26 Tips to Make Teacher Workload Manageable

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In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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How can you keep your workload manageable during the term?

Last week to help you keep workload under control, we encouraged our newsletter subscribers to relax and recuperate before the final academic term. However, although these tips are written for individuals to help manage their own workload, the reader must be aware that the workload agenda is driven by those at the top.

The Department for Education workload poster will not solve anything – nor will our tips written here for that matter! Nor, will weak leadership in schools who ‘plump up’ staff well-being initiatives with ‘neck massages’ and ‘bring a dish Fridays’. Workload will not be tackled unless brave school leaders stand up: smarter marking policies, fewer data collections and unnecessary scrutiny of teacher’s lesson planning.

We must see funding increased in our schools so that headteachers don’t have to increase timetables on teachers, reducing what little time they actually have during the working day. And until that happens, and I’m sorry to break it to you, I can’t see anything changing for the foreseeable future: mental health issues for teachers – not just children – is a growing concern.

So, if you are feeling ‘under the cosh’ and can accept the above disclaimers – that work-life balance is a fallacy and, only those at the top who control the purse strings can solve workload, the following tips will hopefully help you see it through until the end of term.

Time-saving to do list

The following tips are practical, simple pieces of advice to help you do an audit of your workload management practice: to get you managing your to do list, your paperwork and tweak your marking and assessment more effectively this term. If you are not sure, ask. If you need help, ask!

1. Keep in the know

My key piece of advice would be this: know your objectives, know your deadlines, know the importance of each task – because somebody else will be relying on you to complete something, even if it is just to put pen to paper.

2. Prioritise

Having identified a time management issue, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider a) whether it’s important and b) its potential impact. A simple question to ask yourself is: ‘What would happen if I didn’t complete this task at this moment in time?’ Not everything can be important and some things don’t have a particularly high impact. Try this workload self-review.

3. Categorise

Why not categorise tasks as medium (M) or low (L) priority? Consider the importance and potential impact of tasks on the quality of your teaching, or the care, support and guidance of children and categorise accordingly.

4. Think long-term

It is vital that you determine your daily, weekly and termly priorities.

5. Evaluate what’s not important

We seem to be far better at increasing our workload than decreasing it. It’s important to create the time and space to do a smaller number of tasks very well. There may be whole sets of activities or individual tasks that can be binned and consigned to history. Some may not have ever been that important nor have had any real impact – work out what those things are and delete them. Try the 5 Minute Workload Plan and bin some of your to-do list!

6. Abandon

Every time you add something to your own or another person’s workload, commit to taking something away. Or, if it’s others assigning tasks to you, be bold and brave! Ask your line manager what you should abandon in order to meet this deadline, or at least if it’s not possible, make them aware of the current pressures you ay be under. In terms of thoughtful leadership, “get on with it” doesn’t quite cut it for me.

7. Do more, do less

In order to improve your time management intelligence and a slightly less drastic step than abandonment, doing more or doing less requires careful analysis of the various tasks you are required to do. What would you do more or less of when planning for your classes, or tracking progress, or ensuring high-quality feedback for students?

8. Increase capacity

One important way to improve your effectiveness and decrease time wasted is to increase your individual capacity. Complete administrative tasks in meetings, consider effective use of technology to manage information better, for example using Google Documents to collaborate. This has transformed my work and the burden of ‘remembering’ where things are stored.

Managing paperwork

9. Be systematic

Start by sorting your paperwork, materials and resources, keeping only the essentials. Find a place for everything to go (as long as it’s not out of sight, out of mind!) Clean as you go – there is nothing more satisfying than shredding a piece of paper! Then, create a system for your paperwork so you know where everything is. Don’t under-estimate a clear out!

10. Levels of paperwork

Consider four levels of paperwork:
1. URGENT: I need to make sure I do this
2. USEFUL: I may need this in the future, so I’ll put it somewhere safe
3. USELESS: I’ll throw it in the recycling bin immediately
4. INTERESTING: I’d like to read this, but I don’t have any time. I’ll save it for the summer holidays.

