International trips are a wonderful opportunity for students to learn in an immersive and meaningful way. It’s all very well to read about the tech companies of Silicon Valley, the stunning cathedrals of Europe and the breathtaking views at the top of Machu Picchu. However, it’s something entirely different to talk with the founders of the tech companies, stand in awe inside one of the great cathedrals and hike from the early hours of the morning to a remote village at altitude 2,430m and watch the sunrise.
Our lives are shaped by these experiences and nothing that you read or even see in a picture or video ever comes close to the experience of standing in that place and being there yourself. Consequently, the opportunity to experience these things first-hand are an important part of a modern education for our students to understand and appreciate the world with the view of becoming great global citizens themselves.
Many schools have some amazing programs which take them all over the world. However, international trips are not just a fun holiday away. They’re serious educational programs and as such are not suitable for everyone. Taking a group down the road or even to somewhere such as Canberra to see a museum, gallery, or experience something different outside of the classroom is one thing. Each of these have their own inherent risks, the consequences of which are generally relatively minor. However, once we start travelling further afield into other countries, there are far more complex risks and considerations to be made when taking a school group. If someone behaves badly on a local trip, you can call their parents to come and get them, a bit annoying, sure, but not a major problem. However, if some behaves badly and you’re 3 days up river in Vietnam you have a completely different situation and one which could be a major problem and with limited resources and communications, could continue to escalate into something far worse. Unfortunately, you can’t just leave them up river with Colonel Kurtz and must address this problem so the behaviour of one or two students doesn’t negatively impact the rest of the group and its experience.
How should you go about this? Whilst there are many ways to address problems which emerge on an overseas program, the best solution by far is not to have them in the first place. For any of your overseas trips, you must ensure that you have a clearly documented and disclosed set of expectations for all applicants and a vetting process through which you can reject applicants for your overseas trips. To ensure good risk management from the outset and reduce the risk of a major behavioural incident, just don’t take some people! It’s as simple as that.
‘But we have to…’ I hear you cry, ‘The parents are paying, so we have to take everyone.’ Well, if that’s the case, then you’re not actually managing one of the biggest risks you can have on any program. Negative behaviours have the potential to cause far greater risks than almost anything else on a trip, other than driving vehicles. These risks compounds with the fact that you’re overseas and a long way from home and additional support.
If you take everyone without a clear vetting process in place, which is often a temptation to ensure trips are full, then you miss a really important part of ensuring an international trip is a great one for all. Removing and reducing your people risks in a foreign land is vitally important for success. For example, if you’re in Amsterdam visiting the Anne Frank House and the Rembrandt Gallery, you don’t want someone sneaking out at night to procure reasonably easily available alcohol and drugs. You need to have a greater level of trust in your students in this context, as there are potentially many more temptations and opportunities for them to find if they’re inclined to do, so when you’re far from home.
Where should you start? The documentation you have for your trips is a great starting point for clearly setting down your expectations of students. What’s the expected standard? What’s their current track record? What’s the chance that they might do something that’s out of step with what’s expected of them?
From this point, you should also build a face to face interview process with the student and the parents. This helps you gain an insight into why they want to go and enables the parents to ask any questions around supervision or expectations for the program. These interviews also give you a really good sense of a student’s suitability. Ask the tutor, or year advisor for some background information on the student before these interviews. If there are any red flags, then discuss this with the student and the parents as well. This might seem or feel very much like Eastern Block KGB tactics, but at the end of the day, you’re responsible for a group of students in a foreign country and if something goes wrong and you could have foreseen this with a simple vetting process, then the consequence can be far worse and further reaching than just an uncomfortable interview.
One local program on which I was working, had two students whose behaviour was negative and destructive to those around them. They’d only been with us for a matter of hours and this became apparent. We advised that these two individuals would be unsuitable for another program that was being run the next year, yet this advice was ignored and the two were taken on the far longer, more remote and risky program. The end result was a ruined experience for the other participants, a near miss, which could have resulted in a fatality and after all this, one of the students was expelled. Why take this risk when you can remove much of this through simply vetting and saying no?
If you look at some of the incidents over the years on international trips, many of them have occurred due to poor student behaviour, or students sneaking out at night or becoming separated from their groups. Whilst these are never good in a domestic setting, the escalation of this in a foreign land, with different laws and languages can be quite catastrophic.
