The Case for Flexible Working Hours in Schools

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pandemic is permanently changing work. I read many articles and listened to podcasts about how all types of businesses and organizations are allowing employees to work from home for at least part of the week. It makes sense that people can accomplish many of the tasks, meetings, etc. online working from home and it avoids the daily commute into the office and getting ready for work (dress, makeup, shower, etc.) Hundreds of hours over a year will be saved. We also hired 100% of our new teachers online without attending job fairs in person for the past three school years. There are pros and cons to remote work and there is some loss in not being together. For example in teacher recruiting, there is something unique in meeting someone in person and I am always surprised at my initial impression of greeting a teacher at the airport versus my impression of the teacher online.

I read the Independent School Management (ISM) article, “A Case for Flexible Work Hours: An Educator’s Debate” with interest. Last school year because of the pandemic, we allowed 100% flexible work hours for faculty because of health concerns. We figured fewer people on campus for less time, the risk of spreading COVID was decreased. This school year we made reinstated our traditional working hours from 8:00 AM to roughly 4:30 PM Monday through Friday. The idea being all faculty should be on campus while the students are required to be on campus. We do allow teachers to leave campus during the day if they have to go to the bank or have childcare needs, etc. and require them to sign out with one of the assistants. We also adjusted the time teachers can leave, making some days early and one day until 5:00 PM for professional development.

The article addresses many of the concerns the TIS leadership team has about going back to flexible working hours. My takeaway from the article is with some extra planning, teachers can be given more flexible time which will lead to greater well-being. The thinking is a happier and healthier teacher will perform better and will result in greater student learning and development. One argument against is secondary school teachers have more flexible time during the day than elementary teachers and it is not fair that they can start a school day later than their colleagues. You can also argue that cocurricular commitments are greater in secondary school and many teachers are leading or attending events in the evenings and weekends.

I understand that teaching is much more than an 8-5 office job. Teachers spend many hours assessing student work, attending school events, leading co-curricular activities. For example, I am the junior varsity boys basketball coach and devote roughly 6-10 additional hours of work outside of my regular school day to games and training, depending on the schedule. I am writing this blog post on a Sunday evening as I am catching up on emails and preparing for the week ahead. Educators do it because teaching is a calling in many ways and when the development of young people is at stake, you shouldn’t really be punching in hours on a clock. Educators do get generous breaks which is needed when so much emotional energy and time is devoted to the school during the school year.

TIS does allow some flexible hours with a relatively open campus for faculty and staff and early departure times on many days. I am not sure how much further I want to go with flexible working hours. I am still not convinced that the gain of more time at home for employees makes up for what is lost while being at school with colleagues and students. I am sure there is a middle ground for us to find on this.

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