National Teaching Fellows

Educators in lockdown: It’s still a messy business! (But a little bit tidier)

This week, we will feature a series of blogs from Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning and Teaching, at Leeds Beckett University. Susan first shared her findings and reflections on educating in a lockdown back in May; in this second instalment, she reflects on how organising and managing a flexible working life is ‘still messy, but a little bit tidier’. You can find yesterday’s introductory blog here.

Head shot picture of Susan Smith

Back in April 2020, our first key finding was that working and teaching in higher education during lockdown was a ‘messy business’. Now, in October 2020, our first finding is that it’s still a messy business – but it is a little bit tidier.

The hasty transition to lockdown working was not linear or tidy and it still isn’t. There is still no absolute view of the future and still no full return to campus date. This is the same across the sector. We have a glimmer of hope of a less disrupted life with the new vaccine.

Team colleagues now report that our daily diaries have become more strange and flexible and we have become more assertive at managing them, prioritising, being collaborative and listening to each other and our needs.

In March 2020, we were worried about the stress of working on kitchen tables in small houses on dodgy desks.  Now, by the autumn, we have much better equipment, have sorted our home offices. We are all more worried about our physical health. In the “old days” we would move from room to room, climb stairs, move from campus to campus at speed. Now our activity levels have really gone down, and we are having to be strict in encouraging movement and exercise. We walk at lunchtime, have Skype meetings while we walk and sometimes speak ideas into our phones as we amble through the neighbourhoods and discover new local sights we never knew existed. We work a bit later into the evening and have a longer lunch to catch the sunlight in the day now the clocks have gone back. This is good, this is helpful, but some feel guilty about being so assertive with their diaries. The team leadership has encouraged this more flexible approach.

We are now all timetabling non-screen days for our own non-work time. It seems our annual leave days are now not used for family gatherings, trips to the seaside and foreign holidays. The treat of a non-screen day and a spot of essential shopping seems to satisfy annual leave standards temporarily amidst the resigned recognition that “this too shall pass”,

We are clearly less shocked, but still navigating how we can clarify the borders between home life and work life and how to make sure your whole house doesn’t feel too “worky”. 

Professor Susan Smith, Associate Director, Centre for Learning & Teaching, Leeds Beckett University


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