Even a borderline student that in your mind is probably not a good fit is one you shouldn’t take. Whilst over the years, I’ve taken many borderline students out with us on outdoor education programs and other domestic trips, the systems and backup plans we had in place for this, ensured most of these were really good experiences for the students. However, I wouldn’t have ever considered the same students for an overseas trip.
International trips are wonderful and form part of a really important modern education for students. The benefit of standing where Caesar was struck down, watching an opera in Vienna, or breathing the crisp air of the Galapagos Island is astounding. However, one of the most important things you can do to help make this an amazing trip, is to make sure that it’s going to be the right fit for the right students and be memorable for all the right reasons.
What's this risk management thing anyway? Taking students outside the rigid structures of the school ground, can often introduce a higher level of risk than what is found at school. Therefore, there needs to be a level of planning, preparation, and proactive situational awareness to help you reduce risk and run safe programs when outside the school gates.
Risk management is essentially exploring all of the various hazards you may encounter when you're out on a school excursion or activity and looking at the likelihood and the impact that these would have if they did occur when you were out with a group of students. Essentially, you're looking at all the things that could go wrong and how you apply controls to ensure that they either don't go wrong or reduce the impact of them if they do.
School excursions and activities are great ways for students to learn. So much value can be had from learning from real-world experiences that can't be found or replicated in the classroom. It's a great way for them to understand all sorts of aspects of the real world, try new things, push their comfort zones, and see and experience so many different things about relationships, the world, and how it all interacts with each other and works. The fact is doing anything in life involves a certain level of risk. However, if we look at our own lives, the way in which we approach risk ourselves is quite different from the way in which we have to approach risk from an institutional point of view, where we have a duty of care over other people.
What are some key considerations you should make for the management of risks on school excursion and activities?
Where are you going and what are you doing? The context is very important, This establishes a lot of the kinds of hazards you will encounter and dictate how you should approach them. For example, a school trip to the zoo, will have vastly different risks from an international music tour.
Who are you taking with you? The behaviours, attitude and group dynamics of both staff and students has a significant impact on the management of risk. Do your staff members have the right training, skills and understanding of where they’re going, what they’re doing, what their responsibilities are and how to make good decisions to address any concerns which may arise? Do your students know what’s expected of them? Do they understand the activities and aims of the program? Are they the right fit for the programs? Are there any allergies, medical concerns, pastoral concerns or dietary needs?
Equipment? What sort of clothing and equipment will be required for this school excursion? What additional safety equipment, such as first aid kits are needed? What do you actually need in your first aid kit?
Communications? Do the parents and school admin understand the risks and how you’re managing them in the context of where you’re going and who you’re taking? Being transparent within the school and with parents is vitally important in the risk management process. Disclosure is an important part of the overall risk and school safety strategy.
Whilst there is far more to a risk assessment than just these few basic components, if you start exploring and considering each of these, you’re well on the way to building an effective risk management plan for any sort of school excursion you’re running.
Welcome to the Xcursion Risk Tip. These tips are designed to save you time, save you money, reduce risk and improve safety for all of your programs.
Today we are going to look at snow sports. Snow sports are a great way to spend a week or to spend an entire season with students developing their skills and also building those relationships and taking on an activity which is fun, engaging and something completely different. However, there are a number of risks involved in snow sports.
Today we are going to just look at fitness. The level of fitness significantly impacts your students’ ability to ski or snowboard well and if students are turning up unprepared and unfit, this can lead to a much higher risk and prevalence of injury than if your students are turning up that have done some level of training and fitness leading into the activity.
Even if you are going away for a week and especially if you are going away for just a week they still need to turn up fit and ready for snow sports activities. They are using muscles and sort of moves that are quite unique and quite different to what they would usually do in any other sport. So, a level of core training, strength training and flexibility is critical to help them reduce the risk of injury for any snow sports.
By doing this for your staff and your students for your snow sports programs, this means that you can reduce the risk of injury so they are memorable and they are fun times at the snow for you and your entire group.
