How to cut workload with effective communication

Making conversations with colleagues, students and teachers more effective can save valuable time, says Adam Riches

lighten the load: improve communication to reduce workload

Communication is one of the biggest factors in the functioning of a school.

But if it’s not happening effectively, it creates workload and stress.

Although schools generally have policies and guidelines around communication, the expectations of staff are often neglected.

Quick read: 4 (really) quick workload wins for planning lessons

Quick listen: How much of your lesson should be teacher talk?

Want to know more? Improving behaviour through empathy (free to subscribers)

And so it’s easy to make work for ourselves and each other. Communication needs to be carefully managed by individuals and organisations. Here are three areas where simple changes can make a difference.

1. Emails

I’m not sure we’ll ever get it completely right with emails. Sending messages late at night or on a Friday evening isn’t good form, obviously. But beyond that, it's about what you’re putting into emails.

Emailing only when necessary cuts workload; keep it transactional and to the point. Alternatively, can the message wait for a face-to-face chat or a meeting in the next day or two? Can you save it?

Nobody wants to get to work on a Monday and find 40 emails in their inbox only one of which has any relevance. And don’t get me started on whole-staff emails about lost pencil cases…

2. Phone calls home

Phone calls home can be really stressful. Although all teachers play a pastoral role, calling home shouldn’t be expected all the time.

Finding details, making the call (sometimes more than once) and then getting curt replies or worse can really add to workload.

In an ideal world, phone communication would come through a central point and messages would be disseminated if required.

Middle leaders should filter this additional stress for their teams. But in some schools, the responsibility still falls to teachers to make phone calls home about behaviour and other issues. Even positive phone calls take time.

Having a central point of communication for parents also means schools can have specially trained staff to deal with certain issues.

Again, the right set-up will lead to a huge reduction in workload so that classroom staff can focus on their teaching and their students’ learning.

3. Reports

I’ve never understood schools that get their staff to write reports and then hold a parents’ evening a few weeks later at which the teacher says what they wrote on each report.

Schools have made huge strides in this area and many are moving away from the onerous task of writing reports.

As more and more of our reporting systems move to online providers, there are greater opportunities for automatic reporting. If your school is paying for a package, are you making the most of it?

If you have no say in whether you write reports or not, try to keep your workload low and keep the reports as helpful as possible.

Focus on the things that the students can do to improve and avoid wordy summaries of units of work and so on. If you’re a leader, make sure you are getting value out of the time staff are spending on reports.

Adam Riches is a specialist leader of education and lead teacher in English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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