2022 has been a year in which we have immersed ourselves in deep reflection on the realities of the present, and pushed ourselves to think radically and realistically about the possibilities of the future.
The realities have been largely distressing: pandemics, war, climate events, economic instability, rising inflation, financial stress, skills shortages, and threats to democracy. Concerns about climate change, geopolitical turbulence, and health, abound. Technologies are providing risk and opportunity. Some professions are in crisis, while some industries are reinventing ways of working and pioneering hybrid alternatives.
In 2022, schools dealt with huge amounts of staff absence, largely from Covid-19, as well as significant profession-wide teacher shortages, and increasing student and staff wellbeing concerns. We have also seen young people and school staff rise to meet challenges, and hope-full conversations, research, and practice interventions at local, national and global levels.
The wellbeing of students remains paramount, with schools implementing multi-layered approaches to equipping students to lead fulfilling and flourishing lives. Many schools have been busy reviewing or introducing strengthened wellbeing programs, as well as bolstering human resources to support students’ physical, emotional, and relational wellbeing. Initiatives that focus on service to others are being integrated with work that focuses on knowledge of and care for self.
The wellbeing of staff, too, remains a top priority for schools. The ‘great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ trends of the last couple of years have employees in all sectors asking themselves why they are doing the work they do, and what their alternatives might be. With teacher shortages and crises of teacher recruitment and retention, the workload and workforce conditions of teachers have been under the spotlight. At an education policy level, well-meaning but insufficient solutions have been tabled, such as reviewing initial teacher education (again), paying some teachers more, and providing pre-made teaching resources and lesson plans in an attempt to ‘unburden’ teachers of some of their work.
Schools have been digging deep into their cultures. They have been moving beyond bolt-on wellbeing initiatives and viewing wellbeing as a solely individual pursuit, to working on the complexities of community, belonging, and meaning, as ways to envisage and address wellbeing. Schools are focusing on clear strategic priorities, combined with cultures in which each person is supported as an individual who valued for who they are while being nestled as part of a connected whole.
Those of us leading in schools have been increasingly considering how we can make our workplaces sites of connection, purpose, wellness, and hope. This might be through considering the administrative burden on teachers and seeing what can be taken away – such as subject report comments, expectations of extensive written feedback on every assessment, and co-curricular expectations. Many schools have attempted to streamline communication through platforms such as Teams in an effort to stem the unmanageable firehose of emails. Parent teacher interviews, information evenings, and other meetings, have often moved online to enhance flexibility and accessibility. Some schools are building meeting times into the school day, rather than holding these after school hours. Schools are implementing responsive learning technologies, automated marking and feedback systems, and collaborative planning technologies. Reducing the number of summative assessments, and increasing student ownership over reflection and feedback on formative tasks, is one way to simultaneously support learning and reduce teacher workload.
As we watch corporate sectors reimagining their workplaces in ways that allow increasing flexibility for workers, the school as workplace is also being reconsidered, albeit more slowly. Some schools and systems have been generous in their leave policies and leave conditions, while others have been unable to do so due to financial constraints. Professional learning budgets are being spent on providing time for meaningful planning and collaboration, and on coaching and mentoring, as well as on opportunities for networking and connecting with those beyond the school gates and local community. While school timetables are notoriously inflexible, schools are considering how to allow staff more flexibility about how and where they work. It isn’t yet usually possible to offer teachers regular ‘working from home’ days. However, within the available parameters many schools are negotiating job-share and attractive part-time arrangements for teachers.
A focus on student and staff wellbeing has been bolstered by a focus on inclusion and agency. Education organisations have been interrogating the inclusivity of their language, physical spaces, policies, and practices. A focus on addressing the diverse needs of learners has led to continued work in differentiation and appropriate adjustments. Many schools are engaged in exciting work on increasingly one-size-fits-one approaches to learning, to success pathways, and to ways of demonstrating achievement. Students and staff are being offered opportunities for meaningful collaboration and a voice in positive change. Personalisation, voice, and choice, are being increasingly woven into the fabric of learning, leading, and working.
As we move towards the end of 2022, and into 2023, wellbeing, inclusion, and agency will continue to be issues with which schools grapple.