A teacher’s workload is ever increasing – What can we do to maintain good health and wellbeing?
Having left the classroom in September, I now couldn’t be happier. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the teaching, but unfortunately that was the smallest part of my job. With more and more teachers leaving the profession, we’ve got to ask the questions… Just why are so many passionate, highly skilled and qualified teachers leaving the profession and what is being done about it?
The answer is simple! Overworked, poor health and simply nothing! In short, teachers are bombarded with more and more bureaucracy, removing them further away from their passion, which is to inspire the next generation of learners. They are overworked, have no work life balance and are putting their own health at risk, for a profession which does little to nurture and inspire its teachers. Rather ironic when you think about it.
I’ve had the pleasure of working in some fantastic schools with some great people over what could be deemed as a relatively short teaching career, but, after 8 years at the Coal face I decided enough was enough. Ultimately, the unmanageable workload and effects the profession was having not only my physical but also mental health was unsustainable. I could not sustain working like that, and maintain my own wellbeing.
I now work for a highly successful education technology company where health and wellbeing is at the core of their values. Seeing life on the other side, so to speak, has opened my eyes to how working life can be. My quality of life has now improved beyond recognition. I often say that as teachers we work hard to teach and prepare pupils to live the real world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I left the profession that I realised teachers don’t live in the real world. The public perception that teachers work 9-3:30 could not be further from the truth. Better use of technology has certainly promoted an improvement in my current working patterns. It is this that I am keen to share with fellow educators so that they too can improve their workflow and ultimately have a better work life balance.
For those of you who manage to balance it all out, a huge well done to you all! If any sort of balance is to be sustainable, then teachers must be working smarter and not harder to manage the stresses of an educator in the 21st century. Here are my top tips;
Streamline your workflow system
For years I had worked in the same way in school – using the same outdated hardware and mundane software to complete onerous and laborious tasks. Many of which are simply seen as tick box exercises rather than meaningful tasks that actually make a difference to the class being taught and have little or no significance on the impact of standards in the classroom. For some unknown reason, schools and leaders are not provided and simply not made aware of the cloud based tools and functionality available, for free, from the big hitters out there such as Microsoft and Google. To be fair, when do teachers have the time to research the different options available to them?
If one of my schools had adopted an ecosystem with such vigor, I would have doubled my output in half the time. These user friendly, online systems allow educators to connect on both a local and global scale! Teachers can work collaboratively on documents in real time, from planning lessons and assessment records, to writing reports, or sharing weekly meeting agendas at the click of a button.
Other valuable features of these 21st century giants workflow systems allow all school stakeholders to ‘Keep in the know.’ There is nothing more infuriating than working in an educational setting and not knowing what is going on. Using the calendar tool can easily and effectively help you and your colleagues manage your deadlines, meetings and other events throughout the school – minimising mix ups and diary clashes! Lastly… Responding to all emails that land in your inbox is impossible! Using the folder system within your inbox can drastically help in reducing your workload. Identify what is urgent, what might be useful or indeed useless and keep interesting pieces somewhere safe for some light reading during your summer holidays!
Effective teacher marking policies
When marking pupils books, we need to remember who the marking is for! Leaving short, concise, constructive feedback and allowing pupils adequate time to complete ‘Next Step’ learning is all that is needed. Not every piece of work needs detailed marking and this needs to be explicitly stated within and efficient yet effective marking policy. Where work is completed digitally, it should be evidenced using digital portfolios. Oral feedback is a highly effective strategy and a meaningful way to leave individual feedback to pupils who can instantly improve their work. Peer and self assessment opportunities can reduce workload and equally improve a child’s learning opportunity. If you’re a teacher spending hours every evening with your green, red, purple and blue pens in hand with a marking code as long as your arm, you should challenge you Senior Leadership Team and Headteacher, by asking the question – how is this an effective use of my time and what impact is our marking policy having on pupil outcomes?
Teachers are often perfectionists – highly committed, and never wanting to give less than 100% and as such, we can be the architects of our own downfall. As is quite often the case, busy people attract high workloads. On top of the ever growing task lists from the powers that be, most teachers will run extra curricular activities and go above and beyond the expected line of duty to provide extra pastoral care to those pupils in need. This is something I was completely guilty of but would not change for the world, because I saw it as my duty of care towards the children I taught. I entered the profession of teaching to make a difference to young people’s lives, the most fulfilling and rewarding part of my role as a teacher. I couldn’t put a time limit on this and it was certainly something I would not compromise. There would however become a point where volunteering for extra responsibility ceased as I could no longer physically cope with the demand of the workload. There comes a point when you must say enough is enough. After all, there are only so many hours in the day. Do not be afraid to say NO! An SLT with the wellbeing of their teachers at heart should support any decisions you make for the best interest of the school, your professional and personal relationships.
Senior leader groups have a huge role to play in the culture created and expected whilst working in any one individual school. As with many other initiatives, this is a policy that senior leaders should reflect upon and they should really question how workload is having an impact on their teaching and support staff. Working smarter and not harder is certainly an approach that is not well adhered to in the teaching community. Remember the 80:20 rule of workloads. Concentrate on the most crucial 20% of your workload, because performance in the classroom will still be strong.
In my experience, teaching can be an unrelenting vocation and before long you can be swallowed up in the enormity of the expectations and workload, as opposed to concentrating on facilitating high quality learning. Creating a wellbeing group can help lessen the burden and really promote a healthy work life balance and job satisfaction, whilst relieving some of the stresses that come with modern day teaching. As with the workload policy, this needs to start from the senior leadership group down. Improving communal staff areas to a more relaxing atmosphere is a great place to start but why not bring in some more fun and adventurous activities such as a staff choir, staff table football or table tennis leagues and family days. Creating a culture of good team ethos, high self esteem and moral within the school will ensure your school thrives in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
Have a proper lunch break
This was something that I was not known for doing until the latter stages of my teaching career. As teachers it is all too easy to work through your lunch hour marking, planning, preparing or completing break duties and the list goes on and on. Before you know it, the bell has gone and the afternoon session has begun! As humans, we are far less effective and tend to make poor decisions when undernourished. Make the effort to get to the staffroom, eat sufficiently and see your productivity and workload and wellbeing improve as a result.
FAMILY and HEALTH come first
Teachers enter the profession because they want to make a difference to young people’s lives. Every class that I have ever taught has been seen as an extension of my family and I’m sure this can be said for many other educators out there. Make sure that by doing the very best you can for your class you don’t forget and push away the most important people – your family and friends at home. Setting time aside to spend quality family time on weekends is not a crime, neither is going to the local pub quiz with your friends on a Thursday night! The world of education will keep spinning! Maintaining a healthy work life balance will see a far more enthusiastic, productive and content educator both inside and outside of classroom life.
I can’t help but feel that if the Government stopped spending money on television adverts encouraging people to be a teacher and started addressing some of the real reasons as to why highly qualified teachers are leaving the profession, the educational system would be a far better place. Supporting teacher workloads and finding simple and smarter ways of working efficiently would go a long way to reducing the huge workload currently dumped on teachers and ultimately educators would be in a far better place physically and mentally and would commit to a career they love for many, many years.