Thompson's Law of Kitchen Utensils

Thompson’s Law (of kitchen utensils) states, quite accurately, that kitchen utensils expand to fill the cupboard space available.

If you have ever moved house, or had a kitchen refitted or even had a kitchen extension you will know at first hand the literal truth of this observation. You go from one food cupboard, one for crockery and one for pans and maybe three drawers to the full catalogue kitchen with a central island and push spring opening doors and at least three cupboards for each area. You unpack, sort, place carefully in the swing-out baskets and well-positioned internal shelves, and lo! The cupboards are full.

Thompson’s Law is a specific extension of that classic, Parkinson’s Law, that says work expands to fill the time available, but I like to start with Thompson. It’s the same sort of principle, though with a kitchen it’s more about laying things out neatly and giving easy eyeballing on each item. With time management it may be about either getting the job done as well as you can, given the limited time available, or avoiding getting allocated any new task!

We have yet to hear numbers for how many people are out of work, how many are ‘furloughed’ and how many are confined to ‘working at home’ as a result of the current crisis, but judging solely on the impact on the school’s workforce, and the ease with which I can commute each day, it must be a very sizable slice of the adult population.

As the senior leader in school one thing I am intrigued by is what managers in other schools and other sectors might expect from their employees when they work from or at home. A single person in their own home, used to workplace employment, is going to find it quite a challenge to stay focussed on work-related tasks for a full 8 hour shift at keyboard or on the phone. And that’s to assume that you can find work-related, reasonable and useful tasks for them to do at a distance. With schools closed it must be becoming increasingly difficult for working at home parents to continue to produce significant work outcomes each day if they have their children at home to entertain, feed and possibly educate.

Teachers are not unused to working at home. There are few in the profession who can get it all done at school in normal times, even if they take advantage of the often extended site open hours. (Our school site is open to staff from just after 7:00 to just before 18:00 – a possible ten and a half hour day on site – and yet for many weeks of the year this would not be enough to complete the full set of duties.) A good chunk of planning, communicating, assessing, recording, reporting, researching, reviewing, preparing and sharing can be done away from school. But the essential contact with the class cannot. Flipped, it is the same for the children – without the classroom experience, it is not the same at all.

But what we are finding is that those elements of our role that can be done AFC (away from classroom) are simply, massively expanding to fill all the released time. We have never read and sent do many emails. We have never received some much briefing. We have never known a period of such intense updating, refreshing and clarifying.  We are asking more questions and being asked more questions. We are working harder than ever to stay connected. We are preparing for all foreseeable eventualities, and getting caught out be the unforeseen ones.

I will be adding new tasks in for staff over the next three weeks of school closure – making more contacts with some children and families, starting Reports and transition arrangements, training online, contributing to planning for September changes – but we will find time for these quite easily, I think (if our own children at home allow us screen time and thinking space).

We are missing our day jobs. Every member of staff who comes in to support provision for the children of key workers is delighted to be in school and having some ‘normal’ work to do, but none are reporting a lack of work. None have asked what to do next because they have finished everything. Kitchen utensils have expanded / work has expanded to fill the time and space available.

Stay safe – we will see you soon.

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