Welcome to the Xcursion Risk Tips. These tips are designed to save you time, money, reduce risk, and improve safety for all of your programs. Today, we're going to look at students cooking. Phew, yes you probably just reel back from some certain experience that you've had out on a program where our kids cooked you something. Now, I've had both ends of this spectrum. Some kids well, you really wouldn't trust what they cook or what they put in that meal. However, other kids can cook so well. It is great to see them get involved and actually cook something.
I've come across schools and I've come across teachers who are really hesitant to allow kids to cook. But seriously, at what point do you let go and enable kids to take ownership and take responsibility and do something they really want to try? This is something that not a lot of kids get to do at home. So the opportunity to cook whilst on camp is really important and they love to try and impress you with their meals. There are a couple of risks involved in this and a couple of hazards. The two main ones that we want to look at are knives and fires.
Firstly, it's the preparation of the meal. It's cutting up everything on the cutting boards and making sure that they don't cut the veggies and themselves with the blunt knives. Now more often than not, you're going to find blunt knives on camps because you can't trust anybody with a sharp knife. Unfortunately, with a blunt knife, they're more risk of causing injuries, than sharp knives. Because the pressure that's applied to a blunt knife is far greater than the pressure you need to apply with a sharp knife. So at least have your knives slightly sharpened so that they're not totally blunt and can cause really really bad injuries.
One student I had on one of my programs, he managed to stab himself in the webbing of his hand with a knife. How we managed to do that? I don't know. But he was cutting up the vegetables and just came up to me and said, "Oh Sir, Sir I've cut myself." I was like, "How, how did you do that?"
I mean, it was an impressive cut and we managed to apply pressure and patch it up ok. But I was astounded. But basically what he had done was he had pushed so much pressure on the knife, flicked it off the vegetable and skew it himself in the hand. Now that's one part of it. You really do need to monitor and supervise effectively when the kids are cutting things up.
Once they're all cut up, the next thing is the fire. Or most likely you're going to get something a Trangia. Now a Trangia for those who don't know, is this little stove and it's got an alcohol burner in the middle, and you pop it in and put your pot on and away it goes. Many schools I've worked at, many programs I've seen to begin with, didn't actually contain these fires or didn't monitor this effectively. This is the next really critical hazard that you need to manage effectively for when students are cooking. So what you want to do is set up what we call it a Trangia circle. Now a Trangia circle can be done just with a small bit of rope and you put a big circle right around and the pots go in there, nobody or nothing else goes in there and your fuels go well away from where you are. So with that in mind that you have your contained cooking circle, and you only limit the number of kids near the cooking circle. You don't need three kids cooking in one pot. You need one student cooking in one pot. So, limit the numbers around the cooking circle and actively monitor this. Don't cook your own dinner at this point in time.
One great solution is get one of the kids to cook. This has worked many many times that I've often had a lot of student meals because they've offered to cook for me. At this point in time, you don't want to be cooking because you need to be supervising what's going on and monitoring that fire circle and monitoring the way in which it's being conducted. This is critically important to reduce the risk of burns and scalds, which are some of the highest numbers of injuries that you get when you have kids cooking on programs. So you monitor that. They cook you dinner and you get to stand around drinking a cup of coffee whilst you watch them cook your dinner. What's not to like about that?
One of the problems I've seen is when staff are cooking their own dinners is that they don't have that level of supervision. They become too focused on their own meal and at the end of the day, you're the leader, you're looking after these kids, you can eat later. So, use that opportunity to try some kids cooking and that the reaction that you get when they cook something for you and you are able to share a meal with them is really good and it's all part of that bonding experience. It's all part of that journey of a camp. That way you can develop rapport with your kids in such a unique setting.
So two main risks for cooking with kids, it's not the taste, it's not the flavor, it's not what they cook although sometimes they can burn things and it's horrible, but we won't go there. But the two main hazards are cutting with knives, prepping meals, and also the cooking circle or the Trangia circle. If you can effectively supervise these two, then you've seriously reduced the risk of something going wrong on your program, and the kids are learning from this experience by cooking meals for themselves.
Risk management in schools is an interesting and concerning problem. There’s nothing in teachers’ training which helps them to understand the role and responsibilities of running activities outside the school grounds. In years gone by, this wasn’t too much of a worry as most teachers weren’t involved with the sheer volume of additional programs, excursions, activities and overseas trips which now form part of a normal year at school.
