‘Whatever it takes’ Some reflections on intervention

ProgressI used to believe that’whatever it takes‘ was a sign of commitment and high expectations. I don’t any more. ‘Whatever it takes‘ risks increasing teacher workload for limited gain,  allows students to abdicate responsibility for their own learning and can promote a culture of low expectations.

Continue reading “‘Whatever it takes’ Some reflections on intervention”

On workload. #Teacher5adayslowchat

It’s important to discuss workload and well-being. It’s also important that it’s discussed in an open and positive way that doesn’t become endless complaining and blaming. This is where I think #Teacher5aday has got it right and their slowchat (#Teacher5adayslowchat) is worth a look to hear how teachers, leaders and schools are working together for happy healthy staff. And it starts now.

One thing that came up this morning was that some people don’t know how to manage their workload or have work-life balance. This surprised me – and partially worried me. Managing time and work is an essential part of most jobs and it’s clear that for some teachers this balance has gone significantly off. Think back to university – most people didn’t work 60+ hours a week on the grounds of ‘there’s always more books to read‘.

Earlier in the chat I suggested that there are (at least) two sets of responsibilities for well-being:

  1. Leaders have a responsibility for promoting realistic expectations, creating effective and manageable policies and having an overall handle on their workforce.
  2. Teachers have a responsibility for prioritising their own well-being, managing their workload and supporting colleagues to do the same.

Now I’m not suggesting that one teacher can take on an entire toxic environment (and it’s clear from speaking to teachers online that they do, sadly, exist). But I hope this (less than original) blog is a starting point for reclaiming balance little steps at a time.

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Introducing the workload matrix – lots of versions available online

This matrix is a quick way of taking a to-do list and drawing up a set of realistic and manageable priorities.

In an ideal world, you want to be working mainly in the green section: where your work is important but there’s no sense of urgency. It’s unrealistic to work in the green section all the time e.g. an incident occurs and it requires an immediate response (straight in the red box), but if work is always urgent and important then that leads to rising stress levels.

I like to combine three other thinking prompts with the matrix:

  • Will the added effort have a significant impact on student progress?
  • Will my managing of this task push another colleague into the red zone?
  • Do have I have time to complete this optional request to a good enough standard? (If not, the answer is no.)

I’ve already shared some time-saving tips that I’ve collected off a lot of great teachers. So this post will focus on using the matrix to reflect and balance work choices.

1. Data entry/reports etc – important and dates/deadlines are given in advance. Generally should be in the green box, but the reality is that completing them often ends up in the red.

2. Lesson planningvery important, shouldn’t be urgent (green). Now consider what’s being planned. Is it an intricate activity that takes 4 times as long as an alternative? If so, is it needed? Plan lessons to get the maximum impact for the time invested. Try to avoid blue-box planning as a routine expectation (e.g. card-sorts, things that can’t be re-used).

3. Creating lesson resources – not urgent and important (green) but spending hours adding animations and making sparkly Powerpoints is probably more of a blue task. Time spent there is time not being used on things which are genuinely green tasks.

4. Differentiation – Again, important but not urgent. But do you really need 3 single use resources (see #2 lesson resources)? Could you use questioning to differentiate? Could you refine your planning so the lesson is like a ladder with in-built differentiation?

5. Scheme of work writing – I think great schemes are highly important for managing workload. Try to keep that in the green box. Don’t be finishing it off a matter of days before people are meant to be teaching it. When that happens, you’re pushing a colleague into the red box.

6. Emails – delete, respond, deal with later. Think before you send (don’t be the person who sends a whole staff email because little Tom in Y7 has lots his coat – again). Emails can be in almost any of those boxes, depending on how it’s used.

7. Marking and feedbackgreen box task. But, how much of your marking is having impact? Are you spending time doing marking tasks that look great but have little impact? Is so, you’re in the blue box.

8. Displays – Aside from being on the list of things teachers shouldn’t have to do, we often end up doing them. Displays are one of my favourite blue box tasks, and by favourite I mean I love doing them, but they really aren’t that urgent and in the grand scheme of things not that important (especially if you’re like me and do new ones each term).

9. Photocopying – It links to lesson resources. Spend a week logging everything you photocopy. Then think about the time creating the sheets. Then the time printing. Then the time copying. Point taken. Do students really need a table copying for them and gluing in – or could they just use a ruler!? Do students really need the question printing and gluing in – or could they quickly copy it off the board. Think before you print.

10. Revision sessions – What’s the impact? How does it link to lesson? Are the students getting the most out of each lesson – if the answer is no, why run more revision sessions? A well-planned structured session can work well but how many teachers are unable to get on with other tasks because they’re teaching 3-5 additional lessons a week after school? Could you create a self-study pack with colleagues and take it in turns to ‘host’ independent supervised study? Students can ask questions from staff but the focus is shifted back to the students.

It’s not a perfect solution, but since discovering the matrix in my pre-teaching career I’ve found it a useful way of compartmentalising work and drawing up cut-off points for different tasks.