Tag Archives: social justice

After the Bushfires: A View of the Pandemic and School Closures from Amanda Heffernan in Melbourne, Australia

This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Amanda Heffernan, a lecturer in Educational Leadership at Monash University, Melbourne. Having previously worked as a school principal and principal coach and mentor for Queensland’s Department of Education, Amanda’s key research areas include leadership, social justice, and policy enactment. 

This post is the seventh in a series that includes views from Chile, from Japan, from the Netherlands, from Scotland, from Liberia and from Pakistan. The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education.

IEN: What’s happening with you and your family?

Amanda Heffernan: I’ve been working from home since early March when Australia’s restrictions were put into place. Our state government’s advice was that if we can work from home, we must work from home, to stop the spread of COVID-19. After the first week or so I realised how much I needed to stop horror-scrolling through the internet and the news, and found routines that let me focus while still taking note of the state of the world. I’m fortunate in many ways, in that my husband is also an academic and began working from home at around the same time, so we were able to establish an easy-enough routine of work that could shift with the rhythms of how academic work ebbs and flows throughout the semester.

Being an academic often means being mobile, so while I moved to Melbourne a number of years ago (Victoria, Australia) to take up an academic position at Monash University, the rest of my family are in my home state of Queensland, Australia where it seems to feel much safer than it does in my chosen-home state of Victoria. Active case numbers in Queensland and other states are incredibly small, while ours rose so quickly and posed such risk that we have now been placed back into strict lockdown for 6 weeks (only permitted to leave our homes for work, compassionate reasons, outdoor exercise, or grocery shopping). One thing this experience has done for me is make me really realise how far away I am from ‘home’ even though I am still in Australia. The ways our different state governments & communities responded to COVID-19 meant that we all had very different experiences of the last few months. But – with that said – I am so grateful that we are in such a fortunate position in Australia, in comparison to a lot of other countries.

IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?

AH: Universities (for the most part) are working online where they can. My Master’s students are mostly studying while working so they are able to use our critical educational leadership courses as a way of understanding and reflecting on their experiences in dealing with rapidly changing policy and community conditions at the moment. Schools here worked online for a few weeks, while remaining physically open to children of essential workers. As of June 9, schools were back in face-to-face mode, with really careful structures around social distancing where they can, though this is understandably incredibly difficult in many circumstances. School drop-offs and pick-ups are carefully managed, there are extra cleaning procedures in place, and staff are required to socially distance in their staff rooms. Many people are expecting a shift back to online learning in the future – and a back and forth of online & face-to-face until a vaccine is found.

IEN: What do you/your community need help with?

AH: One thing Australia’s schools need help with is making sure that their work is being recognised by the public, politicians, and the media as being incredibly complex right now. The public discourse about schooling and education has shown some increase in appreciation from parents and carers who have realised how difficult the job is after trying to support their children through remote learning, and seeing how much work teachers are putting in to try to make sure students remain connected and supported. At the same time, though, we saw schools being treated as a political football between conflicting goals from our Federal and State governments, with the Federal government wanting schools to remain open, while Victoria’s state government closed them to flatten the curve. Teachers have been positioned in the middle of these tensions, and have had to respond quickly to changing requirements and directives.

One thing Australia’s schools need help with is
making sure that their work is being recognised
by the public, politicians, and the media
as being incredibly complex right now.

Earlier this year a research team I am part of at Monash University, launched a research report that showed Australia’s teachers across all states and territories felt undervalued and that it was having a significant effect on their intentions to stay in the profession. Teachers need to be publicly recognised as experts and professionals who are doing an exceptional job in incredibly difficult circumstances right now. We’ve already seen the economic effects of the pandemic affecting employment conditions (e.g. pay cuts or pay freezes, cancelled teaching contracts, staff layoffs) for education workers, after months of putting themselves at risk and being considered ‘frontline workers’.

We also need help from our politicians and policymakers remembering that education workers very rightfully have concerns about their own health and safety and the safety of their own families, as well as their school communities. There’s a real tension for teachers who want to do the best for their students while still being at risk themselves in their workplaces.

We also need help from our
politicians and policymakers remembering
that education workers very rightfully have
concerns about their own health and safety
and the safety of their own families,
as well as their school communities.

IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?

AH: Something I have found useful is reading Monash Lens – it’s a collection of analysis and commentary on current issues by experts from our university, and it means I have access to a range of perspectives beyond just my field of expertise and interest.

IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?

AH: I’m reading Twitter a lot, after carefully curating my news feed. I’d recommend Pat Thomson (from the University of Nottingham) and Anuja Cabraal‘s Virtual Not Viral website and twitter chat for anyone who works with postgraduate research students, and for anyone completing a PhD in the current circumstances. It’s not just for graduate students – it has important points to think about for anyone working in research right now.

I’ve been revisiting Foucault over the last few months and would recommend a book I recently read: Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity by Margaret A. McLaren. It’s almost 20 years old now but does a fantastic job of positioning Foucault’s work within feminist perspectives.

I’d also recommend anything that gives a little bit of escapism and nostalgia right now – I’m one of the millions of people who have been playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch, and I’ve been working my way through Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time as part of my work playlist.

We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet.

IEN: What have you found most inspiring?

AH: Seeing how the teachers and school leaders I work with have risen to the challenges that COVID-19 keeps throwing their way. We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet. They shifted to online learning, then shifted back once schools returned face-to-face, and now they face an uncertain future with our numbers starting to rise again. Their dedication and their efforts mean our students have been connected and supported through all of this.