Work, Rest & Play in an Anytime, Anywhere Century

“If you are suggesting that teachers teach online in the evening, and make podcasts and such in their own time, isn’t this asking teachers to spend more and more personal time working?”

“How do you have the time to teach a virtual class, make podcasts, etc.? Do you ever sleep?”

I get asked questions like these a lot.

It’s interesting to reflect on how the world has changed since unions fought for 888 (8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours of rest). While the principle of work/leisure/rest balance is still as relevant now as it was in 1910, the division of our day into 3 discreet 8-hour periods, I don’t think is relevant any more.

Blurring the 888 Boundaries

The borders between work and leisure are already blurred. We already take our planning, correction and report-writing home and work into the evening. We feel comfortable phoning our family members during the day, or minding our child at work if they can’t attend school. We have “social committees” at work, and our work itself increasingly involves an element of play. All these things blur the once clear boundary between work and leisure. I don’t think my school is unusual in this regard. Any given day sees several humorous education-related emails circulated amongst staff. Being at work can be fun, and dare I say it, at times it feels like leisure. In fact I’d argue that working in a job you love, IS a form of leisure. Take Anne Mirtschin from Hawkesdale P-12. She recently expressed it like this to me (in a tweet) “[teaching online in the evening] is more like entertainment. I don’t watch TV much, and just love learning and the eLearning environment.” That is what Sir Ken Robinson would call a teacher in her “Element”.

Compare this to the Henry Ford clock-in-clock-out work ethic. Ford is well known for having sacked employees for laughing at work, or on some occasions for even smiling! Work was not a place for fun. Fun was reserved for a man’s 8 hours of leisure and had no place in the factory. Today, most teachers approach their work oftentimes with a sense of play, happily blurring the boundaries between work, leisure and rest, and i think it would be sad to go back to the rigidity of the 888 model unions fought for a century ago.

De-specification of Time and Place

The Internet has led to the de-specification of hours in many facets of life. We now buy our music when we want to online rather than waiting until Sanity is open during the day, we book our holidays online in the evening rather than trying to get to the travel agent during our lunch-break, we bank online, shop online and keep in touch with our friends online via Facebook and Twitter all week rather than waiting to see them on the weekend. Our colleagues email us in the evening for help with their computers and our family members email us during the work day for help with theirs.

But when it comes to time and schooling, the paradigm hasn’t changed much. We still think that students need to be at school, sitting in classrooms between the hours of 9:00 AM and 3:30 PM. Like other areas of our life, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see that the system is actually more efficient and more convenient if students can access “the classroom” 24/7. Just as for other spheres of life, this will be made possible in part by the automation of repetitious and routine practices and in part by the de-specification of work hours both for teachers and students. The need for a class to be together in time and space for learning to take place is diminishing rapidly. Bill Gates recently mused: “Place-based colleges’ are good for parties, but are becoming less crucial for learning thanks to the Internet”.

A second point I want to make, is that I think if teachers are teaching virtual classes in the evening, they should be entitled to take time off in lieu during the work-day. In other words, if we are going to de-specify our hours, we need to de-specify the hours we spend at school, too. This is certainly the case for me and I know its true of some other teachers like the excellent Steve Collis at Northern Beaches Christian School. Steve teaches virtual classes online of an evening and comes in to work late on Tuesdays. In my case, I teach online on Tuesday evenings, and usually take Friday afternoons off in lieu. It’s a great trade off as far as I’m concerned. Instead of teaching tired weekend-ready students who are forced to be in class on Friday afternoon, I get to teach them after dinner, on Tuesday evening, when they are relaxed at home after a break from school. Plus I often get to have lunch with my wife on Friday afternoon while our own children are at school. There’s not too much to resent about that trade-off.

Time and Efficiency

The other important point that needs to be made here is that teaching online in various forms is much more efficient than teaching ‘on the ground’. Take podcasting for example. In a one-hour podcast, I can cover more than in a week’s worth of classes, and it amplifies the effectiveness of my teaching, too. Students can listen to it when they are in a receptive mood. They can listen when they want to, where they want to, as many times as they need to, for as long as they want to. They can come back and listen again for revision. If they are away sick they don’t miss out. If their mind wanders they can rewind – instead of approaching me for a second explanation. On my forum they can ask as many questions as they want, as they think of them, and someone will answer. As a result, I have fewer students needing my help out of class time than I once did. This efficiency also saves me personal time. I’m a more effective teacher than I was, but I’m spending less time to do so.

