Time wasters and workspaces – things that drive teachers crazy.

Where do the teachers carry their most common work activities?

The survey indicated the most common places for carrying out the top three work activities were the classroom, home and private office, if the teacher had access to an office (but this was rare for the classroom teacher). Discipline and welfare was dealt with in either the classroom or in more public areas outside, if an office was not available to the teacher. The most common places to think creatively were: personal classroom (when empty after hours), home or private office (usually after hours). There were differences between the places named by teachers and executives (with no or small teaching loads). Overwhelmingly, teachers named the classroom as the location for carrying out the most common tasks. Executives named an office or a staffroom.

What emerged was a preference for working alone and away from distractions or interruptions. This is challenging for designing workspaces given the emphasis placed upon collaboration and team meetings in many pedagogies. The survey also highlighted the difficulty a classroom teacher faces when trying to locate a suitable location to conduct a confidential or disciplinary conversation.

Sharing spaces can be challenging and the same things seem to drive people crazy in most workplaces.

Sharing spaces can be challenging and the same things seem to drive people crazy in most workplaces.

What are the time-wasting factors in a teacher’s workday?

Most adult workplace surveys ask about factors that reduce productivity. Less than 10% of the teachers said they experienced any downtime. After talking with some of the respondents after they had completed the survey, I wish I could have measured the intensity of the key strikes when teachers were ticking off the time wasting factors during their workday!

In my survey, respondents were asked to tick up to five factors that they considered are the most likely to waste their time in any given week. The top time wasting factors were:

timewasters

The link between reliable information technology and productivity should come as no surprise but it is important to note two of the top time wasting factors did specifically relate to technology. It is also of note that loss of work time was linked to the actions of repeating, correcting and enduring delays – this is not dissimilar to findings in other workplaces. After the top four factors shown above, the next most common factors linked to downtime were walking to get information or a resource and searching for paperwork.

A Mind the Gap reflection on my results  –IMG_0451  Until we have an understanding of what constitutes a teacher’s workload, designing the ideal workplace may fall short of what is required. I believe future designs for work places and loads will need to place a high value on providing access to both people and locations, as well as a focus on human-scale solutions that promote an inclusive and democratic approach to the dispersal of resources. If we consider the issues raised by these teachers in the light of the looming deadline for universal registration of teachers in Australia and the introduction of the professional development framework, we have less time than we think to tackle the question of workloads and the type of workplace each school can offer its teachers.

What did the teachers say?

Their overall experience of the impact of workplaces:

When asked how much their performance at work was increased or decreased due to the current staff facilities at their school, 44.3% of respondents said their performance was increased and 34.6% said it was decreased. Overall, 78.9% said the current staff facilities had an impact on their performance. (See the following graph)

For teachers with 15 or less years of experience, all but one respondent said that in their experience the workplace had an impact (both negative and positive) on the effectiveness and efficiency of employees. In response to the question about impact on performance, 74% of these respondents said it had an impact (36% said a negative effect and 38% said a positive effect).

 

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On which tasks do these teachers spend most of their time?

Respondents were asked to name the five activities on which they spent the majority of their time. The top three were related to teaching in the classroom (87.4%), assessing/reporting (60.7%) and preparing lessons (75.4%), which is to be expected and hoped for given the sample. Next on the list were informal meetings with staff (40.3%), q6miscellaneous administration tasks (50.3%) and student discipline/welfare (36.1%).

Which work activities did teachers think were should be the most important?

The respondents were then asked to nominate from the same list the five activities they thought were the most important and should be their most common work activities. Once again, teaching, assessing/reporting and preparation of teaching materials were the top three with an accompanying increase in emphasis. However, the next two activities were different this time. Training and professional development activities and communicating with parents were nominated. All five activities were rated above student welfare/discipline and informal meetings between staff still appeared as an activity of importance. Large formal staff meetings declined significantly in importance (from 23.6% to 8.5%).

