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Too Hot To Learn?

At times I am surprised by the lack of respect we show ourselves as professionals.

The sweltering weather in the past couple of weeks have coincided with professional development days in most states. This is not unusual given that it is summer in Australia. However, the prevailing weather conditions have a significant impact on the engagement and stamina of staff and therefore the effectiveness of professional development.

A number of schools don’t have an airconditioned space large enough to house their staff for a professional development activity. It can be tough enough on staff to be winding back up to speed after the holidays, undertaking mandatory training, without having to swelter in sweat boxes. It’s time that staff were valued and the professional development activities optimized by ensuring that conditions are conducive to learning.

A further example of the lack of respect some education leaders show our profession is evident in the long held practice in many schools of staff self-funding tea and coffee. I can’t imagine that if I worked for the local branch of the Commonwealth bank that I would be expected to contribute tea / coffee / milk money each week. Whilst this may be perceived as ‘petty’, I believe that the practice of collecting $2 per week from each staff member for tea / coffee / milk is symptomatic of a lack of recognition that we are in the people business.

Our staff are our most valuable asset and our greatest expense. Investing in quality professional development in today’s climate of tightening school budgets can be challenging. However, as schools, our services are delivered through our people. If we don’t invest and value our people as professionals, it is akin to a manufacturer not upgrading equipment, yet still expecting improved productivity.

An average size primary school with 20 teaching staff has an annual wages bill of over $2 000 000. An average secondary school’s wages annual wages bill is well over $4 million. Investing just 5% in staff development would equate to $100 000 in the primary and $200 000 in the secondary school. Now that is a significant investment in people.

Optimizing our investment in quality professional development is essential. If the school does not have a suitable airconditioned facility for staff professional development then hiring a local facility is a wise decision and will leverage their investment in professional development.

I am a great believer in creating optimal learning environments. Having grown up in Townsville I know the impact that hot, humid classrooms used to have on student learning. Thankfully almost all classrooms in north Queensland are now airconditioned. I couldn’t imagine students in Alaska NOT having heated classrooms. However classrooms in government schools in the south east corner of Queensland don’t qualify for airconditioning. I was very surprised to find that even brand new schools do not have airconditioning provided. This seems a false economy as retro fitting is much more expensive than installation at the time of construction.

Ensuring that students learn is challenging enough. It is essential that we optimise the physical learning environment to remove as many barriers to learning as possible. Controlling the temperature and ensuring that students can see and hear should be baselines.

It is essential to workplace engagement that staff feel supported and valued.  Undertaking quality professional development in airconditioned comfort and feeling valued through the provision of tea / coffee / milk and perhaps even a fruit bowl to encourage better eating habits are indicators of a leadership team that ‘get it’.