Turning challenges into opportunities: Workload reduction at Bundaberg West SS
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 7, 8 October 2021, page no.16
Collective action from members at Bundaberg West SS is bringing about change that has reduced workload in a number of key areas, including planning and reporting, and is making a difference for teachers and for student outcomes.
It began with thinking outside of the box, wondering how we could reimagine what had been, rethink our decisions and rebuild. As a result, the school has established a culture of continual improvement, with support, which has laid the foundations for genuine consultation and collaboration on change.
Previously, teachers worked individually and there was a lack of commonality across teams. The school also had a transient student population and absenteeism was higher than we would have liked.
There was no head of curriculum (HOC) at the time, so the principal, Leanne McNamara, invited all teachers to undertake middle management training. This was the catalyst.
The immense workload involved in implementing all that was being learned was a reality check. But Leanne and her team saw this as an opportunity to explore a different way of working and sought the opportunity to embrace change. Through the use of specialist teachers, additional non-contact time and directed collaboration (or “HUB”) time, teachers at Bundaberg West SS experienced a noticeable reduction in directed tasks having to be undertaken outside of school hours.
Teachers now have access to their NCT and an additional two hours HUB time, which is school directed time for collaborative curriculum work in groups, with a negotiated agenda including moderation, differentiation and assessment planning, as well as conversations about data. Additionally, staff have been able to use this time, where necessary, to develop behaviour plans, complete verification and undertake professional development in teams.
To facilitate this, science, technology and digital literacy are now planned, taught, assessed and reported on by specialist teachers, while classroom teachers retain English, maths, HASS, health and the arts (with the exception of music). This model has reduced classroom teachers’ key learning areas to maths, English, HASS, arts and health, resulting in more precision and fidelity, while the use of specialist teachers to teach science and technology has increased quality and resulted in the subjects being resourced appropriately across all year levels.
Fortunately, we had a staff member keen to take on the specialist science role, and this has allowed a great deal of the budgeting to be centralised, with the resources being stored centrally in a specialist science space. This space features a garden (cared for by students), a chicken pen, and access to computers from the specialist science room.
Among the unintended consequences of this has been the responsibility, belonging and connectedness that students have demonstrated, particularly through the school garden. They are often seen in the garden, tending to weeds, watering and the like during their lunch breaks, off their own backs.
A HOC was introduced to provide line of sight and to build a culture of efficiency across the school. A key consideration was: “How do we make this work for students?”
The culture continued to evolve, and at the same time there was a physical transformation of the facilities at the school, with many areas receiving a face lift to give teachers and students a teaching and learning environment in which resources were easily accessible and of which they could be proud.
The willingness of members to be involved in change demonstrates that our profession really can embrace opportunities to do things differently.
As a result, teachers and school leaders have noticed that collaboration and engagement with curriculum are deepening. Staff are feeling positive and report a difference in the way they work.
They are really engaging in curriculum, because they are being supported with time to do so with their colleagues. Removing two curriculum areas from our classroom responsibilities has allowed us to focus on the remaining subject areas in more detail, with more collaboration for planning and assessment. School data is up as a result and the high expectations are being met.
We have made huge strides ahead of where we were a year ago, and feel supported, engaged and proud. While we still work hard and face many of the day-to-day pressures of teaching, it has certainly been a step in the right direction.