reduced; choices made about what is implemented and what not; choices made about what work is removed to make way for new.
I often speak of the problem of “cascading demands”. An initiative agreed at a national or state level might pick up all sorts of additions before it reaches the classroom teacher. In truth, an avalanche is a better analogy. An avalanche starts with a small movement of snow that gathers volume and speed the further it goes – with catastrophic consequences for those in its path.
The Workload Advisory Council offers a new and better opportunity to balance competing demands for change and bring some rigour to questions of the workload anticipated, in transition and once implemented, and what will be removed to make room, in on-going negotiation with the department. It is ambitious, but ambition is required if we are to genuinely reduce workload.
More than red-tape
Workload reduction needs to be about more than red-tape. Past experience is that red-tape reduction provides temporary relief, but it is invariably replaced by more.
Workload reduction will also ultimately be about what professional practices are discontinued for being out-moded, not resourced; or not producing sufficient value for the work required. It will be about what teachers and principals are doing now that we stop.
I have a few candidates off the top of my head: NAPLAN, reducing assessment, PGD, data entry, meetings, planning documentation and more.
To reduce workload, teachers and principals cannot continue to do all they currently do. What stays? What goes?
I saw a badge on social media recently: “You can’t put students first, if you put teachers last”. That is undoubtedly true. Would there be a workload problem, if our actions reflected this principle?
How many times have you seen it inferred, or even stated, that someone is “unprofessional” if they don’t undertake some additional workload “for the students”?
Sustainable reduction in workload will require a change in the way people customarily think, the culture, in schools. And that will likely be the hardest part of all.
I was taken by one table in the workload survey that the QTU commissioned ACER to conduct last year. In very general terms and on average, it showed that the longer the hours worked, the lower the teacher’s perception of their efficacy – how well he/she taught; how well he/she knew students etc. What is it about the culture of teaching and schools that is behind that perception?
The journey of a hundred miles starts with a single step. Let’s go!