Amid the seismic shifts and relentless blows that 2020 delivered, Australia’s teachers and leaders led by example, demonstrating incredible adaptability, resilience and courage, and these seemingly inherent traits paid off in some ways that are as surprising as they are heart-warming.
One encouraging example was recently highlighted in a report by the University of Newcastle, which found no significant differences between student achievement in 2019 and 2020. This “striking counter-narrative” to the 2020 education lexicon of ‘learning loss’ illustrates that quality teaching is alive and well.
As this research – and an ever-growing body of anecdotes across Australia show – educators have done an amazing job of guiding students through radical changes to their school lives, all the while innovating to develop new ways of approaching education moving forward into the future.
But this has come at a cost.
Tina King, president-elect of the Australian Principals Federation, said that whilst leaders have focused on supporting others and navigating their communities through challenging times, it has taken a heavy toll on individual health and wellbeing.
As remote learning became the norm in early-to-mid 2020, a report found that two-thirds of primary and secondary teachers have been working more hours than usual, and an annual report into principal health and wellbeing released in May revealed that one in three principals face burnout.
“I have observed colleagues fatigued by the sheer amount of work, need for constant adaptations and responsiveness in prioritising and supporting the needs of others,” King told The Educator.
“In some cases, this has expediated retirement timeframes whilst for others it has provided opportunity to prioritise needs and reflect on work practices”.
King said increasing demands relating to workload and expectations are ever present issues which confront principals and that she doesn’t expect this to change in 2021.
“It is imperative that opportunities be provided for our leaders to re-energise and alleviated from some of the unnecessary pressures and demands of the role,” she said.
“There is ongoing work that needs to be undertaken in this field and the timing is most imperative following the demands and challenges of the year that was”.
King, who heads up Watsonia North Primary School, says that from a personal point of view, the disruption of 2020 provided an opportunity for recalibration and re-focus on the things that matter most.
“Specifically, the building of strong relationships and capacity to respond quickly and effectively to ever changing circumstances and situations,” she said.
“As leaders, we became key points of contact and families relied upon us for information, guidance and optimism”.
King said principals enhanced and sharpened their repertoire and toolset as a result of necessitated need and drew upon different skills and leadership practices.
“There was no guidance book for this, we evolved and grew as the situation commanded,” she said.
“Most importantly we stood tall and lead and for that we earned newfound respect and admiration from our communities”.