Lessons from working in isolation as teachers return to school

Educators are good at autonomy.
Rochelle Borton
Oct 25, 2021
Of all the professions, educators proved to be among the best at working remotely

Working from home, remote learning and working in isolation has become the norm for many of the nation’s teachers as state’s have battled COVID-19 outbreaks. Keeping people safe and infection free has been the main priority of health departments, and education jurisdictions have relied on school leaders to ensure safe return to work plans for staff and students alike.

As the majority of Australia’s teachers return to the classroom after the considerable absence from face-to-face learning, it’s vital that time is taken to reflect on the learnings from this time, to capitalise on the pros and to ensure the negative effects of time in isolation do not have long lasting ramifications.

Teachers have been able to make the most of time away from school in ways that have increased productivity for many. Being able to adapt some of their schedule to support their own family’s needs, not being restricted by travel commitments, battling traffic and creating a new business up top and casual down below wardrobe has made the transition a comfortable one for some. After the initial adjustment period, most teachers were able to create manageable and sustainable plans whilst working in the home environment, custom designing spaces that worked, eliminating work distractions, and being able to press on with tasks or professional learning that would have otherwise been left to a school holiday break.

Being able to self-manage time, deadlines and commitments without interference helped some educators’ productivity levels, however, for others, this was a constant battle. Disadvantages of working remotely for some was the will power to set and stick to a regular and consistent plan. These plans are important because there are direct links to consistency at work and self-care, wellbeing and resilience. Many teachers found workloads less manageable at this time because they felt the need to go beyond the school day, not having the self-management tools to switch off or stick to a routine.

Previous research in other disciplines has indicated that employees who work remotely are 50 per cent more likely to be disengaged, leading to significant drops in productivity levels. (Lee, 2018) The research also indicates that those who are productive and successful can make direct links with their work and the mission and vision of their organisations.

Further research indicates success markers for remote working shows that those more likely to flourish throughout this time had social support, job autonomy, reasonable workload and monitoring expectations. (Wang, et al, 2021)

If this research was applied to school settings, and the learnings related to remote learning and working were considered, perhaps we could come some of the way in addressing why teachers are leaving the profession. Teachers sight workload, government policy and lack of support from leadership amongst the main drivers for leaving the profession and whilst school leaders can not affect all of these, they can affect some.

If this time in isolation has taught us anything, it is that teachers can be trusted to do their jobs. They don’t require layers of oversight, accountability pressure and monitoring. If expectations are made clear, then this educated group of professionals can manage anything that is thrown at them. They have been the most agile, adaptable and dynamic group during this time, never losing sight of what matters, which is the student’s and their needs.

Learning from this time would mean removing red tape, administrative burdens, and unnecessary meetings. It would mean giving teachers more time to spend with students and their learning and less time being compliant. It enhances the benefits of lockdowns and working in isolation and it starts the hard work of removing some of the disadvantages.

Lee, A. M. (2018). An Exploratory Case Study of How Remote Employees Experience Workplace Engagement. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Wang, B., Liu, Y., Qian, J., & Parker, S. K. (2021). Achieving Effective Remote Working During the COVID?19 Pandemic: A Work Design Perspective. Applied Psychology, 70(1), 16–59. https://doi.org/10.1111/apps.12290

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