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:


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).


q5 imageq5tabke


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.


Do your workplaces allow staff to flourish or to falter?

After many years researching the role physical learning environments play in the creation of learning environments in schools, I have been turning my attention to schools as teachers’ workplaces. My goal is to develop a current and deep knowledge of contemporary workplace trends for adults, especially those who work in innovative, creative and collaborative work environments. As education moves away from the factory/industrial model that dominated 20th Century schools in the West, teachers need to be viewed as innovators, knowledge creators, designers and curators of learning environments. They are also working in a world saturated with technology and myriad ways of connecting with learners and colleagues. Surely, this calls for an evaluation of the places where teachers work?

I have also been considering how we could increase teacher effectiveness by using what we know about teacher motivation, their current workloads and workplaces. During the past year, I have looked at the design of adult workspaces (other than in schools since there was very little happening there in terms of new adult work environments). At the same time, I have hunted down current research on teacher motivation, satisfaction and workloads. I have been asking the questions: What exactly do teachers do and why do they do it?. There is a reasonable amount on teachers during their first five years in the profession but much less on the mid to late career teachers, who have stayed working in schools.

 Wilderness School staffroom

There is little on what actually constitutes a teacher’s workload – we have some idea on the tasks teachers complete. In Australia, the new national Professional Standards go some way to defining and simplifying the identity of the teacher as a professional, regardless of the sector and school context. These standards for teachers comprise seven standards that outline what teachers should know and be able to do. On thing that clearly emerges, is the complexity and diversity of this work and the expectation that it develops over many years and through many experiences. It is also important to consider the differences between K-6, K-12 and 7-12 work environments since each reflect different needs, different physical environments, different mandatory requirements and different traditions for providing staff spaces. It would be difficult to imagine one workplace design or one professional description would fit all teachers across the K-12 spectrum.

staffroom doorIn order to understand how teachers view their workloads and workspaces, I recently conducted a survey of teachers that captured what a sample of Australian teachers were saying about their current workloads and work environments. The survey covered two aspects of the contemporary teacher experience: the nature of the teacher’s workload in a school and how this work was carried out. The majority of the respondents are from non-government K-12 schools in New South Wales, but the sample also included a wider group of teaching professionals. Nearly all of the respondents were teachers, who spent most or all of their time in the classroom (a total of 84% of the sample). Two-thirds of the respondents worked in schools that had been established prior to 2000. More than half of the sample worked in schools that had more than 400 students. The sample is described in the following table.

 In my next post, I will share some of the key results of this survey.

Profile of sample n = 199 %
Teaching 15 years or less 53 26.7
Teaching duties only 112 57.1
Teaching plus teaching with some executive duties 165 83.9
Executive with some or no teaching 32 16.2
Working in a K-12 school 172 87.3
Working in a school with more than 400 students 116 58.9
Working in a school established prior to 2000 133 67.5

Table: Profile of sample

Can your “career orientations” influence your workspaces?

An article recently appeared on the HBR Blog Network (Know What Kind of Careerist You Are by B Groysbery & R Abrahams – 25 March 2014). The authors revisited the framework suggested by a management academic in the 1980s. C Brooklyn Deer proposed five career orientations that tend to shift over time and according to circumstances, and these orientations can be linked to satisfaction. Rather than locking people into one personality type, this framework recognises change and variation throughout a person’s career.

The five orientations are:

  • getting secure – seeking regularity and predictability by fitting in with workplace norms;
  • getting ahead – focused on promotions, increasing scope of their work and authority;
  • getting free – focused on autonomy and self-direction;
  • getting high – seeking work that provides greater stimulation, purpose and engagement;
  • getting balanced – desiring a bit of all the orientations and seeking both challenge and fulfillment without sacrificing a personal life. (While this is the most common orientation, Deer says only some people are genuinely motivated by this orientation.)

This framework challenges me to think about how could we design teacher workplaces to respond to these orientations. Can we rearrange the design of our physical workplace (commonly referred to as ‘the school”) to offer opportunities for staff to spend their day in ways that offer security, freedom, balance and stimulation. The work environment can also be designed to offer a “get ahead” orientation by keeping teachers and leaders in daily contact with one another and new opportunities.

Here are some suggestions for teacher workspaces and workplace practices:

Getting secure: allocated storage space and work areas for focused, individual work (can be shared but at least provide reserved zones); food preparation and eating areas sufficient for all staff to use in peak times; core classrooms; availability of all relevant policy documents; clear guidelines on procedure and process; structured communication network that is consistently maintained.

Getting ahead: avoid isolating faculties and departments through poor design; consider placing office space for executive teachers in different areas within the school; use shared or less formal spaces for meetings; create readily available spaces for co-operative and collaborative work; increase opportunities for teachers to see leadership at work; “advertise” opportunities for participation in new projects and roles in a systematic way.

Getting free and getting high: provide the teacher with the same space opportunities that you would for students – a mix of spaces where you can focus on work alone, work with others on a shared project and meet-up with others when seeking inspiration, assistance or resources for your individual projects; some flexibility with work hours or “coming into the office”; fast wireless connectivity; mobile technologies; robust IT network and access to support staff.

Getting balanced: All of the above, but to make balance achievable a few specific ways of doing things in the workplace would be helpful. Organise annual discussions that identify the current orientation and, if possible, translate it into the new year’s timetable, workload and general expectations. Systems for booking spaces and resources. Consistency in workplace processes and systems, including carefully managed and resourced IT. And lastly, communication that is democratic, timely and explicit.