The only education that teachers seem to have in this is that at some point, they’re involved in a trip somewhere doing something and rather than having any actual training to be able to manage and help run whatever it is in which they’ve now found themselves involved, they’re entirely reliant on learning something about what they should be doing through osmosis. The expectation that they absorb something at some point in time which then magically enables them to manage risk in a well planned and professional way is ridiculous in the extreme, yet that’s basically the industry standard.
Sadly, osmosis is a rather unreliable means through which people gain even a decent baseline level of any sort of skill, let alone risk management. It’s like letting your English teachers learn about a text for the first time as they read it with (or slightly behind) the class, or your maths teacher, teach themselves by reading a chapter ahead and asking the other teachers a few questions about ‘this whole algebra thing.’
Parents would be horrified and continually write angry emails to the school if they knew their children were being taught by teachers who literally knew nothing about their subject areas. Why is nobody upset when that same lack of skill and understanding is being applied to situations which place students at real risk or harm?
Why is risk management training such an afterthought? Why do schools rely on osmosis for one of the most critical things required to keep their students safe? Is it because they don’t care? Most likely not. Is it because it’s too expensive? Hardly, as most training days are less than $500 a day and the cost to investigate even a minor issue is viciously expensive and can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Could it be something that they think they can contract out and not worry about because it’s now someone else’s problem. Perhaps they think they can do this, yet ultimately, they simply can’t contract this out and absolve themselves of any responsibility.
If only there were an easy answer to this. There is some level of naivety in all of this and what’s commonly known as unconscious incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you don’t know it, then how can you be expected to do something about it? Unfortunately, this is not considered a reasonable or acceptable defence when something goes wrong. It just makes you look more idiotic than before and even a mediocre barrister will maul the hell out of a teacher who tries to use this. The ‘I didn’t know’ defence has sadly been used in coronial inquests and no amount of ignorance has ever brought a deceased child back nor mended any shattered lives.
So if training isn’t too expensive and it’s not too hard to do, why is it overlooked? I’ve often had the reply from teachers ‘I’m just a classroom teacher, so I don’t need to do anything like that.’ Yet these same classroom teachers are taking students down town, interstate and overseas on study tours, sports trips and cultural immersion programs. Just because you’re not going white water canoeing in South America, doesn’t mean you, your students and the school are not exposed to a huge range of potential risks from cultural misunderstandings, to political and social risks and poor student behaviour, just to name a few. Every time teachers leave the school gates with a group, they’re responsible for the safety and well-being of that group and like the English teacher reading the text as they go, teachers regardless of subject expertise, should not be out on a trip, anywhere, doing anything and making it up as they go.
In my twenty odd years in education (some more odd than others), the overwhelming trend has however been to allow totally inexperienced and untrained teachers to take groups out and make stuff up as they go. This is wrong and at the end of the day, luck always runs out and situations like this will always end badly. Rather than rely on the magical fairy tale land of risk management through osmosis and relying on making stuff to as you go, it’s time to up the ante on teacher training and enable those keen and enthusiastic teachers who want to improve student learning through amazing real world experiences, to undertake some real risk management training and properly build their skill-set around good risk management practices so that every trip on which they go, is a memorable one for their students for all the right reasons.
In today’s risk tip we’re going to cover the copy & paste methodology for risk management. Now this is often used by people who really are not sure what they are doing or they are really time poor and it’s an easy way to get a job done. I do understand this and it’s something I have done before as well and it’s something that I have come unstuck on before as well and really learned from those mistakes.
So it’s really important even though we know your time poor that you really do look at some standing risks which can easily be copied and entered in to your risk assessment so you don’t have to recreate everything from scratch. But then you also have your dynamic and variable risks and this is where copy and paste comes completely unstuck.
You end up just copying and going, bang that will suit! It was last year’s. We are doing the same thing this year. However, the variable risks such as your people risks, your environmental risks have come change completely from one year to the next.
The group dynamics can be vastly different and the group dynamics for the group that you are taking this time could actually be the biggest risk and if you haven’t reviewed and assessed that effectively and you are just using last year’s then that’s where you can really come unstuck.
