A Case for Flexible Work Hours: An Educator’s Debate

A Case for Flexible Work Hours: An Educator’s Debate
A Case for Flexible Work Hours: An Educator’s Debate

School Leadership//

February 17, 2022

If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that flexibility isn’t “nice” to have, it’s a necessity—especially when it comes to overall well-being. Because of the pandemic, working from home and flexible hours are much more common—maybe even demanded by many of today’s employees.

Despite the recent cultural shift of flexible work schedules in many industries, it’s still commonplace for schools to have rigid work hours. While the school day may not be as flexible as other work environments, the requirements for faculty and staff in their “off”/unscheduled hours can be reimagined. In doing so, affords them the flexibility they desire. This change may be more important than ever because a new study from the National Education Association (NEA) states 55% of teachers are planning to leave teaching or retire early.

Educator Shortages

Educator shortages predate the pandemic. The NEA survey states, “... these shortages—particularly for substitute teachers and subject matter experts in math, science, special education, and bilingual education—have grown in the past two years and expanded to encompass other positions such as bus drivers, school nurses, and food service workers.”

Additionally, America’s educators are burned out, and this burnout is leading to an inability to teach students effectively.

As a result, schools are considering retooling their working hours with the idea that flexible work hours are possible. Some schools have already initiated an “open campus”—making a flexible work schedule possible.

What are flexible work hours?

ISM recently connected with Crystal Frommert, Assistant Head of Middle School. A school Crystal worked at previously had flexible work hours, and she was happy to discuss her experience—including her ideas about the potential benefit to faculty and administration. Here’s what Crystal shared with us and how it could work for your school too.

“It was expected, of course, that I would be on campus for all of my five classes plus tutorials and lunch duty,” she said. “There were meetings scheduled occasionally, but other than that, I was not required to be on campus. This meant I could work from home in the mornings if I did not have a first period class.”

This type of flexibility affords educators the ability to leave early to beat traffic on the days they did not have a last period class. It also means they could schedule a doctor appointment or grab a latte between classes.

As a school leader, you might have questions.

  • How would I find a teacher if I needed to reach them?
  • What if a class needed a substitute in a pinch?
  • How is this fair for a teacher who teaches the first or last period of the day?
  • When do teachers do their planning, grading, and conferencing?

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Addressing Concerns

Here’s what Crystal experienced regarding these concerns.

“If you need to find a teacher, you could simply text them,” she said. “This of course would require an understanding of hours where texting would be acceptable, but with the accessibility of today’s technology, texting is a solution.

“To address the issue of last-minute substitutes, each teacher had a pre-assigned ‘on-call’ hour per week in case of emergency,” Crystal said. “In order to make things fair when it comes to the teacher schedules, we had a rotating schedule. In many cases, school employees’ roles are unbalanced as it is. An English teacher, theater director, and basketball coach all have very different jobs that dictate different hours—we worked the hours that fit our role.”

When it comes to planning, grading, and conferencing, Crystal said, “These were done just like we do them now, but with more flexibility of location and time.”

Regarding a flexible schedule, Crystal continues to debate the idea that many teachers already put in extra hours outside of what’s required. “Many educators reply to emails late at night, set up a bulletin board on a Saturday, watch a school soccer game at 6 p.m., or cut yards of laminated paper at home in the summer months,” Crystal said. “These are not uncommon work scenarios for educators. This extra work more than makes up for occasional midday runs to the pharmacy, taking a child to the pediatrician, or pulling into the parking lot after the sun has risen.”

Integrating Into Your Campus

As a school leader, this may all sound great, but you’re likely left wondering, “How do we create a flexible work schedule on our campus?”

It may take some convincing of your administrators to adopt a flexible workday. Have a conversation with your Leadership Team about what flexibility might look like for your school. Talk with school leaders to address concerns. Consider how these concerns might shape what an “open campus” looks like for each department.

When you make the case for a flexible workday, provide resources to demonstrate how flexible work schedules can reduce burnout and increase recruitment and retention.

If there’s pushback from fellow school leaders, try these replies to common concerns.

  • We need teachers to supervise students. Response: We can assign rotating duty to ensure coverage.
  • Teachers need to be available for student help. Response: We’ll plan and publish a schedule of teacher tutorials.
  • Teachers may take advantage of the flexibility and slack off. Response: In many cases, teachers who would take advantage of the flexibility already are.
  • Full-time teachers need to be at work 40 hours a week. Response: Most teachers already work more than the traditional 40 hour work week.
  • We must account for teachers in the event of a fire drill. Response: We’ll create a system that requires employees to check in and out if they leave the building or school premises. We’ll also think about how we can restructure fire drills to count students currently in classes that are in session rather than how many students were in the homeroom.

If there is hesitation, suggest a trial period to test out a flexible work schedule. A recent Harvard Business Review article about flexibility at work argues, “True flexibility is an ongoing process requiring that management be open to experimentation and new ideas. Some arrangements may not work at first and will need to be adjusted. That is normal and an important part of the process; evolution does not equate to failure.”

Lastly, when administrators are open to trusting faculty to continue to do their jobs—above and beyond what is required—there is a shared sense of respect and balance. School administrators—as well as parents—expect high-quality teaching and timely communication from their teachers, and rightly so. In the case of a flexible workday, teachers can continue to meet those expectations while having the flexibility and freedom to decide when and where to complete all the nonteaching tasks that support extraordinary teaching. A flexible workday has the potential to benefit the faculty and administration.

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