Day 62 (of 2022/23) some thoughts on workload and work negativity… sometimes less isn’t…
A couple tweets and a couple informal chats have led to me thinking about workloads… in part because it’s December and there are many end-of-calendar events that take more of that precious resource: time; but also a tweet from a site where there is some reflection on workload:
I’ve always been proud of our approach to workload: no expectation of marking, no formal lesson plans, no BS data, no expectation of email responses out of hours, attempt not to have spurious meetings.
And one takeaway from a Russian history course professors lesson… when there’s a ‘but’ everything before that is irrelevant and what follows is the more important part:
…But I know that colleagues are feeling it, and I don’t think it is just because it is Nov/Dec.
I wonder if I’ve got complacent about our approach and things are creeping in that are less effective.
And my view has long been that we need to be mindful of our time because sometimes “less is more” and not in a good way and sometimes “more is less” – as I have found when my back hurts, more walking helps… more reading… etc. and I know, this is not a ‘universal’ truth… and I know that following a guided gradual release of responsibility helped me. In my first years, my day plans were much more detailed until the muscle memory knew what LO in my day book meant (and why I hated subplans and evolved to just make ‘fake days’ for the times I was away) but early on, I put the work in (while coaching sports and with making time for family). Wasn’t easy and if I broke down my salary into an hourly wage… well… that’s why educators are on salary – because while the school day ends when the students are dismissed… the educators day isn’t over.
And here is where I am hearing more pushes regarding workload… the conflict between work, family and personal time. And I have always supported flex time – some years I had to leave ‘with the kids’ to make coaching commitments (and sometimes to help with getting kids to dance or soccer) and would do my assessment and prep later in the day – also I like being at school early because I get tired by the end of the day and need a distraction to refresh myself.
But, as with students and learning, there is no one way that is ‘best’ – but if things aren’t working and people “aren’t feeling it” we gotta be responsive – if “it” isn’t working things need to change. And a chat about consistent structures led to a fun discussion where I shared that rarely did I have the same (for example) morning structure… I had one cohort that worked best with a soft start (with some chronic lates by a few/bunch of minutes) with some reading opportunities to start the day; yet another cohort did better when we hit the gym and cranked the speaker up and got moving right away. But neither way was known for day one – I had to collect a few tricks to then be able to be okay using different methods that the learners responded better to.
So as the tweet thread continued…
For what it’s worth, I think the number 1 thing that impacts on workload and is hidden is behavioural drift. Behaviour gets microscopically worse week by week and then is suddenly much worse and like a boiling frog, we don’t notice it happening.
I like this comparison because nothing happens (nor is fixed) overnight. And there is the post(ish)-pandemic reality where we see a) illnesses are still here – Covid amongst them, and b) the yearn for a return to the “good old days” is not what was hoped for… or we are mis-remembering what was…
But as the thread wound up: I fear a little bit that the increased needs of our pupils and the reduced capacity of health and social services mean that it is ~impossible to make the job manageable. But we have to keep trying.
And another tweet then jumped on my timeline that was serendipitous: Was told in my first yearly review by my new job that I need to work on to continue to unravel the ingrained toxic American work culture I have embedded. That they are worried I am working too much and not keeping work/life separated. First time I have ever heard that.
And an article I stumbled upon said this re “relentlessly negativity.” I think sometimes they aren’t actually that passionate about the negative things they’re saying, they just aren’t very good at conversation and have gotten used to using these remarks as a social crutch, and, weirdly, a (misguided) way to connect with people.
Some more thinking and reflecting to go!