WomenEd Blogs

So-ing and Patchwork Part 2.


by Emma Turner @Emma_Turner75

Flexible working needs modelling at all levels of responsibility, and if we are to avoid so-ing, then leaders have a duty to analyse who their flexible workers are and to see if they are representative of all levels, pay grades and responsibilities across their organisations. If we are to see flex as a realistic and aspirational model then it needs modelling at all career stages and in all roles. Flexible working should be seen as just that, flexible; it should be seen as a chance to shape, mould and develop existing norms and to innovate. It should not be seen as a second rate option to the premier glory of full time. It should also not be associated with specific levels of responsibility or roles.

Flex is possible at every level and leaders do a disservice to both flex and the value of the contribution of employees across their organisation if they perceive flex to be only possible in less senior positions. The thing is though, there’s a little known secret about flex.

Once it’s actually out there, flex has the potential to transform the way in which it is viewed by colleagues at all levels but it needs unpicking and separating from the so-ing. It needs championing as the greatest developmental model for professional expertise that there is and this needs doing through the medium of patchwork.

You see, a patchwork blanket is not one single fabric coverall. It is pieced together beautifully and seamlessly with complementary fabrics, textures and colours to produce something truly beautiful. My children all have patchwork bedspreads on their beds, made by a hugely talented lady I know. They are all unique, as individual as the children themselves and absolutely beautiful. They are well made and have longevity and the children never tire of spotting new patterns, colours and textures on them. This is what the future of flex looks like. It is patchwork and once word gets out about it, everyone is going to want to become involved and I know because I’m doing it right now. Patchwork flex is not rigid flexibility. Rigid flexibility is lip service to flexible working. It is saying 'this is how we do flex here' and offering the absolute minimum of models or opportunities. It is saying that it is only for certain roles and only for a select few. It is basically trying to keep as many as possible on a full time model and offering only a tiny number of options. This is missing a trick. For a start, every flexible working request is unique to the flexi worker. Every colleague will have their own set of circumstances to which they are trying to respond and can offer a different amount of their professional time and expertise to the organisation. And isn’t that exciting? Isn’t the opportunity to potentially increase your staff number by having more professionals sharing roles a fabulous opportunity? You get double the expertise on the staff, double the experience and twice as much flex in your system for any additional projects the school may take on. Because flex is flexible. Flex models are not set in stone forever and as colleagues’ circumstances change and develop they may have capacity to take on more projects or hours and boom, you have experienced colleagues who can step up to take on extra work with all the in house knowledge of systems and procedures they have. You also have happier staff. Managing to take their own children to school or to have staggered hours to care for a relative make staff feel valued as humans first.

This happier staff increases positivity and thus productivity, staff turnover reduces as people are happy to work for an employer who values them and thus consistency is maintained.

I know this because during the 8 years of my co-headship with my wonderful co-head colleague, we had 5 babies between us in 5 years and flexed headship in every possible way! Our role modelling of this led to multiple flexible working models across the school and it still has one of the lowest rates of staff turnover I have ever seen in a school, a success to which I would attribute the high numbers of flexible working and a human first approach to leadership. Flexible working’s big secret though is that it is an enhancer. I currently work part time for a Trust in the East Midlands. On my contracted time with them I write, research and develop CPD for staff at all levels. In addition to this I write for TES and occasionally for the DfE, I am a Co-Chair of governors at my children’s school and I speak at events, I present on podcasts and videocasts and I have launched a national CPD grassroots event - NewEd. None of these other things would have been possible or manageable for me had I worked full time. The part time aspect of my role has let me create a patchwork career and, just as each square on my children’s blankets complements the overall effect, so does this patchwork approach to flex. By doing so many different things I have learnt hundreds of times more than would have been possible in a single role. I have conversations from across the sector, I have my eyes opened every day by something in one of my roles which I can then transfer to another. And the thing is that each square of the patchwork enriches the others. I bring transferable knowledge, skills, views and experience from multiple roles.

And this is the greatest secret of flexible working. It can offer opportunities for you to grow and develop and widen your experience in a way which totally transforms the model of flex.

Too many schools and our culture is locked into a 1 job, 1 home life model and you must fill each of those two components to the brim with as much as possible and as close to full time as possible. However, there is another way. There is a proactive choice to work patchwork flexibly and dismantle rigid flexibility. The pandemic has shown that nothing in our system is fixed, nothing can’t be flipped on its head, including approaches to flexible working, or, as I like to call it, flexible living, because we should live first, work second. If we are to push the narrative around flexible working further, it is important that we consider the role so-ing has to play and our own unconscious biases to this. Full time works brilliantly for some. Each individual is unique and that is exactly what is needed. A blend, an opportunity, a patchwork of approaches to working patterns which suits each individual and their circumstances whilst still serving the organisation. We cannot afford to haemorrhage experienced teachers from our profession because they are unable to live well. Flexible living and working can provide challenge, balance and opportunity for organisations and for individuals. We need to build a model of flex in which it is seen as a proactive choice rather than a need to be coupled with an excuse as to why it is not a full time role. We need to stop so-ing and start patchworking.

I say much more in my new book, Let’s Talk about Flex and looking forward to more conversations!

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Adventures in Quilting
So-ing and Patchwork Part 1.


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Saturday, 01 October 2022

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