I’m blessed to have a principal who gets this and is open-minded enough about the 21st Century, to give me the latitude to explore it.


15 thoughts on “Work, Rest & Play in an Anytime, Anywhere Century

  1. Great post. I wonder how soon the self directed learning of the students (after hours) will be also be recognised as time in lieu?
    Great to see educators like you blazing the way and a principal who supports his staff to be innovative.

    Are you back in Oz yet?

  2. Hi Geoff, Yes I got back on the weekend. California is great, but Victoria is even greater. Your point about students having time in lieu is a good one.

  3. Do you ever sleep? Yes, that is a question I have been asked more than once too! Luckily for me, I feel like I am in “my element” too. As dorky as it sounds, teaching is my career, my hobby and my passion! Luckily it’s not my only interest but like you, I spend MUCH MUCH longer than my 38 hour working week on education/technology related pursuits.

    Not sure if you’ve come across this but another interesting point that comes to mind is that teachers who stay at school until 6pm “doing work” like to advertise how long they spend at school every night as if they’re working harder than others? Well I like to head out the door at 3:45 pm when I can but I often work from home well into the night. Another example of anywhere, anytime working that might seem quite foreign to some.

    I just love your idea of virtual teaching and I’ve spoken to Anne Mirtschin about her fabulous work with this many times. Being a grade two teacher I wonder if there will ever be a time when teaching won’t be 100% face to face. Love to hear what you think about the future of virtual teaching in primary schools!


    • I guess in a primary school.. or even lower secondary school, you can’t let kids de-specify their hours to the extent that they go home when not in class, for obvious reasons. But I think in the future we will see more unstructured time where students can work on whatever it is they are working on – being taught by teachers from all over the world who resonate with their preferred learning styles, and the classroom teacher will be able to give more and more individual attention to students. I think primary teachers already do that more than many secondary teachers do … just because you have more than 5×50 minute periods with kids. I’d be very interested to hear what you think about it.

      As far as the use of virtual teaching tools are concerned though… I’ve even started using them with my real class on the ground in the classroom! (even when we are together in time and space).

      I love your comment about being the first out the door at 3:45… that is very true.

  4. @ Andrew, great point about the students being able to work with a variety of teachers in their own learning styles. And I guess it doesn’t have to be working with official “teachers” either. As I heard Will Richardson say lately, there 6 or 7 billion people living in the world so there are a LOT of potential teachers out there.

    I like the notion of teachers being able to spend more individual time with students in classroom. I do see that happening in middle/upper primary already but I’m not really sure what the future of Prep-Two will be. I try to do as much technology based, authentic, global collaboration type learning as possible in my Grade 2 class but there are still so many fundamentals that have to be really concentrated on. I am always open to ideas though so I hope I am wrong and the P-2 classroom can be “flipped” as well.

    I always like hearing your thoughts on education so keep them coming!

  5. Douchy, as a VCE Student, I find it hard to even get anywhere near a 8/8/8 balance, it is more like a 12/3/9 on a good day, that is if there isn’t much homework for the week, there is even less lesure time if there is lots of homework, a SAC that needs to be studied for and at the moment, studying for exams. I find that the best time to study is on the bus when there is nothing else to do during the 2 wasted hours on the bus everyday, and your podcasts are good to listen to on the bus.

  6. Hey Callum – thanks for the comment … great to have a student perspective. I guess VCE students have never had an 8:8:8 balance – at least not if they want to do well in VCE. lol. But yes, I hope that being able to study via a podcast borders on being leisure (I try to make them fun to listen to) and hopefully that helps to blur the boundaries for students, too.

  7. The podcasts are good as they allow people to study in time that might other be wasted and it gives people the flexibility in their learning that they never had, just like the Elluminate sessions, they allow people to learn interactively, and to potwentially catch up and ask questions they might not be able to.

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