So be careful in what you’re copying and pasting. In many ways those standing risks or those standard risks which do not change there is no worries with that at all. You can review them each year as part of your continuous improvement process but generally speaking they are ok to do. However really your dynamic variable risks you must assess each and every time to ensure that you are running great programs for your students that are memorable for all the right reasons.
Recently, I’ve been speaking at a number of different conferences, some education, some tech, some business. The challenge with each is to come up with a unique and interesting presentation that will be engaging and beneficial to the audience. With three quite different audiences, you can’t just do one presentation and expect it be suitable for everyone. Instead, you need to understand your audience and through doing so, shape your presentation so that it’s beneficial to them. After all, the presentation is not about you or for you. It’s for them! You are merely acting as the guide to help them learn and lead them on their own path, (very Jedi in training style).
With that in mind, the first thing you need to do is research your audience. What’s their background? What interests do they have? What expectations might they have in going to a conference or going to hear someone speak? When you understand the needs of your audience, you now have a platform from which to build a useful presentation.
If it is a conference, there’s often a theme to it, which is also important to recognise. If you’re presenting something that’s way outside this theme, it can be disjointed and can fail to meet the expectations of those attending. However, if you can, it’s also worth looking at what other speakers are covering and avoiding repetition as that can be problematic too and your presentation has to be way better than theirs.
Once you have a couple of the basics sorted, then it’s time to put together some of the following, so that it’s engaging and interesting and so that your audience doesn’t feel like throwing the free pens at you.
Consider the following:
Experience – anecdotal evidence and personal experiences told in an interesting way can be a fantastic way to engage the audience and hold attention from the outset. The more interesting you can be, the more effective your presentation will come across. Start with a story to get everyone involved. At one conference, I started with the story of the student who took a superman dive in a bed of oysters… At this point they’re either excited to hear what happened next, or cringing and wanting you to stop… Don’t stop, it’s too late already for that!
Linkages – Build this story and have a point to it. Link it back to the theme topic or core problem your experience or knowledge-base of the audience would have already. For example, if you’re talking about how you innovated to a group of businessmen and women, link this back to how this process of innovation can be replicated in their businesses. If you’re talking about how a student managed to superman dive into a bed of oysters, then link it back to student management, risk management and first aid. The linkages provide a clear and relevant connection with how this information could be useful to participants.
Powerpoints Slides – The best thing to do if you have a power point or keynote “thingy” to go with your presentation is to just have a single image or a slide with a couple of key bullet points - nothing more! Most importantly, don’t read your slides!!!! This annoys people and they will start throwing the pens at you. Hence, don’t do it, unless you’re prepared for the incoming volley.
Longer Presentations & Workshops – The longer the presentation, the more important it is you vary it up and add in practice activities or group discussions from which the audience can interact with each other and have a break from the presenter. Again, it’s because the session is about them and not you that this is so important. Link the activity and the results of that, back into your presentation.
Practise – Before doing your presentation you need to practise it! Stand in front of a mirror and run through your speech. Know how each section should run and for how long it should run. There’s always an intro, a main body and a conclusion and you will always have a time limit. Practise it and stick to your time limit. Be prepared to drop sections on the run if you have to cut down on the time to ensure you finish the session on time. Practice also enables you to have better contact and engagement with the audience.
Eye Contact – This is critical! Eye contact is about building trust and building a relationship. If you want people to trust you and what you’re saying, you need to be able to engage with them effectively and let them see your eyes. If you’re just reading off a piece of paper, this breaks the relationship and is ineffective. Look around the room. Make a point of presenting to each part of the room as you scan throughout the presentation. Nobody knows what you’re going to say, but people quickly understand how you’re going to say it, if you don’t make eye contact with them. Again, the risk of pens flying at you is a real possibility.
Powerful Conclusion – Many presentations fizzle out. They lack a punch. They lack a point. They lack a powerful action step moving forward. Think about what is a really important take away for your audience! Are they looking to upskill on a certain topic or area? Are they worried about something that’s new in terms of legislation, responsibility, legal duty or a new way of doing something or thinking that they’re now willing to try? If so, challenge them to do this. Take action, take a risk, do something about it. Again, it comes down to the fact that the presentation is about the audience and improving their lives, not about you. Leave them with something to think about and get moving on to actually do.
