Five ways I reduced workload and embraced ‘me time’

The key to work-life balance is getting the planning right, says Katherine Howard

Katherine Howard

teaching workload

I used to think wellbeing was something teachers did if they weren’t working hard enough.

Barry in ICT went for a bike ride every weekend and the rest of us wondered when he was getting his marking done.

Alex left at 15:01 and everyone watched in despair as he skipped his way to freedom.

I soon learned better. And I realised wellbeing is about more than just managing workload, it’s about having the time to be you because your work is achievable and manageable.

So, how do we reach this point of wellbeing enablement? Arming ourselves with the right resources.

If we work smarter in our preparation, we’re happier. If we’re happier, we’re more productive. And if we’re more productive, we work smarter. See the pattern?

Quick read: Five ways to make split classes work

Quick listen: How to judge teacher and school performance

Want to know more? How I got my life back from teaching

Here are five ways to resource your way to balance rather than burn-out.

1. Make a planning community

Aby and Rosie both have Year 8 this week. Consequently, both teachers are now squirrelling away at home with their own respective PowerPoints, trawling YouTube for a clip on the Industrial Revolution at 11pm and wondering what everyone else is teaching their Year 8s.

We operate like hamsters in cages at times, isolated by our own workload. Let’s step off.

Build your own micro-community that will help you to plan as a team for the term ahead. Map out collaborative planning time with other members of your department who teach the same units of work; use that time every fortnight to pool ideas and share approaches that could reduce the time you spend in isolation, trying to work out how to make it stick.

2. Recycle

Farewell, one-off help sheets and mountains of photocopying! This year, I created resources that were transcendent across units of work.

Instead of unit-specific resources, I spent time crafting resources that were free of mark schemes or assessment focuses and ensured that they could aid students at various points over the year.

This may be a vocabulary aid or a framework for written responses.

As well as enabling you more time to focus on teaching, students will also recognise that they are revisiting and practising skills that they are already familiar with, which will be incredible for their confidence.

If you do conjure up a unit-specific resource, consider how elements of it can aid students to recognise patterns in their learning; for instance, something as simple as ensuring each knowledge organiser that you make has a uniform format, so students can familiarise themselves with the layout and what content they are expected to learn.

Alternatively, create something that you can revisit every year, such as unit cover sheets, as this will give you back hours year on year.

Remember: if it takes you longer to make it than the time that will be spent using it, it’s not worth doing.

3. Students as a resource

While I’m not a fan of students creating resources for other students – you cannot guarantee quality or content – your most conscientious students will be able to meet the specifications on this one.

Spend time with your groups to harness their ability to create resources you can use over and over with future classes. Ask students to explore or develop what they have learned and then share the results with other students.

This may take the shape of dual-coded revision cards, illustrated beautifully by students in art, or a video tutorial where a student talks through a theme or character within a text.

One year, a student I taught created an entire website to aid revision, with a section for each character of the text, accompanied by a test at the end. Genius!

teacher workload

4. Model, model, model

Who has wasted time resourcing a lesson only to look at pupils’ books afterwards and wonder if they were even in the same room as you?

This can often be because, while they had the gear, they had no idea. They were armed with a sheet, but didn’t know what the end result was meant to look like.

Modelling is one of the most effective ways to ensure that you are all on the same path, and live modelling takes zero preparation time, just your already extensive knowledge of the topic.

By writing responses or note taking and letting students watch, they are able to see your planning, thought processes, even the choice of words that you deliberate over.

You could even involve them in your train of thought, asking them which statement works best or perhaps a piece of knowledge that you “forget” to know (when did Henry VIII come to the throne again?), so they can build their confidence to emulate the response that you create.

5. Strip it back

A trainee was talking about a colleague of mine, marvelling at her wizardry as she whispered, “she teaches with ONLY a book and a pen. NOTHING ELSE!”

Sometimes, in the thick of revision season, it’s easy to get caught up in worksheet overkill.

Panicking about the fact that students aren’t including analysis in their responses? Make a worksheet for it.

Not enough evaluative language? Make a worksheet.

It’s easy to get pulled into the trap of handing out reams of paper when, actually, you are the most valuable resource in the room.

Choose three things you want every student to know and remember as they walk into the room, then spend the start of every lesson embedding those three things through practice.

Katherine Howard is a teacher of English at Brockington College. She tweets @saysmiss 

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Katherine Howard

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