Rethinking the school staffroom – why we should care about teachers’ workspaces

Last week I presented a session at the NSW ReLearn 2013 conference of CEFPI Australasia on this very topic. The questions of what types of activities need to be supported in an adult workspace and what is the work of a teacher framed my presentation. I believe it is time we should be defining the work of a contemporary teacher and then designing for their specific needs as classroom educators and organisational employees. Since the session was well received by both educators and educational facilities designers, I thought I would share it through this blog.

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As an experienced educator in school environments, I am challenged by the task of defining the work of a teacher, even though I spend a sizable part of the year involved in defining staff roles, interviewing for new teachers and determining staffing allocations. I can write pages that list the tasks and responsibilities each teacher actually does in any given year but I wonder sometimes whether this is what a teacher should be doing within the contemporary educational context. And there is the tricky debate of whether teaching is a profession. If it is not, it is unclear what it would be instead. I am often trying to prioritise the workplace goals of productivity, organisational culture, flexibility, well-being and engagement in the context of myriad external agendas and accountabilities.

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Why should we rethink the staffroom within schools?

I can think of a number of reasons why we should rethink the design of our staffrooms. The standard for staff facilities is based on models of schooling that are rapidly fading. We struggle to define the work of a teacher as we pass from the old industrial model of education to the information and knowledge age. In the past twenty years, teachers have been viewed as facilitators, co-learners, mentors, guides and so on. The classroom, both virtual and physical, is adopting new ways of working and learning for students but the staffroom has not changed for decades. There is a significant gap in the research literature and reasons why staff facilities are not studied is not clear, but suggestions are: staff facilities are not a financial priority, these spaces are not overtly student focused space and attitudes to teachers’ work.

Traditionally the 20th Century approach has been the provision of one common room for all staff (one space for all teacher activities from meals to meetings to storage to preparation – both formal and informal functions) but not necessarily for non-teaching staff (practical and status and cultural reasons). In addition to the common space, secondary departments evolved additional faculty based rooms. Patterns of the common room usage vary but the deserted common room is not unusual. Lack of use is not just based on space appeal. The creation of formal or adhoc staffrooms fragment staff into smaller independently defined groups that are strong within themselves and do not identify with the whole staff as strongly. Therefore, the incentive to come together in one staffroom is diminished. When a common room is introduced as an additional resource the space is more likely to be used by the “baseless” staff like aides, caretakers or K-6 staff on release periods than the teaching staff who already have an established faculty base. Many building programmes have formalised the staff dispersal, especially in secondary departments with various justifications such as providing passive supervision of students, responding to request to be closer to teaching rooms, increasing opportunities to work with subject colleagues. However, these are to date untested and the effect assumed.

Part of the problem with designing effective workspaces for teachers is defining the work of the profession. In Australia, the new Australian Professional Standards do define and simplify the identity of the teacher as a professional, regardless of sector and context. The standards for teachers comprise seven standards which outline what teachers should know and be able to do.

Domains

of teaching

Standards
Professional Knowledge
  1. Know students and how they learn
  2. Know the content and how to teach it
Professional Practice
  1. Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
  2. Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
  3. Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
Professional Engagement
  1. Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
  2. Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
  3. Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning

Source:http://www.teacherstandards.aitsl.edu.au/OrganisationStandards/Organisation

In addition to considering the standards, we should be looking at the dominant trends in pedagogy. The classroom and pedagogy emerging in the Web2 world is clearly not the industrial model of “talk and chalk” and exit examinations. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the work of a teacher would be evolving as a result of these changes. It is also important to consider the differences between K-6, K-12 and 7-12 work environments – each reflect different needs, different physical environments, different mandatory requirements and different traditions for providing staff spaces. It would be difficult to imagine one design will fit all teachers across the K-12 spectrum.

A strong argument for rethinking the staffroom are the reasons for dissatisfaction as expressed by teachers through various studies. A few are summarised below and give an general idea of problems that might be influenced by the work environment.

Workload and Burnout in Australian Teachers – UniSA August 2013

The teaching profession is prominent in occupational stress and burnout literature. A comparison of 26 occupations in 2005 found teachers were amongst the highest in self-reported work related stress (similar professions included ambulance, social and healthcare) and sixth lowest score for job satisfaction. This study in late 2012 of 1,288 teachers reported a high work/life interference, low satisfaction with work/life balance but a high commitment to staying in profession (but still only 54% satisfied with current job and 37% have thoughts about quitting).

ACER report 2010 – 17,054 participants in Australia completed “Staff in Australia’s School” survey

88% primary teachers and 86% secondary teachers are overall either satisfied or very satisfied with their current job (improvement of 3% since 2007) – highest areas of dissatisfaction were related to amount of administration tasks and clerical workload of teachers.

However, despite overall positive feelings of job satisfaction , more than half of all teachers surveyed were unsure how much longer they intend continuing working in schools (only 7-10% had any definite plans to leave permanently). Top reasons for leaving prior to retirement were better opportunities outside schools and workload too heavy.

MetLife Survey of the American Teacher 2013

Teacher’s job satisfaction declined 23% in five years since 2008 with only 39% of teachers reported they were very satisfied (lowest since 1987) – a drop of 5% since 2012. Least satisfied teachers worked in schools where budgets had been cut and who had less time for collaboration with colleagues and access to professional learning than other teachers/schools.

Gates foundation polled 40,000 teachers about job satisfaction.

In response to the question of teachers leave the profession, the poll found poor working conditions was a reason. The majority agreed that supportive leadership, time for collaboration, access to high quality curriculum and resources, clean and safe buildings, and relevant professional development were even more important than higher salaries.

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