Over the summer, I created an online questionnaire looking at teacher workload. More than 4,500 teachers answered and, sadly, the results reflect what I see in my part-time role as a teacher and in the schools I visit as a consultant.
On average, 55 per cent of those who responded work more than 55 hours per week and 34 per cent work between 45 and 55 hours. That is unsustainable and what is frustrating is that there is a solution to reduce this workload that not enough of us are using: technology.
Tech should be a tool that teachers use to make their lives easier, yet few schools are making the most of it.
As teachers, we can also be guilty of not letting go of things, so rather than allowing technology to replace a task by doing it quicker, we end up doing both, which means that the technology adds to, rather than takes away from, our workload.
So here’s a quick guide to using technology effectively to claw back some time in your working week.
1. G Suite: the tool that does it all
Google Apps for Education, now known as G Suite For Education, was introduced to our school as “little building blocks that allow you to create a structure as big as you want” by the consultant Mark Allen (@edintheclouds), who helped us get up and running. Google gives you all of its tools for free and you can decide how much or how little to use. For example, you could host your website, school blogs and school emails all for free.
Google Drive (the company’s cloud tool) is free and use of it is unlimited. You cannot fill it up (trust me, we’re trying). We are in the process of copying everything from our server to it so we don’t need to be tethered to the school to access planning, documents and resources.
The cloud is now essential for schools. I am still amazed when I see teachers with memory sticks. We moved away from them a few years ago after an incident in which, upon welcoming Ofsted into our school, one teacher managed to lose their memory stick that contained everything they needed. Consequently, that teacher spent the whole inspection crying their eyes out.
Using the cloud allows you to save, share and access documents, pictures and videos on any device. The Google office tools (docs, sheets, slides) allow you to work collaboratively with colleagues wherever you are in the world so you don’t have to plan meetings and can work on the same document from different places.
My advice with G Suite is to start small and introduce teachers to one element at a time.
2. Evidence learning with Seesaw
Seesaw is a tool that we have been using as a school for nearly a year. It is saving our teachers a lot of time. Essentially, it allows you to evidence learning. Far too many schools expect every lesson to be evidenced in books, leading to teachers spending hours printing, photocopying and sticking. In Seesaw, it takes seconds to add a photo, video or note to a child’s portfolio. What I love about it, compared with other, similar tools, is that it encourages children to be involved in the process, too, as they are able to log in and upload work to their portfolios.
3. Evidence challenges with Seesaw
According to one report, more than 32 hours a year can be wasted asking children to copy out learning objectives, challenges, “walts” (we are learning to), “wilfs” (what I’m looking for) or whatever else you call them. This is more than a week’s worth of school time, plus it can take away the momentum in a lesson and distract children from the task they are about to complete.
Teachers of younger children who are unable to write yet will spend hours writing these down for them or printing labels to stick in. (If you want teachers to get excited on social media, send them some links to label printers.)
Instead, they should be using Seesaw to type a note with the learning objective. They can then add it in everyone’s profiles – done in a matter of seconds.
4. Give more effective feedback
Let’s be honest: if a child cannot access or decode your handwriting, written feedback is pointless. With an iPad, a teacher can record themselves orally giving feedback and explain everything, and children can then watch it back, acting upon the feedback in their books. Think this takes longer? I timed myself doing both. The written marking took approximately 3.5 hours compared with 1.5 orally giving feedback on the iPad.
5. Interact more effectively with your whiteboard
The interactive whiteboard is a piece of technology that features in most classrooms but is rarely used to its full potential. Through my iPad and a piece of software on my computer called AirServer, I can wirelessly mirror my iPad screen to my computer screen. Using the app iVisualiser, my iPad becomes a mobile visualiser that I’m able to take anywhere, allowing me to display, annotate and highlight student’s work wherever they are in the classroom.
AirServer also allows you to connect more than one iPad to your computer screen. Usually, I will have six children’s iPads connected to the screen, meaning that all of those children are able to interact with the board at the same time.
6. Embrace social media
This is probably an article in itself. Social media is something to be embraced by teachers, not feared. As a CPD tool, there is nothing better. Both Twitter and Facebook have plenty of pages and groups for you to follow, where you can get ideas and inspiration but also ask questions.
Having a blog, and Facebook and Twitter accounts for your school can also save you a lot of time. Unless we are asking for written permission, we don’t send printed letters home – it costs money and takes time.
Teachers can very quickly write a notice, share work or inform parents of something from their devices as a blog post.
With a web tool such as dlvr.it, which creates an automatic feed to Facebook and Twitter, as soon as something is published on your blog, you can automatically post a link to your social media pages (make it clear to parents that it is a one-way communication tool, though).
By having your own Facebook and Twitter pages, you are in control of the content that appears. If you don’t have one, you are leaving it to your parents to create the impression of your school.
Lee Parkinson works part-time at Davyhulme Primary in Trafford and leads CPD nationwide focusing on raising standards through technology.
He blogs at mrparkinsonict.blogspot.com and you can find him on Twitter @ICT_MrP