14 Aug, 2020
Busyness as a Substitute for Productivity
This informal CPD article Busyness as a Substitute for Productivity was provided by David Gregory at Xcursion, a risk management training provider focused on school excursion & activity safety.
Schools are busy places. There’s a lot more going on these days than just a few classes each day. The significantly greater expectation of schools and parents for teachers to be doing more and more, at time makes this job quite unattractive as the hours which end up going into the job start to feel incompatible with the goal and educational aim of the role.
Due to the often inexplicably high workload, many new teachers are leaving the profession quite early, within the first two years, as the expectations and sheer volume of work which extends beyond the classroom continues to increase. Added to this, with a world that’s filled with noise and distraction and constant competing demands for our attention, it’s hard to find the space and air to breathe to put all of this in perspective.
I’ve often wondered, why with improvements in technology are people’s lives and especially teachers’ lives having less and less time? Are they really engaged in beneficial work? Or are they engaged in busywork as a substitute for any real productivity? If you look at some aspects of a teacher’s job these days, some parents are expecting teachers to be doing parenting for them. Whilst this is not always the case, there’s enough under-parenting going around that the time it takes for a teacher to provide support and care for students is ever increasing. Even if it’s just a few students, each problem takes time and energy to work through and provide support.
I think it’s important that schools provide a caring atmosphere, but there needs to be a clear line where parents should be taking a level of responsibility themselves and not relying on teachers to do it all for them. Again, this is one more job on top of classroom teaching, which is a core business.
Then there’s all the co-curricular activities. Schools are finally realising that experiential education is a great way of learning and having a wide range of experiences and opportunities is really importing in life. However, instead of thoughtfully building this into the school program, it’s just added on top of what’s already a significant workload. It would be far better to integrate co-curricular programs into mainstream education, rather than putting them on top of other things. They’re really important ways of learning and probably more enjoyable than most classroom lessons, so why not build them into the day and not just add them on top?
Then there’s the emails. Whilst a really convenient way of communicating, I have no idea why parents need to be emailing teachers. If there’s a problem, then a student should go and talk with the teacher themselves. Whenever I’ve had emails from parents, I tend to view the majority of them as pointless and something that their child could and should be addressing themselves. Yet teachers are now accessible all the time and with blurred or non-existent work boundaries, this can mean that teachers spend far more time at work and doing unproductive ‘stuff’ rather than focusing on what’s important. As a result, the standard of teaching drops as you can’t be everything to everyone.
One more nail in the coffin of productivity are meetings. It’s not just schools which love their meetings. Many organisations are obsessed by them, yet they’re one of the most unproductive things you can do in a work place. For example the weekly staff meeting. Most of this is a complete load of rubbish. It enables people to talk more than they should and a one hour meeting can easily blow out to two. One dreadful and pointless one I was in once went for four hours!!! Literally nothing was said or achieved other than the fact that two of my colleagues and I went out for lunch immediately afterwards and all decided to resign. The cost of that four hour meeting? Over $200,000 in lost productivity, lost staff, rehiring costs and long-term loss of cultural and experiential knowledge.
Whilst most weekly meetings aren’t as expensive as this, it does cost a lot of money to run a single one hour meeting. Say your school has 100 staff all required to be at a one hour meeting. That’s 100 hours of collective work wasted and at $50 per hour staffing costs, you’ve just wasted $5,000! Was that one hour meeting worth it?
The risk of endless hours and growing expectations in schools, means that in lieu of a clear purposeful and productive teaching and learning which keeps staff engaged and invigorated through poor planning and management, they instead get dragged down into more pointless noise and busywork as a substitute for productivity. At the end of the day, what are the aims of the school? If something doesn’t fit into those aims, then it shouldn’t be done.
Being clear about this helps build morale and a sense of purpose. Teachers are generally passionate people who want the best for their students, but if they spend fifty to eighty hours a week drowning in the noise, then you can hardly expect good educational outcomes as a result. This year, look at what’s important and what’s just busywork. By taking the time to eliminate as much of this busy work as possible, you’re well on the way to ensuring happier staff and far better outcomes for students.
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