Most people enter the teaching profession because they want to use their talents to make a difference to the children in their classrooms. However, many teachers find the additional work such as managing internal communications or marking children’s books can eat up time they would rather spend with pupils.
Some core duties are essential in a school, but if your staff are snowed under with admin, stretched to the limit with tasks or spending precious evenings and weekends scrolling through emails, then it’s time to tackle the workload.
The pandemic has added to teachers’ responsibilities in many ways, from the logistical challenges of reducing infection, to the educational priorities of closing learning gaps and restoring pupils’ confidence.
A poll by the National Education Union found that 70% of teachers, school leaders and support staff across the country reported increased workload over the last 12 months, and 95% were worried about the impact on their wellbeing.
When teachers are stressed and overburdened, they can’t be on top form in the classroom.
Schools urgently need new ways to reduce time spent on administration, so I asked my colleagues who have many years’ experience as teachers and school leaders to share their ideas.
It seems that tweaking the ways we use everyday technology offers some solutions.
- Schedule your emails
For some people, the thought that they need to be ‘on call’ outside working hours can cause stress and affect wellbeing. Other people welcome the opportunity to catch up on work when they are away from the classroom and prefer to attend to emails when they have a few quiet hours at home.
This makes the use of email at night or weekends a contentious issue, and a blanket ban on out-of-hours email is not the answer.
Instead, consider making it a policy across the school that any emails drafted outside of hours, say between 6pm and 7am, are delayed so they are delivered during working hours.
- Review internal communications
Keeping everyone in the loop has become even more important since the pandemic and schools need to respond quickly to changing situations or adapt to new guidelines.
However, if you mark everything as urgent people can switch off and miss time-critical messages.
It’s a good idea to ask all staff members which is the best way to contact them with a genuinely urgent message. Then ask them how they prefer to receive non-urgent news.
Give everyone a range of options such as phone calls, email or text message. You can suggest other platforms your school uses, or might like to use, such as Slack, WhatsApp, or the school’s own app.
When you have your answers, select the best communications channels for your urgent and non urgent messaging and ask everyone to stick with them if possible. This will simplify your communications and ultimately save time.
- Streamline marking and feedback
A positive comment on a child’s work can build confidence and help pupils reach their learning goals. But excessive time spent on marking can throw teachers’ work life balance off course.
One proven approach that schools are taking is to replace labour-intensive written comments with a system of symbols which are easy to identify and quick to draw or create digitally. As many children respond better to visual feedback, the symbols make a more powerful impact than a written statement.Ask teaching staff across your school to put together a list of the comments they use most frequently when marking children’s work. Next, liaise with colleagues to create a symbol that can be substituted across the school for each comment on the list.
Instead of ‘that’s a great example’ you could use 😊. Or rather than ‘try to keep your writing within the margins’, draw two lines. When these symbols are embedded in your school’s marking system, you can encourage the children to use them in evaluating their own work and that of their classmates in a peer reviewing process.
Similarly, some pupil trackers and MIS offer you the option to give pupils personalised feedback in a visual format. It’s also worth checking to see if your systems enable you to link photos and videos to statements as evidence of pupil achievement.
- Refresh your behaviour management
The way a child is feeling is often reflected in their behaviour. With so much upheaval to their education recently, many children may be finding it harder to manage social interactions or concentrate on their learning.
Managing behaviour takes up valuable teaching and learning time, and an approach which sees points taken away when a child’s behaviour deteriorates is not very motivating for exactly those children you are trying to encourage.
One way to switch the focus to positive behaviour is to set aside five minutes each day to ask the children to write words and phrases on the whiteboard of the choices they are most proud of. Or ask children to create a poster on Friday afternoons to highlight positive actions they have seen around school during the week.
These achievements can be recognised through your school’s reward system.
Many schools are starting to use digital badge or reward systems which link to their school’s behaviour tracking system. There’s no need to log out of one system and into another, and children can collect digital badges highlighting their achievements, whether that’s writing a story or helping a classmate.
Just a few simple tweaks to the way you use your existing technology can have a huge impact on workload. By making some small changes to the way you work, it’s possible to shift the balance away from time-consuming tasks, so everyone can give their all in the classroom.