9 ways schools can ease teacher pressure in 2021

With next term likely to be another challenging one, Charlotte Brunton offers some ideas to protect teacher wellbeing
9th December 2020, 11:15am
Charlotte Brunton

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9 ways schools can ease teacher pressure in 2021

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/9-ways-schools-can-ease-teacher-pressure-2021
Coronavirus: How Schools Can Look After Teacher Mental Health & Wellbeing In 2021

This year has been hard. Putting it mildly.

And 2021, despite the welcome vaccination news, will no doubt be a busy one, too, as we grapple to get students ready for exams, continue to engage in hybrid teaching and deal with the issues caused by Covid-19 in schools - from being forced to isolate to endless sanitising of surfaces.

As such, schools need to do all they can to help teachers keep on top of their workloads and ensure their mental health is protected.

Coronavirus: How schools can look after teachers' wellbeing

Of course, kindness and thank-yous go a long way, but there are practical ways in which schools can help that should be being thought about now.

1. Keep work-from-home flexibility

We never thought working from home could be a luxury afforded to teaching staff, but lockdown taught us differently. PPA, virtual parents' evenings, Inset days: these can all be accessed from home.

Providing that extra flexibility can be a lifeline for so many at the moment, and it also goes a long way in showing trust in staff.

2. Reduce email overload

Emails are always a contentious topic. Should schools ban staff from sending emails after 6pm? Or at the weekend? Or is it the responsibility of the receiver to not open it?

Regardless of your views, we all need to think carefully before we press send. Finding time in the school day to read emails has always been a challenge. Now most teachers find themselves as nomads, it's even more challenging.

And if a message is so important that everybody needs to see it, should it be conveyed via email?

3. Over-communicate

While email overload is not encouraged, it is important that messages are delivered clearly and regularly.

With staff - and parents and pupils - being pulled in so many directions, things are going to be missed, so do what you can to avoid this by making sure messages are clear, direct and repeated enough times to be memorable, without becoming a bombardment.

4. Make meetings matter

We all know the frustration of attending a meeting that didn't need to be a meeting. It causes lost time and interruption to working flow, so make sure you really ensure that any meetings you call - virtually or in-person if safe to do so - really need to take place.

Of course, this then comes with the issues of having to send another email - but get the balance right and staff will thank you for it.

5. Give all the time you can to department time

For those of us in secondary, often time spent in departments discussing our subjects and engaging in academic geekery are the moments that can revive us. They remind us of our first love. 

We have all spent time identifying the shortfalls in some students' learning and it seems there is a consensus that high-quality teaching is the best way to plug those gaps. 

Now that most students are back in the classroom, we have a real opportunity to focus on high-quality teaching.

However, for this to be effective, people need time to engage with their colleagues and develop effective subject-specific strategies that will best help the learners in their care.

6. Press pause

One of the joys of teaching is that we don't only get to teach our subjects, we also get to offer so many additional things that enrich our students' lives.

It's a sad reality though that in 2021 we do not have the capacity to enforce new healthy eating policies, creative writing clubs or student council initiatives. This is OK; they will come back.

7. Cut exam weeks

If you usually have exam weeks built into your calendar that are not for Year 11, 12 or 13, cut them. Teachers are already moving all around the school. Invigilation sessions require more movement and mixing, resulting in burst bubbles.

Plus, the additional workload in terms of marking and moderating does not bear thinking about. 

8. Avoid changes

Who knew the teaching profession was such a malleable one? We have shown our ability to change the way we function overnight: becoming masters of online learning platforms; rolling out rotas and ripping them up the next day; reimagining learning spaces so we can socially distance; the list goes on.

So many of these changes have been out of the hands of leaders and school staff, as we have been dictated to by government orders and coronavirus cases.

However, within school, consistency is key for us all to stay sane. So let's keep unnecessary changes to a minimum - or, ideally, not have them at all.

9. Checking in

Above all else, check in with staff. Whatever your position, ask people how they are and try really hard to listen to their response. This goes for all staff: maintenance, catering, support, teaching and even leaders.

We've all had a crazy 2020. Let's try and give each other some respite next year.

Charlotte Brunton is a secondary English department head at the British School of Gran Canaria. She has taught internationally for three years

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