This week we welcomed back our cohort of NQTs for day three of their NQT Induction training. One of the key themes of our training is managing workload and maintaining a healthy balance in life between the demands of work and leisure time. Read more about our advice for sustaining a healthy balance in this blog post.
Since the Workload Challenge in 2014, the government has asserted its commitment to reducing unnecessary teacher workload through the establishment of three working groups and the publication of the workload reports in March 2016. These reports cover what is considered to be the three main areas within which teachers report unmanageable workload requirements: Marking, Planning and Data Management. All three of these reports set out the problems, the potential solutions and provide a set of recommendations for government, for leadership teams in schools and for individual teachers. You can read these here. The DfE has pledged to conduct regular and ongoing surveys of workload, to publish case-studies of ways in which schools have responded to the workload reports and to host events with the aim of sharing good practice and promote sustainable working practices.
That’s all very well, but for many teachers in the classroom today, the struggle to maintain a healthy balance between time spent working and time spent pursuing other interests is a very real one, and one that will not resolve itself overnight. Practices in schools have developed over many years and there will be few schools who will willingly and bravely throw out marking policies, or stop demanding lesson plans. The challenge for teachers on the ground, is to manage their own workloads in a way that prioritising their own wellbeing whilst maintaining the best interests of the students in their care.
Below are three key things to keep in mind if you are struggling with finding your balance.
Feedback not Marking!
Love it or hate it, marking takes the lion’s share of a teacher’s workload and will never disappear. It is easy to defend any marking policy, simply by stating the importance of the feedback we provide to students on their progress. The trick with marking is to remember that the important bit is exactly that; feedback! It’s not the mark you make on the page, but the quality of the feedback you provide. A challenge for all teachers is to carefully examine your marking practices. If you find yourself doing any of the following, ask yourself why and ‘is there a more time efficient way?’
- Writing the same comment more than once whilst marking one set of books
- Correcting the same spelling more than once in the same set of books, or book!
- Describing what a student has done, rather than prescribing what they need to do next.
If you recognise any of these common pitfalls, then your marking practices may not pass the effort vs impact test.
Ofsted do not require marking to look a certain way or to have a predetermined frequency. They will want to know that teachers are providing feedback, in line with school policy, and that is moving students forward.
Many teachers, particularly at the start of their career, feel the need to create resources. This can provide a nice outlet for those with a creative streak, but it is not always a time-efficient approach, particularly as it is highly likely that another similar resource probably already exists, either in a classroom down the hall, or in a textbook at the back of a room. To make sure your planning is as time efficient as possible, it makes sense to collaborate with others who teach the same year group or topic. This might be within your own school, or through public forums such as facebook teacher groups or on twitter. Asking the question ‘does anyone have…’ or ‘can anyone share with me…’ can often begin a great collaborative working relationship and can reduce the hours spent unnecessarily inventing a wheel that has been invented and reinvented a million times over. With the time pressures that we all face, in school subject or planning development time is not always explicitly catered for, but if you are a middle leader or have the ear of your subject or phase lead, look at the way in which department time is allocated and look at your meeting agendas. How much of this ‘ business’ could be shared differently, to make room for collaborative planning?
Learning not lesson!
Related to the issue of resource creation is lesson planning. Second to marking, planning probably takes the largest chunk of a teacher’s time, both in and outside of school. A lot has been published recently to support teachers in streamlining their planning, not least of all @TeacherToolkit’s 5 minute lesson plan, which has made its way into many staffrooms. Most, if not all advice, centres on one central principle; that we should be planning the learning, not the lesson. In other words, planning that is time inefficient is often so because it is led by the ‘what need to be covered’, rather than what the students need to learn. Starting with the ‘why’ of the lesson allows us to focus our planning on the learning objectives, rather than on content coverage. Once we are clear on the precise focus on what the students need to learn, we can plan activities which will address this, using the resources at our disposal. Planning for learning, not lessons, enables us to plan learning sequences rather than discrete lessons, so in a single hour, rather than planning a single lesson, we might plan an entire week, or two week series. This more focused approach benefits from having the focus squarely on the needs of the students and less on the demand on the teacher.
Work/Life balance (and for the record, I despise that phrase) looks different for everyone and for that reason, despite any efforts being made by government, unions or enlightened school leaders, it is up to us as individuals to find out own balance. Start this process by casting a critical eye over your practices…