From these results, it would suggest teachers want to spend more time on the core activities of teaching, assessing, reporting, communicating with parents, students and colleagues and gathering together for training or professional development activities. Formal meetings, committee work and functions were not nominated as the important activities, nor were extra-curricular activities, despite these being traditionally prominent activities in a teacher’s job description.

My next post exploring this survey will talk about factors that affect productivity and the spaces where teachers do most of their work.

 

The Social Progress Index – how do we measure the quality of life and design better solutions to social issues?

A global think-tank has released its latest measure of social progress. The index ranks nations’ development according to their economic prosperity and social progress by using a range of social, economic and environmental measures. The index compromised three components: ability to provide basic human needs; provision of foundations of well-being and opportunity. Currently, the top three countries are New Zealand, Switzerland and Iceland. Australia is in the top ten nations along with the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Canada. Therefore, according to this index Australia has significant capacity to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

But what is the purpose of the index? One aim is to measure a nation’s capacity to meet the needs of its citizens but another significant aim is to indicate the nation’s capacity for social enterprise, philanthropy and development programmes. If a nation is providing effectively for its own citizens, then people will look for business models that are more environmentally and socially responsible. Prospering nations will be more capable of starting enterprises that are focused on projects that have larger positive impact upon society than just financial gain.

A few weeks ago I attended a HotHouse event at the Powerhouse in Sydney. The evening focused on the question of space – can we develop more sustainable and globally responsible solutions to creating spaces where we work and live. Australia’s position on the Social Progress Index suggests we are well positioned to pursue this goal of seeking better solutions for ourselves and others.

This week in The Conversation (www.theconversation.com), an article raised the topic of the end of the Digital Education Revolution programme in Australian schools. The roll-out of laptops for secondary students has ended and we are now asking the obvious question – where to from here? The dilemma is two-fold: What do we do with ageing hardware sitting in schools or students’ homes without IT support to upgrade or repair it? How do we continue to provide equitable access to students? The problem involves issues of sustainability, environmental responsibility and equity. Now we are the end of the DER programme, the nation needs to approach this type of problem with creativity and the confidence that as a nation we really do have the resources to design solutions for problems such as these but perhaps by considering different values and tactics.

Ed Gardiner, of the Design Council in the UK, regularly writes about using behavioural design to bridge a gap between research and practice to “revolutionise how we tackle social issues” (14/4/14 designcouncil.org.uk). If we combine an understanding of human behaviour and sound design, we can innovate. Being mindful of human tendencies to make decisions intuitively and with little conscious awareness, steers us away from default solutions that “focus on information, skills or incentives”. Basically, behavioural design is aimed at helping people make better decisions. The Design Council’s approach is divided into four stages: discover the problem; define the cause; develop ideas and deliver what works. Last year, I had the opportunity of meeting Ed to discuss this behaviour design approach. Throughout our conversation, Ed emphasised the importance of asking the right questions when trying to understand issue. If the problem that is preventing the achievement of this goal is not identified, you cannot design a solution to achieve a certain goal. Even when the goal is clear, “the problem is often ill-defined and uncertain”, so “embrace this uncertainty by focusing on the people involved” (14/4/14, designcouncil.org.uk) and by defining the “what”, the “why” can be then understood.

Is the end of the Digital Education Revolution in Australian schools a social issue? Yes, it is. The DER funding went towards proliferating hardware and devices in secondary schools and provided unprecedented access to digital communication tools and information in the classroom. Pedagogy was reshaped around this new flow of digital information and availability of technology and continues to develop today. However, the DER programme was shaped around a 1:1 ratio, an unsustainable and possibly an undesirable or unnecessary model. With the government funding coming to an end, the debate surrounding access to technology, its role as a pedagogical tool and the link between students using the latest technology at school and preparation for the jobs of the future (the original aim of the Digital Education Revolution) will intensify as school and their families will need to budget for the technology. This is where it becomes a social issue. Before moving forward with ideas of simply sourcing replacement funds to continue the DER programme, we have the opportunity of designing a new solution for achieving the same goal or setting a new goal for technology in our schools.

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.