Reframing, perspective and critical reflection


In my 21st century workplace, I work with paper and computer files holding roughly (but not exactly) the same information, I record attendance in three different places, fill out two different exit forms, supply information to two separate databases, and manage two different work-related email accounts.

I'm not complaining: I'm just saying things haven't exactly been streamlined.

A few years back, when we were all talking about "accountability" - which I put in quotations because what we were really talking about was tracking and managing for efficiencies - it was fashionable to complain about increased paperwork or excessive paperwork or, well, paperwork.  These days, I don't complain, mostly.  Instead, I reframe things so that I can think about things positively (and avoid getting sick, grumpy and old).

Let me explain.

Picture this.  You come home from your job, and then go out and serve as a volunteer tutor for someone who wants to improve their reading or get ready for a test like the GED.  Maybe you put in two or three hours a week at this.  Maybe you give up an afternoon each weekend.

You meet this person in their home, maybe, or maybe at the public library - it depends on hours of availability and comfort levels and so on.

What paperwork you do, I guess, you do at home.

Now... suppose you do a good job, and your name gets around.  Suppose somebody comes up to you and says, "I'll give you a room to work in, if you want.  I'll give it to you for free.  You can store stuff there, put things up on the wall, arrange it to suit yourself.  Also, I'll make sure you have a working internet connection.  I might even be able to find a working computer and printer for you.  I can offer free photocopying as long as you use it only when you need to."

Well, that's a pretty good deal.  You can now do your volunteer tutoring in a well-equipped, dedicated space that's way better than a table in the back of Tim Horton's.

But maybe the deal gets even sweeter!  Maybe this kindly soul says they'll throw in some administrative support - a phone line with an answering machine, or even a real, live person to answer the phone.

And then, suppose they say they actually want to pay you for your time.  Maybe they'll pay you enough, and for enough hours, that you can quit that other job and make a fulltime career out of what you used to do as a volunteer!

Gee, you think.  That might be alright.  What's the catch?

Well, they say, the catch is that you can't help just one person.  They want you to offer help to 6 or 8 or 10 people at a time.

Okay.  What else?

Well, they want you to give them an hour a week for a staff meeting up-date thingy - for which you'll still get paid.

Okay.  What else?

Well, they want you to give up a full day - still paid - every other month to do some professional development.

Okay.  Anything else?

Yeah.  Paperwork.  They've got some crazy whacked forms they'd like you to fill out on a regular basis.  It'll probably take you 20 to 30 minutes each day.

That's it?

That's it.

So, tell me.  Would you go for that?  Or is your independence important enough to you that you would rather remain a volunteer, working out of your car, helping one learner at a time for an hour or a couple of hours each week.

I'm not judging.  (I actually do both.)  But I am going to insist that a little bit of paperwork - and even a crazy lot of paperwork - is a small sacrifice for what you can get from a paid position in a well equipped, supportive literacy organization.

I know that not all facilitators get extra paid time to do paperwork: they only get paid for "contact" hours (i.e., time spent interacting with the learners).  But, then, volunteers don't get paid at all.

Like I say, I've done both.  I prefer the money.

I'm not talking here about "every cloud has a silver lining" stuff.  I'm not talking about reframing as turning problems into opportunities.  (Most paperwork really is crap.)  I'm talking about shifting my perspective so that problems become less problematic; become a small price to pay.

When it's time to fill out another form, or sit in on another staff meeting, I don't grouch about it.  Instead, I set it in context.  I reframe it.  I remember that I could be working alone, with no infrastructure, no support.

And at my own expense.

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