The past few months in education have been like no other. From remote learning, teacher-assessed grades and filling learning gaps at a rate of knots, to ensuring that all children have access to some of their most basic needs to safeguard them, teachers have continued to work incredibly hard.
However, as we emerge into some semblance of normality, there can be no doubt that teachers, more than ever, need to find a balance. A balance for themselves and a balance for their families.
And a balance that means that their students have the best learning opportunities – which only come from being with teachers who are themselves rested and happy in their role.
But how can we achieve this when there is always more to do on our to-do lists?
Teacher wellbeing: Tips to keep your workload under control
Teachers I’ve worked with are often perfectionists. They want to dot every "i" and cross every "t". And, with conflicting priorities and conflicting information about what the “best bets” for learning are, there is a risk of becoming overwhelmed.
So here are some tips for accepting when "good enough" is good enough and protecting your own wellbeing, while still doing the best for the students.
1. Focus on what really matters
We can spend weeks adapting resources and making minor tweaks well into the early hours of the morning.
As an NQT – and, indeed, whenever I changed schools – I would often find myself in this situation as I stumbled through planning lessons and the mountains of marking. It can seem never-ending.
Thinking carefully about the purpose of the lessons – the learning – can make it easier to find a sensible balance. It doesn’t matter if we have the right image, or if the words are correctly positioned on the PowerPoint, or if our worksheet layout is exactly right.
What matters is that we think about the learning process and what we want students to be able to know, understand and do in the coming weeks and months.
Strip it back to the core information and what you need students to focus on, and home in on that.
The same is true for marking and feedback. Zoom in on what the process is for – understanding what students have retained and how they are using it – and put your energies there.
2. Collaborate and share
Sometimes the pressure is on to create something new. I’m terrible for struggling to deliver something created by someone else. But actually co-planning, then sharing resources and ideas around teaching and learning, could be hugely beneficial to your workload and your sense of wellbeing.
There is nothing more exciting to me than exploring how we can really ensure that meaningful learning takes place, so making sure your conversations during meetings and planning sessions look at this can really help you to see how you can create the best opportunities for it to happen.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, complicated can make it all the harder for the learning to happen.
Take some time to look at the evidence together, too. All too often we can find ourselves doing things a certain way because we have always done it like that. Marking is a good example of this, as we still continue to rely on old practices, which may not be having the impact we want.
But by pausing and seeing what has been successful for others, and then picking up on their ideas and research, we can ensure what we are doing is going to have the impact where we want it. And then we can spend less time chasing our tails, trying to get it right.
3. Set your boundaries
Teachers tend to go into teaching because they want the best for their students, have a passion for their subject and generally want to do their bit in changing the world. This is laudable, of course, and it is what makes teachers such an incredible bunch.
However, this is a massive aim. We can’t take over the world and make these kinds of changes overnight.
Hard as it is to accept, we need to know that we can’t do it all on our own, and we can’t win everything. Sometimes there are things that happen that are simply outside our control.
That means we need to set boundaries in our own mind as to what we can realistically achieve. That doesn’t mean not delivering the best we can. But when we want to do everything at once, we are unlikely to achieve much of anything at all.
The same goes in terms of the time we are prepared to devote to any given venture. Some people are very comfortable with late-night planning and weekend working. Others are not, and you need to decide how much time you are prepared to give to this role.
For example, marking TAGs or other assessment is incredibly time-consuming, and something that we, of course, want to get right. However, summative assessment is different from other kinds of marking, and we need to consider what information we need to glean from it.
We also need to remember that there are huge discrepancies between even the most experienced markers, so we probably shouldn’t spend hours suffering in angst over a mark or two either way.
Instead, decide how much time you are going to devote to time-consuming tasks like this. Set a timetable for when it will be done and how much time it will take, and try to stick with it. The same is true for planning and pretty much every aspect of the job. We need to define where it will sit in our lives.
4. You don’t have to achieve perfection immediately
None of us is perfect. None of us is the finished product, professionally or personally.
That is exciting, as we are all developing. But, equally, it can be a huge undertaking. There will always be more to do.
Deciding what we won’t compromise on and what we can accept is a work in process. Having a scheme that meets a certain standard, which everyone can adapt and develop, is better than having nothing at all.
Accept that there may be imperfections and things we want to change. As long as the overall subject content is spot on, and that is what you are conveying, that is what matters – not whether everything is exactly as it should be from the very start.
Perhaps most importantly, try to take a moment to step back. It can be incredibly hard, when you are running from lesson to lesson and meeting to meeting, to really see the wood for the trees.
Schedule some time to clear your mind for a moment, preferably put your feet up with your tipple of choice, and reflect on how you can find the balance to enable you to decide when "good enough" will be good enough. That is important both for you and for your students.
Zoe Enser is lead English adviser for Kent. She tweets as @greeborunner