You do not need to wait for a new building project before implementing some of these ideas. Most teacher workplaces have these spaces in some form and number, so leadership could start at any time to build these orientations into the workplace. The thing to remember is to be deliberate and purposeful in the allocation and use of those spaces.

What is happening in the world of adult workspaces?

(Part 2 of Rethinking the staffroom)

When embarking on this project, I realised consideration of adult workspaces outside of schools was going to be important. In my experience, the work of a teacher has two modes – the classroom teacher and the employee modes. In any given day, teachers’ work will move between these related but distinct modes. We are beginning to understand more and more about the design of the contemporary classroom and its relationship to new pedagogies, therefore, we should be able to project from the classroom onto the types of workspaces that are needed by teachers when preparing for these classrooms. What is less known in the school environment is the employee work mode – what types of spaces do teachers need when fulfilling their roles as employees of an organisation? Hence my emphasis upon finding out what is happening in the world of adult workspaces, and in particular, knowledge industries and organisations that use collaboration as a key strategy. I also feel teachers have much in common with the freelancer due to their identity as a professional.

In a nutshell, there are two agendas that are reshaping the traditional office work spaces:

  1. Cost effectiveness;
  2. Changes in work culture and enhancement of the quality of work experience.

These workspaces go beyond hot-desking (which was more a cost saving and efficiency strategy) to deliberately shifting employees and forming and reforming work relationships and teams, thereby spreading the impact of positive work(ers). There is an increased use of incidental spaces, and sensitive spatial policies are more important now as we develop more agile models.

open plan section of activity-based design

open plan section of activity-based design

There is also an emergence of self-organising spaces for freelancers and nomadic workers. In these spaces trust is big, and without it these spaces would not function. Freelancers and self-employed are increasingly looking for serendipity encounters and collaborations that will enhance their business and provide interaction with others in their industry. The spaces are BYO technology, with a fluid attendance on any given day (there is also a degree of churn throughout the day).

hot-desking in cafe zone of collaborative workspace

hot-desking in cafe zone of collaborative workspace

In the property sector, there is a suggestion that the new generation of workers are used to working in smaller but varied spaces (eg. university cafes, libraries), used to moving around to find suitable space, prefer to make their own choices about when and where to work, rely on their own technology and are used to the notion of portable “desks and storage”. What they do expect is reliable, high speed connectivity and easily accessed technical support. This description of the new worker is similar to the profile of the contemporary school student.

Defining the challenges when rethinking the staffroom

In the past few months, I have managed to narrow down the challenges to four key hindrances or issues that stand in the way of achieving the best design for teacher workspaces:

  1. a metric of productivity does not exist for determining physical workspace for teachers, so it is difficult to either convince stakeholders a design solution is appropriate according to that measure and such a measure can throw light onto what is important in the workplace.
  2. the work of a teacher is ill-defined across the industry, variable roles according to the individual school context and system, changing workloads due to external decisions and policies – reliance on WH&S and the various industry and sector awards to establish a basic definition of teacher workloads.
  3. the professional identity of a teacher within a highly institutionalised work environment.
  4. from the co-working or collaborative teams or activity-based workplace models – would any be most or more appropriate?

New ways are easier in new places

The other evening, I met up with some colleagues from Australia and they reminded me I had visited a school that had introduced a totally different way of approaching the way their staff worked.

iPad log-in

ESSA is in the Manchester region and was a new build. It was also totally online, in the sense that all staff and students worked off iPads and mobile devices. Texts and resources were served up in digital form through large presentation screens and individual devices. The classrooms were equipped with a full range of technologies to support the teaching and learning processes, and the agile physical environment was further enhanced with walls painted with whiteboard finishes, flexible furniture and a variety of storage options. The only place where digital devices were not used was the library containing resources and literature in hard copy. This space was placed in a prominent position, reminding students that all resources were valuable supports for learning.


All the students and staff were assigned storage lockers. These lockers were placed in a large atrium. Everyone had a locker in this area. Behind reception, in a central part of the building, was a communal cafeteria. Staff worked, met and socialised in this area alongside the students. The space was large, with refectory style tables, and of course the Wifi was fast. There were no staffrooms, and since the entire school was housed under the one roof, staff and students could work anywhere due to the connectivity of the Wifi and the flow of the physical spaces. These way of working was part of the design and processes of this academy from the start.


By means of contrast, I visited a school in Melbourne a number of years ago. It was a substantial, well established school with plenty of buildings spread across a large property. In one relatively under utilised section of the property a decision had been made to set up a large, open plan work area for staff. It should have worked in the sense that there were sufficient funds to plan an effective design, there were teaching areas nearby and there was one (of a number) library on the floor below. The space was large enough to accommodate a variety of working spaces and activities. However, it was like the Marie Celeste. The staff had not taken up the space. Why? Location was a factor – it was centrally placed but to only one section of the school. The staff had many other alternatives and they chose their traditional haunts. There was no specific reason, pedagogically or social, for introducing the new way of working for staff – no purpose for the change other than it was a new idea for a spare space.

So, it would seem it is easier to introduce new ways of working in a new build. It is easier to design new types of environments in a new build. It is more effective to have a driving purpose for making changes to the ways staff work before introducing them to new environments – new physical conditions support change that is led by people.