'One resolution all teachers can achieve in 2017: tackling excessive workload'

2nd January 2017 at 16:14
workload, teacher, school, students
'It's time to tackle workload head on: Stop worrying about what others might think and instead start considering your own wellbeing'

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The new year has arrived and with it the resolutions that we often struggle to keep. Why not start this new year by committing to solve the problem of excessive workload experienced in so many schools.

We know workload is the reason cited by so many who leave the profession. Why is it that some teachers and some schools are able to address this issue yet the majority of us appear to fail?

I don't believe this is impossible to address, so let me lay out some simple ways to tackle the workload problem in the forthcoming year.

Firstly, we must realise that within our schools we are all part of a team and we must therefore recognise that we should not expect to "do it all", or have the mentality that "without me it would not get done". This is an issue to raise with management and not one to be tackled alone.

In order to resolve the problem of workload we must all attempt the following:

  • Prioritise your workload and base it on the time you have available, then by it's importance and relevance to improving the learning of students.
  • Map out the semester and know what is around the corner. Look again at what is relevant and important and spread out your workload.
  • We all have the inevitable 'to do' list, but avoid having one that is unachievable and which you are continually adding to: this simply creates a vortex we cannot escape from. Instead make it a resolution to put on the list those things you take for granted, so you have that satisfaction of actually ticking things off. This will also show you what a lot you do each and every day.
  • Set yourself a realistic and achievable daily work time. Nobody should be working 13 and 14 hour days, we certainly do not get paid for that. Set a realistic time and stick to it. Instead of working harder, start trying to work smarter. Stop doing the endless "stuff" you don't need to do and always ask: "Will my children benefit from me doing this?" If not, don't do it.
  • Do not try to reinvent the wheel when you can make use of the resources available and the internet. The focus should be on your relationship with the pupils.
  • Stop over planning lessons: know what you are going to do, be prepared, and have the appropriate resources, but don't become straitjacketed by your own paperwork. Instead recognise the need to be flexible and spontaneous.
  • Use peer assessment better so you are not marking deep into the night.
  • By being organised you can and will save time, but then don't fill it with trivia. Don't get persuaded to go to meetings which have no benefit for students, and don't spend time doing things because others are doing it.
  • Recognize that the teachers with a life outside the classroom are more interesting, more refreshed and more connected with the needs of students. Tired teachers do not help anyone.
  • Remember you are a teacher, intelligent and well trained with the skill of getting children to learn. You must recognise that you cannot always achieve perfection, but instead strive to be a good teacher all the time. This will be achieved by prioritizing the needs of both you and your students.

I know that these aims may represent a major mind-change for many teachers. However we must all recognise we cannot carry on doing what we are at present.

Stop worrying about the school politics, that you are not working hard enough, and what others might think, and instead start considering your own wellbeing.

Aim to ensure your pupils are always learning and crucially always smiling and you will be doing a brilliant job.

Now there's a resolution for 2017 and one every teacher can achieve.

Colin Harris is a former principal who is now supporting teachers and school leaders

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