The idea of teachers having a proper work-life balance needn’t be a distant dream, equivalent to a lottery win, says Alex Quigley, director of learning and research at Huntington School in York.
Writing in this week’s issue of TES, Alex addresses how the old stereotype of teachers’ short days and long holidays has been replaced by the harsh reality of punishing working weeks. Despite this, he believes schools and teachers can work towards alleviating the burden such a workload brings.
These are his top 10 tips:
1. Create a teacher workload policy
Senior leadership teams should start to reflect on the impact of every decision and adopt the Pareto principle, which states that 80 per cent of our impact is derived from 20 per cent of our actions. It’s time to zero in on the 20 per cent and remove any work that proves a distraction.
2. Devise high-impact marking and planning policies
A good marking policy ensures that teachers don’t mark everything and should stress the value of effective strategies, like peer- and self-assessment, that can reduce workload and improve learning. The same pragmatic and flexible approach should apply to lesson planning.
3. Improve CPD
One of the main reasons why teachers are so overloaded is because they often work in isolation. It’s essential that schools ensure their teachers can take part in collaborative planning and put training into practice.
4. Adopt intelligent accountability
Avoid the stress created by a culture of perpetual fear and follow Ofsted’s example of slimming down the inspection process for successful schools by doing the same for successful departments. Intelligent accountability avoids excess.
5. Create a well-being group
Commit to creating a school fuelled by kindness and care to mitigate the stresses that attend the job. Projects could involve improving communal spaces, eating together on training days, supporting family days and so on. Great schools thrive on trust and fellowship.
6. Start the day as you mean to go on
Reduce your stress by reducing your day to a little coloured square. At the beginning of your working day when your mind is sharpest, try the Post-it test – if your to-do list won’t fit on a Post-it note, then it probably won’t fit into your day.
7. End the tyranny of email
Only a fraction of the emails you receive are important. Be ruthless about setting aside a small pocket of time every morning to manage emails, then move on. Adopt this tactic when answering emails at home to prevent work creeping into your evening.
8. Influence your meetings
How often have you sat through bloated gatherings with little purpose and lots of wasted time? Make a difference. Ask for an agenda in advance. Expect the meeting to finish when it is supposed to. In short, manage upwards and don’t accept your time being wasted.
9. Take a proper lunch break
Another part of work creep is the shrinking of the lunch break. When we haven’t eaten, we’re less effective and more likely to make poor decisions than those who have had a break and some healthy food. Start eating, resting and becoming more effective in managing your workload.
10. Sleep and be merry
Sleep is like a service for your brain, providing a vital nightly clean. Fend off the temptation to do everything and get some sleep. Remember your recreation time and activities are just as important so plan them with the same fervour as your lessons.
Read more from Alex Quigley in the 9 January edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.