11. Establish a routine and stick to it

Have set times during the school day (not at home) that you will allocate to paperwork. Being a ‘working parent’ often does not give you time immediately after school, so if you’re a teacher – who is not a parent – a 5-minute chat with another colleague who is, will often open up some useful workload strategies. I work much smarter now that I have the school-run to consider. Keep ‘chats and coffee’ for break and lunchtime when everyone is available for chats and coffee.

12. Use your non-contact time wisely

If you are lucky to have non-contact time allocated to your timetable – use it for it’s intended purpose: ‘preparation, planning and assessment (PPA) time during the school day.’

13. Be organised

Set yourself clear targets to complete specific tasks. Writing down a deadline is a ‘self-contractual agreement’. Psychologists suggest this is a good way of making a personal commitment and keeping to it.

14. Go paperless

Avoid printing everything off. Read it on a computer screen and save the file. If you don’t miss the document, you don’t need it!

Managing assessment workload

15. Pin it up

Attach work to displays around the classroom with banners indicating success criteria.

16. Share it

Share the success criteria with your students every lesson – and for goodness sake, don’t waste your time writing it on the board every lesson.

17. Scaffold

Provide scaffolding templates and writing frames: perfect for long-term differentiation. It’s one of the hardest nuts to crack in the classroom. Try my 10 Tips for Differentiation.

18. Get the students involved

Encourage students to market their work though peer and self-assessment opportunities. Not always easy to do with difficult classes and challenging frameworks, but practice makes perfect – and reduces your marking burden!

19. Give students ownership

Ask your students to curate their own self-assessment task for forthcoming assessment. Find them a selection of options that include increasing levels of difficulty – so they feel part of the process. TakeAway Homework is a perfect ‘out-of-class’ example.

20. Keep it in the department

Ensure departmental time regularly includes marking and moderation opportunities with colleagues. At least once every half-term to ensure you are ‘on point’ and that meetings are a good use of your time.

21. Reduce testing

Stop unannounced tests immediately! Why catch students off-guard and give yourself more work?!

22. Moderate

Regularly moderate assessment workload within your department; for me this should be done once a term.

23. Follow the guidelines

Follow your school’s marking code for marking guidance and literacy checks. Ask your CPD leader for more training and even better, if you don’t think your marking policy stacks up in the workload debate, ask your teaching and learning team to review it.

24. Monitor some of them

Choose two or three of your most vulnerable students and mark their books in regular rotation. Do this in class and out of class (with students present). Read ‘live marking‘ for more information.

25. Progress

Make use of formative and summative assessment frameworks to secure students’ progress. Every child should have a copy! And remember, not everything should be written. Verbal feedback and self-assessment is just as useful if it is meaningful and adds value to the student and the learning process.

26. The yellow box

Finally, one of the most useful strategies I’ve been championing for the past 18 months. Try using the yellow box to reduce your workload and pinpoint key marking points.

This post is adapted content from the book, Teacher Toolkit: Helping You Survive Your First Five Years.

p.s. – Are you a subscriber? If you’ve read this far, then you should be! Not only do we provide out subscribers with updates about what’s happening on the blog, but we send weekly exclusive content which is not published on the blog, plus free resources and book recommendations.

4 thoughts on “26 Tips to Make Teacher Workload Manageable

  1. Great article on a topic that most teachers don’t consider. The balance of work and family is mentally draining for me as a single mother. I also feel that there should be professional development training sessions to help teachers with Mental health issues.

  2. I’m interested in your suggestions for teachers in small schools where they are often the only teacher in a department and have some responsibility for a subject.

  3. Nice journal to be considered by teachers ,most useful ones are the mental health issues of teachers and the use of Non- contact time should be wisely use.

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