In a previous post, I outlined my strong beliefs about why teachers should have a reduced workload. I argued that less is more, for several reasons. I shared my experience of working in the notoriously stressful UK system and how my life has changed since moving abroad. The international reactions to that post have made me aware of the same workload issues in other countries too. Sadly, it appears to be a global issue threatening education, the teachers and, ultimately, our children.
That post discussed the ‘why’, whereas this one offers some suggestions on the ‘how’. The ideas outlined below are not ground-breaking or original. These are just some tips that might help you. Even if you can only make one of them work for you, the difference to your work/life balance will hopefully be noticeable. However, the problem will not be miraculously solved overnight. It will still be a much larger problem that can only be solved by governments and policy-makers.
Here are my ten tips for managing workload. As with the first post, I have the children in mind as I write. These strategies will not hinder learning. On the contrary, many of them will be good for the students.
1. Give the students as much responsibility as possible
Somebody on Twitter described their students as ’30 little assistants’. Generally speaking, students love to help their teachers with jobs and responsibilities. Use them! If a child can do the jobs, don’t waste your precious teacher time on them. Not only will the students enjoy it, they’ll benefit from taking responsibility. Many teachers have monitors for handing out books, filling water bottles, etc. Now take it further.
Paul Solarz made me totally rethink classroom monitors in ‘Learn like a PIRATE’. I can’t recommend this book enough (click the link to be directed to Amazon). Yes, certain roles can be given to particular children, but we should also encourage a shared responsibility for the learning environment. Consider which jobs need monitors and which ones are everybody’s responsibility. Then, as a teacher, focus on the important things while the classroom takes care of itself.
2. Go digital
Don’t get me wrong – we should be using technology in the classroom to transform learning and benefit the students, not because it’s convenient! However… it is convenient! You might as well take advantage of this bonus! Going digital has made my life so much easier! Alice Keeler urges teachers not to be ‘slaves to the photocopier’. Printing, photocopying, laminating, trimming, sticking, etc. all waste masses of teacher time. Many quizzing apps such as Socrative and Google Forms mean that online tests can be instantly marked, graded and ready for teacher analysis. Furthermore, technology also allows me more freedom to work from any device at any time that is convenient for me. These are just a few examples of how unnecessary jobs can be eliminated. I strongly encourage you to embrace technology (even if you need to take baby steps). You’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
However, I’ll say it again: use it meaningfully by putting the students first. It isn’t always the best tool for the job.
3. Take public transport
There are three reasons why I don’t drive to school:
- I don’t know how to drive
- I live on an island and need to cross water
- I can get loads of work done on the commute
Even if you don’t want to take public transport every day, try it occasionally when workload is piling up. My ferry ride to and from school allows me to get ahead of myself by responding to emails, checking my schedule and even providing feedback to students (if you go digital as suggested). It’s a really productive time for me… unless I fall to sleep on the way to school or get tempted by a ferry beer on the way home…
4. Give up on phenomenal classroom displays
Again, don’t get me wrong – the physical learning environment is important. It should be attractive and stimulating. However, it doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. It’s more important that it’s purposeful. I recently left a particular teaching group on Facebook because it seemed to be an online competition for who could create and share the most stunning classroom. I’m talking about photos captioned with ‘this took three days to paint’ and ‘check out my papier mâché reading tree‘. If art is your passion, go ahead, but I’m not convinced that it’s a necessity for every classroom. Don’t worry about ‘all singing, all dancing’ displays. Better still (and relating back to the first tip), let the kids create them!
5. Self-assessments and peer-assessments
Providing feedback to students and analysing progress is a vital part of the teacher’s role. However, there is also tremendous value in self-assessing and peer-assessing. Make these assessment types normalities in your classroom. There are countless ways to do this and many, many suggestions can be found online and in books. Again, I draw your attention to ‘Learn like a PIRATE’ (link above) for some of my favourite, simple strategies.
6. Consider extra-curricular classes that require minimal preparation
Many committed teachers are willing to sacrifice even more of their non-contact time to provide extra-curricular classes to students. Many of these require lots of preparation beforehand and/or follow-up work between sessions. Of course, I have a lot of respect for teachers who are willing to do this, but it’s possible to run one without any extra workload.
One of the most rewarding ones I ever did was a homework club. This was a weekly chance for students to work with me after school to catch up on homework. It was particularly beneficial for students with busy parents or unstable home lives. The teacher support outside of school hours was invaluable to them. How much preparation did it take? None.
7. Collaborate in school and online
Teachers are not alone. Your job is not unique. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel or searching hopelessly for ideas. Collaborate! Even if you are alone in your own setting, or collaboration is difficult for whatever reason, use your wider PLN (professional learning network). Use social media to connect with other educators (find my social links in the sidebar, for example). Use your social media connections to discuss ideas, save ideas, learn from others and ask for advice.
8. Chip away at big jobs
Let’s talk about reports, for example. Just typing the word sends a shiver down my spine! Why? Because I have to write twenty-nine reports, each containing several sections for different areas of learning. This is such an overwhelming task! However, one subject box will take me a matter of minutes. I can do it from my phone on my commute. It sounds obvious, but just chip away bit by bit. You’ll never have time to write all twenty-nine at once, so don’t bother putting it off.
9. Take a break
This might sound counter-productive if you’re trying to get through a long to-do list, but you will be far more productive after a brain break, a biscuit and a brew (#3Bs? This might catch on). We can all recall times when we have stared at computer screens for hours without actually achieving anything of value. Science has proven that tiredness, hunger and stress (among other factors) can seriously impact our productivity. If your brain doesn’t seem to be functioning, don’t force it.
10. Seek support.
“It’s OK to say if you don’t feel OK.”
(Dancing with the Black Dog)
Just like your position is not unique, neither are your feelings. This is a widespread problem and leadership teams should not be surprised by it. Serious anxieties, stress or depression should be discussed with your leadership team. If you are not supported, then it’s their failure – not yours. Good school leaders will listen non-judgmentally, empathise and actively find ways to support you.
I hope that you can take at least one of these ideas and apply it to your own practice. Please let me know if this post has benefited you in any way. This book (and others like it) might be worth considering if you need further support.
If you have any other ideas, please keep the conversation going in the comments below. Your ideas and experiences are hugely valued.
While I have your attention, please take note of two important updates:
- I now have a Facebook page as an extension of my blog. Please hit ‘like’ to get it up and running.
- My colleagues and I are raising money for men’s health charities by supporting the Movember Foundation. As well as sporting a ridiculous moustache, I will walk 20,000 steps every day in November as part of the MOVE challenge. If you enjoyed this post, or if you find any value in my blog, please consider a small donation to my Movember page. Donating online is quick and easy. Remember, it’s for a very important cause: http://mobro.co/adamhill88. Many, many thanks!