If you can build these few steps into a presentation that you’re doing, then you’ll be way ahead of most presenters already and you won’t have to protect yourself from the flying pens. If these pointers aren’t enough or too much, then just think of it this way. If someone’s given up 30 minutes of their time to listen to you speak, then you need to make that 30 minutes of their life a valuable and memorable one. Nobody remembers boring speakers, so don’t be a boring speaker. Make it fun, make it worthwhile and make it memorable. Because if you can do that, then that’s a session I want to be sitting in and listening to you.
At Xcursion, we are often asked questions about data security and sovereignty. Not the most exciting question, but an important one all the same. With student medical records, security is a must. However, what do most schools currently do? They tend to either use paper printouts, which are really hard to track and I’ve seen folders of these go missing a number of times. No security, no track, no idea where that highly confidential information ended up.
Others use email and things such as dropbox or google drive to share medical information for camps. Whilst this is a slight step up from leaving a folder around, it is in fact still not a suitable way of data management. Once you share something on google drive or dropbox, there’s every chance that the information on that drive isn’t located in your country of origin, which is important when it comes to student medical records, which in most counties need to be stored only in that country of origin.
You then still have the same problem once you’re heading out for school sport, school excursions or activities. How are you going to safely carry and use the information you need? Most of the time we’re back to using print outs, which can contain students home addresses, medical issues and a range of other private healthcare and personal information which needs to be protected.
This was a problem we faced years ago before we developed the Xcursion mobile app. Data security was literally non-existent for our school programs and we needed a way to easily, securely and effectively access that information and use it when it’s needed. The rest of the time, we wanted it locked away and secure from transfer or loss. Therefore, we encrypted our entire Xcursion mobile app platform and databases to ensure that all of our client data was secure and hosted in their country of origin. This way we were able to provide much better data security than before and ensure the most important information was both secure and accessible anytime a teacher needed it for any sort of medication administration, incident report or just a quick call to parents to let them know everything was ok.
How are you securing your information? As experienced teachers, we know how hard it is to keep up with so many responsibilities in and out of school, so if you’d like us to help you make medical information more secure and easier to manage for all your school excursions, school sports and activities, then get in touch today.
‘We’ve got that covered,’ are often the famous last words of people who under-estimate what’s needed in terms of risk management and who are also over-confident in their ability to deliver. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this so often in schools where people think they have everything covered, that risk management is just an annoying document or ‘it’s someone else’s job to do that.’ The reality is that, one, it’s everyone’s job. Two, nobody else can do it for you and three copy and pasting someone else’s mistakes leaves you liable to their lack of ability to assess and implement good risk management, leaving massive holes in everything.
I’ve also seen schools going down the path of employing someone to do all the risk assessments for them. Now this is problematic on a number of levels. One, I could write endless risk assessments and be confident that we’ve minimised our foreseeable risks and have documented it well. However, that’s like me taking a driving test for someone else. I know I can drive, but can they? What actual understanding of risk do teachers have and why are there still so many issues with risk management?
The fact is that unfortunately, the majority of teachers have never had any training in risk management. They’re suddenly expected to know how to write a risk assessment for school excursions, without any training whatsoever. I’ve had some people say to me, ‘But our teachers know how to manage students, so they’re ok.’ I’ve never understood this, as being able to manage a group of students in a classroom, is fine, but risk management for school excursions and activities is far more complex than this and there’s so many considerations and random factors which play into good risk management. These go well-beyond the ability to count the number of students you have with you and make sure they stay together.
Risk management training is critically important for all teachers to have. Whilst it does take time and experience to fully develop these skills, there needs to be a solid foundation of training and understanding so that teachers can become good risk managers which helps them in the classroom, on the sports field and wherever else their excursions, international tours and programs may take them.
As a starting point, we decided to take our 20 plus years of experience in school risk management and distil it into a 3 hour training course to help teachers develop a solid understanding of risk and risk management and what they need to do when taking any group for a school excursion or activity. How to write a risk assessment for school excursions is like risk management 101 for teachers. It covers everything to get started so they can run safe school excursions and activities for their students.
Professional development for teachers is extremely important for their ongoing development. It’s not just classroom practice they need to develop, but all those other skills to ensure they’re keeping their students safe.
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.