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Workload and teacher well-being

2014-10-24 15.11.49

Much has been written lately about workload and teacher wellbeing, and so it should.  Thing is, it’s really easy to talk and write about and bloody difficult to put into practice.  For a start, I can’t look at myself in the mirror when my official contracted hours are well under 40 hours a week.  I can’t complain about working excess hours until that’s straight. Yes, I do think that teachers work way too many hours, but I also think that the basics need looking at in a system and job that demands more from teachers than it did when the contracts were developed.

Teacher well being and workload are paramount – the questions I ask myself about everything is:

  • How does this make teaching and learning better?
  • How does this enable teachers to make teaching and learning better?

Of course, we have to balance the need for efficient systems for teachers and what is right to develop teaching and learning.  Data entry is a great example, streamlined, slick and happens all the time.  However, the main benefactor is often not the student.  A teacher who keeps systematic records in their own planner, and uses that to direct interventions is likely to make a difference.  How important is getting those reports written on time if they don’t support parents?

Middle leaders have a vital role here. For example:

  • Use department meeting time efficiency, pre-write the admin stuff and make some decisions – in my view the consultation process often adds layers of workload that just isn’t necessary.  Effective schools operate often as a benign dictatorship. 
  • Recently, we listened to staff who wanted more time to develop exam skills, the photo above shows the work created by our Art department.  This bespoke CPD is vital for both well being and resducing workload.
  • Set up a clear timetable of monitoring for learning and other tasks.  Gantt charts are really useful here.
  • I always try to handwrite thank you cards and include a little quote.
  • We used to hold meetings in a coffee shop, pub or tourist venue.  I supplied the beverages and we used to run into 2 hour meetings (which were actually discussions about teaching and learning).  Sometimes, finishing a meeting too early can create extra workload.
  • I’m not a fan of meetings for the sake of it, they should have a clear purpose with a shared plan / agenda that’s shared ahead of time.  Use Google Docs to create a shared set of agreed minutes and actions.
  • Use Google Docs to share important documents and communications – line management meetings are far more productive when I know what’s coming up.
  • making a really good cup of coffee or tea always goes down well.
  • At a Teacher Learning Community this week, the host made amazing mince pies.  That changed the mood.
  • I try never to email bad news.  Making the time allows a supportive conversation that’s human and allows next steps to be generated.
  • Never send emails out of ‘office’ hours.
  • Listen to the experts when it comes to curriculum design – they’re usually right.
  • Every year at my last school we had a department away day
  • Have a development plan in google docs that is living and shared.  Revisit it every day.  Spend time to get it right in the first place and then don’t change the plan.  Use it to bat off other priorities.
  • As a middle leader, if there’s an issue in the quality of your team, do something about it fast.  It creates more work and more ill feeling if it’s left.

Of course, if I were in charge of the world:

  • Flexible working – core hours to be in school (teaching, duties, tutor) otherwise, work where and when you want to.  There may be some ratio health and safety stuff around this, but it could be overcome. 
  • Provide good quality work space that is flexible and adaptable.
  • Join up schools with nurseries and provide cheap child care.
  • Get everyone to run clubs or prep time to see children out of their usual context .
  • Provide a really really good staff party for nothing and run a families day.
  • Employ more, quality teachers, so teachers have fewer classes.  The extra time is for feedback and planning.
  • Allow extra time for research- encourage sabbaticals to other institutions or to gain an MA or PhD.
  • Use digital exercise books through OneNote.


Being able to trust teachers is nothing new.  A school relies upon trust to function and even the most robotic micromanager is never going to be able to control everything.  However, I would throw out any prescribed way of doing our job, including the Holy Grail peddlers that offer ‘the’ answer.  What we need are tool sheds and judgment.

Of course, there are teachers who do need more support and, whilst a supporter of removing grading to lesson observations, there are times and stages in a career where more rigid told are necessary in order to encourage improvement. I say that as someone who has been in and out of lessons without grading for years and year, before it was fashion like.


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