Work-life balance and the right to disconnect from digital communication
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 6, 14 August 2020, page no.15
Of the more than 12,000 teachers, heads of program and school leaders who participated in the QTU’s 2018 Teacher Workload Survey, more than 50 per cent highlighted the positive workload impact of reducing digital communication.
As a result, the Union is implementing a “right to disconnect” campaign, which draws together our workload reduction campaign and our development of a preferred and purposeful definition of professional autonomy, both of which arose from the QTU’s 2019 Conference Statement.
The workload reduction campaign is focused on change at six levels: national, state, regional, community, school and individual. The right to disconnect arises from the sixth level, individual, simultaneously recognising the professional autonomy of teachers to make decisions that take into account their work-life balance.
The right to disconnect appears in legislation in various ways throughout the world, and typically recognises that employees can turn off electronic work devices during out-of-office hours. This right can extend to disconnecting from OneSchool, Learning Place, Ed Studio, the Department of Education’s email server, and for some teachers and school leaders, maintenance of social media pages or apps like Facebook or Class Dojo at the local level.
No jurisdiction in Australia, including Queensland, has legislative provisions enshrining employees’ right to disconnect, but industrially, the right to disconnect is recognised in the ACT’s Public Sector Education Directorate (Teaching Staff) Enterprise Agreement, 2018-2022. The ACT agreement includes recognition of the right to disconnect outside of hours of work, and teachers are encouraged to both disconnect and refrain from sending emails.
In Queensland, the state government believes that: “Time management strategies are about identifying where you should focus your energy to achieve better results.” It suggests that employees should: “Take the time to list all the things that you need to get done. Sort this list from most important to least important. You should be honest and realistic when prioritising tasks to avoid overcommitting to something that may not be achievable within the time frame.”
This is sage advice from the Queensland Government that recognises the professional autonomy of teachers. Yet, in schools and out of hours, many teachers spend an inordinate amount of time managing work arising from digital communication.
The QTU believes that being “honest and realistic when prioritising tasks” will result in some emails not being responded to. Teachers already make professional decisions in responding to marketing emails. That decision-making can be extended, and the use of automatic replies is an appropriate way to communicate to senders.
The QTU does not support the use of apps and social media where such devices adversely impact upon teacher and principal workload. Further, aside from the legal implications of being directed to use a personal device to store student’s details and image, teachers are not employed as content creators for social media. Managing a class social media page or app amounts to incremental workload creep.
The QTU’s campaign to disconnect from digital communication is not a campaign of Luddites. The Union’s Position Statement on Information and Communication Technology recognises the potential educational benefits that ICT offers. Technology has also afforded teachers the opportunity to work more efficiently through online curriculum materials and student reporting. We know that QTU members have contributed to banks of innovative teaching and learning resources and shared professional ideas and practice with teaching colleagues around the globe. However, the work intensification for teachers and school leaders that can arise from ICT, such as unreasonable quantities of email, excessive data entry and attending to bureaucratic procedures, can detract from teachers’ time to plan, implement and evaluate effective teaching and learning practices.