Workload: Autonomy, life-work balance, and the right-to-disconnect
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 4, 28 May 2021, page no.8
There are six pressures that contribute to teacher workload. These are federal initiatives, state policies, regional actions, community expectations, school procedures, and the individual pressures that we place on ourselves.
One of the ways the QTU has encouraged members to release individual pressures is to claim professional autonomy, such as through exercising the right to disconnect. Steve Leese, a QTU Lead Union Rep from the Wide Bay Region, has done just that. So how has he gone about it?
Steve explains: “The cold hard facts of the Earth’s daily rotation are that the sun comes up, the sun goes down, and there are only 24 hours in the day. Even flat-earthers have to concede that point. We simply cannot do everything that is asked of us. But as tertiary educated professionals, we have the power to exercise choice about what will be prioritised in a day’s work, or a week’s work, or across the term, or even the academic year.”
For Steve, that means establishing daily start and finish times, while recognising that there will be fluctuating rhythms at different times. “There are times throughout the year that I know will be intense. In those times, I’ll probably take work home. But then the next week I’ll make sure I’m out the gate a bit earlier.”
Professional autonomy also means exercising the right-to-disconnect. Steve believes that when teachers recognise their professional autonomy, they are on the pathway to reclaiming “life-work balance”. He credits a friend and colleague from South-East Region with the idea of highlighting “life-work” rather than “work-life” balance, explaining that work is a part of life, but that life must come first.
Steve notes: “I work bloody hard during the school term. I make sure that my out-of-office is set up, because my holidays are my time with my family.”
Steve’s automated out-of-office response to emails states that he won’t be attending to email until he returns to work. The sometimes bursting inbox he finds upon his return no longer phases him. It used to, but as a professional he is confident in his ability to prioritise.
Steve manages email by sorting his inbox into folders. The folders are then dealt with on a priority basis. The reality is that low priority emails should actually be given low priority. They are not core business. They are not urgent. They do not need a response. They have the capacity to erode life-work balance, if we let them.
Steve affirms the importance of prioritising yourself and your family: “The truth is employers can replace teachers and principals, but your husband/wife/lover will find it harder to replace you, and your kids won’t be able to replace their parents.”
The number one resource of all teachers is in our own shoes. It’s us. And if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of your students.