Editorial: Adaptive leadership on workload
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 5, 30 July 2021, page no.5
I was recently asked to speak at a conference at which the theme was “Beyond 2020”. It reminded me of a television show that my dad encouraged us to watch when I was a lot younger – Beyond 2000. It was a show that suggested what might happen at the turn of the century and the start of the new millennium. Founded on scientific research and imagination, the scope of what could be was infinite. And the same can apply to education beyond the pandemic.
We talk a lot about “COVID-normal”. I recently said the only thing that we can be certain about is that COVID-19 will create uncertainty. And while that might seem cynical, coming out of another school holiday lockdown during which the QTU Biennial Conference had to be cut short because of the emergence of community transmission of COVID-19 in Queensland, uncertainty seems to be the state of consciousness that we are all functioning in. And it is exhausting.
Exhausting because we are so used to being able to find the answers, or to map the way forward for our students, our families, our communities and ourselves, with some degree of confidence that “normality” (albeit in its new form) will be restored. Exhausting because reorganisation to support the best educational opportunities for students is the new constant, let alone getting through the curriculum and the other great work our members do every single day.
We talk about workload creep, but 2020 was more a workload explosion, and the frequency of change and adaptation of last year continues into this.
One of the debates at the QTU Conference concerned the Workload Advisory Council joint statement and key focus areas. We have always said there’s no silver bullet for workload, but that we have to start somewhere. We have looked at the hours our members worked, performed a mathematical calculation and said that we should disconnect from work when we have reached 42 hours per week… and we should fully disconnect over the holidays. I hear the echoes of laughter and cynicism as I write this column. We have actively participated in workload reviews, worked with the department to review the P-12 CARF, and have produced resources to support the implementation of the outcomes of the reviews and the revised CARF in schools. And yet, workload and how we reduce it continues to be the question.
If these attempts to address workload have taught us anything it's that the answer to the workload issue is not technical. We can put clauses in agreements, reach joint statements, develop resources, and put in place work bans, but these will continue to fall short as workload is an adaptive problem – there is no clear or one-size-fits-all solution.
This means adaptive leadership is required. Instead of judging one another, we need to adopt an open mind to ideas as they are proposed; we need to be able to acknowledge what hasn’t worked and celebrate those things that have; we need to be creative and continue to develop ideas, and we need to clearly communicate with each other – that means we all have to listen.
Recently we produced vignettes from workplaces that have sought to implement elements of the outcomes of the workload reviews from last year. Some of these appear simple changes to adopt, but the way each school has delivered the change is just that little bit different.
Not all the changes recommended in the 2020 workload reviews have been adopted in every school; instead schools have chosen the things that they think will reduce workload and sought to implement them. We have shared these vignettes on our member-only workload web page (www.qtu.asn.au/workload_reduction) to encourage other schools to consider what it is that they are doing.
That’s also why we have persistently asked the department as a system to establish minimums. It is not a “rush to mediocrity” as some would have you believe. Instead it is a way to allow scope for professional autonomy. Our members, in collaboration with their school communities, are the experts on the educational needs of their students. Consequently, members need to know what they must do to comply with system requirements before they can start to exercise autonomy over what more they do.
A school that understands what is required of it and then collaboratively seeks to achieve these requirements in the best way possible for their school community, to provide the best educational opportunities for the students they teach, is not only exercising professional autonomy but also adaptive leadership.
At the end of the workload debate at Conference, it was asked whether we will ever return to the days when staffrooms were places where members came together – not to work but to talk, eat lunch etc. I responded the only way I could – I hope so. But to do that we need your help. You, our members in schools, are the experts. And the only way we can return to a time when staffrooms are used for “breaks” in the school day is if you will join us in rethinking, rebuilding and reimagining how we respond to workload.