Taking the pressure down: Workload reduction at Pacific Pines SHS
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 5, 30 July 2021, page no.13
At Pacific Pines High, our focus has always been on placing the wellbeing of our staff at the forefront of all our decision making. So when the focus on workload reduction became a highlighted topic, we wanted to work with our staff and Union members to come up with practical solutions.
Our LCC team has long operated on the understanding that a Union Rep could bring issues and ideas to administration and that we would work through these together. One such example was when Nicole suggested changing our “no surprises” policy regarding student achievement. This required staff to phone the parents when a student performed poorly on an assessment task. Nicole identified this as a workload imposition that did not benefit parents or students. The policy was amended, replacing the phone call with an email to parents advising them of our concerns and providing a range of support strategies. This drastically reduces staff workload and clearly outlines, to both parents and students, the steps required to prepare successfully for the summative assessment, with enough time to action.
Kylie said: “Without work like this by the Union Reps, I am unable to support the teachers in making real workload reduction changes. This work is vital in bridging the gap, as I am not in classrooms every day; I need this feedback to make our workplace a better place for staff and students alike. Neither one of us can do that alone. I see Nicole’s role as Union Rep to be a conduit, she is the messenger raising issues and concerns. Together, we improve our school community.”
We realised that we needed to address all staff, collaboratively. But how could we do this and demonstrate the genuinely united front between Union Reps and administration when COVID prevented us from meeting in person? Some years back, after consultation, we agreed that our weekly one-hour staff meetings should be conducted in two sessions; a 15-minute briefing on Monday mornings for administrative issues and a 45-minute meeting on Tuesday afternoons with working time for tasks such as moderation. That is a total of 60 minutes of meeting time in a single week outside of rostered duty time, with working time factored into the 45-minute session. We are currently using Teams to facilitate the briefings. Following a suggestion by Nicole, that’s how our podcast, “Workload Reduction Monday (Take the pressure down)” was born.
The approach is visual, short and in a format that can work for all staff, regardless of their IT skills. Every Monday morning, HODs log into the Teams meeting in staffrooms, and if greater social distancing is required, staff can log on from classrooms. Nicole and I take a couple of minutes to tackle a workload issue by breaking it down in to smaller manageable strategies. Currently, we are working on reducing email traffic. Each week we focus on one small strategy that, when combined, will have a huge impact on reducing the amount of intra-school emails. We show staff how to put the strategies in place as a team, rather than issuing a directive. Strategies include: using the staff notice function in Daymap, using the email groups function in Outlook, turning off the reply all feature, and activating out of office replies.
At this point it is all very new, and as a school we are definitely striving to improve. After all, old habits die hard and that “all staff” email address is so easy to use. But we are making gains which are collectively having a positive impact on workload and staff wellbeing. We are building a culture that shows that when there is a respectful relationship between administration and the Union Reps, underpinned with transparent consultation, real positive change is achievable!
The key to asserting change is the collective effort of members at the school to define issues, devise next steps and then act with support from Administration, Union Reps and your Organiser.