Teachers: Are You Too Busy? (Then Reduce Your Workload!)
“Reduce teacher workload!” can be heard up and down the country, in staffrooms and online. The truth is it’s one of the simplest things that schools can do to help retain staff and maintain their wellbeing.
That being said, however, some schools aren’t doing all they can to remove unnecessary burdens. Those who have done so, enjoy rave reviews on Twitter and elsewhere, which of course doesn’t do them any harm when it comes to recruiting and retaining excellent staff. The best staff know their worth and will inevitably leave the school earlier than they would’ve done if they feel that another school would trust them and let them just get on with the real job of teaching. Even the Department for Education has begun to take note of the issue, identifying some key areas where schools can reduce teacher workload.
Some of the ideas I’ve listed to below are things that individual teachers and departments can do to reduce teacher workload. Others require Senior Leadership Teams to make brave decisions. But they are decisions that pay dividends for schools with the courage to take those simplest of steps. Take a look and see how many you could decide to do right now.
Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload
1. Collaborative Planning
This is a no-brainer. Too many teachers get caught up in the trap of creating their own resources when others have already created ones that they could use. One way to avoid this is by deciding which parts of the course that you will resource and who will resource the other areas. This way (providing that everyone pulls their weight), a broad and deep course can become much more manageable and will take much less time to plan for.
When planning collaboratively, you should take care to establish a common set of standards for the resources, so that no matter whose resources are used, students are guaranteed consistency of quality (and so that no teacher has to work harder than a similar colleague, unless of course, they’ve agreed to do so).
Standards you might want to discuss with colleagues include:
- Technical vocabulary list
- Key figures, scholars, theories, quotes, formulae, etc
- The format of resources used (presentations, worksheets, online content, wider reading, homework)
- Assessment tasks, mark schemes, success criteria, etc
- Permissions to edit resources
- Potential enrichment activities such as trips, guest speakers, clubs and competitions
2. Ditch Written Reports
This one is controversial for some schools, but not where I work. We ditched written reports as we didn’t see the value in them when the same information was given throughout the year in data reports to parents and in a yearly parents evening. The hours that were saved by not having to write reports, especially those with generic or copy-and-paste comments (don’t pretend you haven’t done it!) mean that not only is teaching workload reduced but staff morale increases. A huge part of the aim to reduce teacher workload is not that teachers don’t want to put in the hours, it’s that often they are forced to put hours into things that make no discernible difference. This is a quick solution that, in my experience, has absolutely no downside.
3. Reduce Data Drops
Many schools still require teachers to submit assessment data too frequently. Some teachers I’ve spoken to (thankfully at other schools) are required to submit assessment data once every half-term. That’s six times a year. Per class! I would ask why that is necessary.
As I’ve written before, we know that the progress made by students isn’t linear. So if a data point showed that a student had dipped, then that often means nothing at all. It’s the pattern over time that counts. If a student had dipped in their efforts or attainment, either in class or in homework tasks, the teacher doesn’t need a classful of assessment data to intervene, they just need a short conversation with the student. Reduce the data drops and you also free up time that was used analysing instead of planning better, or giving feedback, both of which are far more useful. Stop “weighing the pig”, just fatten it up, as you might say.
4. Promote Student Independence
The ability of students to work and learn independently is vital. Not only for courses that demand ever greater breadth and depth of knowledge but in life too. For too long, teachers have been forced to spoon-feed students in order to ensure they gain good grades. This can’t go on. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t do the students any favours in preparing them for life beyond school, it is completely unnecessary. We need independent and resilient learners.
Instead of giving students the answers immediately, you could set them a wider reading list, as I’ve done in Religious Studies and Law. The list of sources includes hand-picked textbook chapters, press articles, YouTube videos, and academic journals, covering the main themes to be studied over the year, broken down into termly sections. I show students where the resources are kept, but I ask them to find, read and comment on each source themselves, ideally in advance of the lesson where it will be taught. This Flipped Learning approach makes such a difference to students of all attainment levels and can be customised for any student to access.
Oh, and you only have to create your list once. It pays off for years as students become more confident in their own resourcefulness and require less and less guidance from you. Click here to read my Three Top Tips for Independent Learners.
5. Only Create Evergreen Resources
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just modify and refine it. When choosing a topic to create resources for, make sure that you would be happy teaching this topic in this way for the next five years, regardless of who you are teaching. That way, once you’re planning is done, you can “bank” that planning time next year, the year after and the year after that, etc, in order to focus on something else of use. (This includes valuable family time or having a well-earned rest!)
Also, to ensure that your resources are suitable for next year, don’t just make them specific to your current class. Include a range of activities that you would use with a different class too so that you have to do as little tinkering as possible next year.
6. Give Whole Class Feedback
I mark a lot of essays. I used to frequently lose evenings and weekends every month. That was a time that I could (and should) have spent with my family and I regret not moving to this system much earlier. Here you can read more on why I think Marking Doesn’t Work.
When giving feedback on a classful of work, quickly read through a number of answers, without giving written feedback on them. Instead, jot down on a PowerPoint slide a list of common mistakes, misconceptions and missing pieces of content. Then, read through each piece of work and only comment on things that are unique to that piece. You will find that this reduces workload and it also provides you with a “response to feedback” resource for your class when you hand their work back. They can then learn to look for errors, with the guidance you’ve produced. With enough practice, they will need the teacher less and less, as they develop the ability to self-edit, rather than waiting for lots of feedback.
To enhance this further, you can use the whole class feedback slide you produced the following year. This will be used to prepare your new class attempting the task. That way, students should make fewer mistakes and which reduces the number of comments needed in your feedback.
7. Reduce Meetings To An Email
Do you ever find yourself meeting with colleagues to discuss something, only to find that the meeting took an hour and the issue could just as easily have been resolved via an email? Well in future, reduce teacher workload by using email instead of physical meetings in the first place. It won’t work for everything and some things are done far better in person, but it works for a lot more than you might realise.
Feel free to share your experiences of reducing teacher workload below. Any extra tips will be much appreciated!
Oh, and share this post too. Hopefully, your teacher friends won’t be too busy to read it.