Stop – Marking work that’s littered with silly mistakes or incomplete.
I dread to think how much marking time is taken up by staff up and down the country writing ‘remember your capital letters’, ‘underline your date and title’ etc. That’s a lot of effort reminding pupils to do things they’ve been taught at primary. Those are also the books that take the longest to mark and for little impact because, let’s be honest, pupils KNOW they should use capital letters for names and a beautifully written reminder is probably just white noise. For this reason (unless there’s a real reason which needs addressing in another way e.g. SEN, literacy) the work is getting sent back to be proof read/completed to a decent standard/getting done again* before I’ll mark it.
This week I read a suggestion on Twitter of pupils writing the homework title at the top of a page and then leaving two pages before starting the lesson work. I’m going to trial that next year to reduce the amount of time I spend flicking through books checking homework.
Introduce – One evening a week set aside specifically for university study: that can’t be swallowed up by a school work to-do list.
Obviously, it takes up a significant proportion of my non-work time, but I quite like the idea of leaving work at 3:30 on a set day, sitting in a coffee shop indulging some reading for an hour before going home and getting a solid few hours writing done.
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:
Leaders have a responsibility for promoting realistic expectations, creating effective and manageable policies and having an overall handle on their workforce.
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.
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 planning – very 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 feedback – green 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.
I’m a big fan of the #teacher5aday hashtags and discussion of work-life balance on Twitter that I’m always talking about things I’ve seen online or great little ‘tweaks’ that make life just that little bit easier. I’m going to attempt to recap some the great advice I’ve been given for work-life balance (both in person and online). Whilst I’d love to take credit for some of these ideas, they’re just a mix of things I’ve thought about and things I’ve picked up along the way.
Succession planning should be at the heart of any medium/long-term planning within a school. With a national shortage of school leaders (Read more here), the idea of planning for future leaders is becoming increasingly important. According to figures released by Future Leaders, whilst 74% of teachers are women, only 65% of heads are women (original DfE report here). At a secondary level, the difference is more stark, with women making 36% of headteachers in a a sector dominated by women (62% women: 38% men) (read more).
Following our inaugural YamJam, our WomenEd ideas session started me thinking about what WomenEd means to me. The advantage of such a self-supporting movement, led by a fabulous steering group, is that it’s an open house, a place for sharing ideas, collaboration and personal reflection.
For me, I see WomenEd as a sustainable grass-roots movement that nurtures female leadership and promotes opportunities for women to shape the educational climate of the country. Whilst self-deprecatingly suggesting that this may be ‘a tad ambitious’, it hit me that perhaps that such qualification is the very reason WomenEd is needed.
When somebody else verbalises the thoughts you’ve been pondering for a while, it’s an enlightening experience. I had the privilege of watching Andy Cope (@BeingBrilliant) deliver a keynote presentation this morning and the key, very refreshing, message is that happiness is a myth. It sounds depressing but actually, what he suggests is that we’ve bought into a myth that happiness is just something we’ll achieve if… if what…?
If we lose a few pounds?
If we upgrade the car?
If we land the promotion?
If we get good results?
If we have a successful Ofsted?
By buying into this myth, we’re actually depriving ourselves of valuing the here and now by continually waiting for the time when we’ll have ticked off all the happiness criteria. It’s a myth because no sooner have you achieved the ‘I’ll be happy when…’ target, something else takes its place.
In a time when Ofsted no longer grade individual lessons and there’s a move towards demonstrating ‘progress over time’, a new focus for observation, scrutiny and inspection has been identified: marking.
The major problem with this focus on marking is that – like when ‘Ofsted wants to see…’ was the be all and end all of lesson planning leading to VAK learning styles, thinking hats and brain gym (because we all know that without moving around the brain won’t get enough oxygen) – marking risks becoming a tick-box, ‘prove we’re doing our job’ exercise where the primary people involved (student and teacher) aren’t the primary audience for the feedback being given.
It’s worth pointing out that Ofsted do not have a particular expectation with marking, they don’t have a set expectation about the frequency or detail of marking in exercise books, nor do they want to see ‘excessive written dialogue’ with students. This should be an announcement that makes teachers cheer, but it doesn’t because the general message of Ofsted appears to have been corrupted and manipulated into another stick to hit teachers with – namely that in order to show progress over time, your marking has to be excessively detailed with little tricks to show students are acting on feedback.
There are a number of problems with this approach:
It assumes that the only way that meaningful feedback can be given is written
If (1) is true, then all verbal feedback must be recorded with verbal feedback stamps (see @TeacherToolkit’s brilliant post about this here)
That the only way to show student progress is if their response is close to the feedback given
It risks creating a ridiculous culture of marking martyrdom where the ‘brilliant marking’ is usually the most detailed, most tick-boxy because it looks pretty on a page, thus having a negative impact on work-life balance and staff well being.
Then I’ll explain why I’d like to rediscover a sincere ‘well done’.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the press about tablet devices, mobile phones and other technological approaches to teaching and learning. The general trend from comments close to the government is that tablets and mobile phones are inherently a problem (Pupils set for ban on mobiles and iPads in the classroom to stop lessons being disrupted). For me, articles like this risk conflating two separate issues: use of mobile devices as a behaviour issue and thoughtful use of educational technology. Grouping the two together is unhelpful.
I’m not for one second suggesting that there should be a free for all with mobile phones in school. In fact, I’m very much in favour of having strict policies for their use and consistently enforced sanctions for those students who choose to ignore basic rules. But the more this debate goes on, there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
Having just had my first leadership development meeting and been inspired to get involved with #WomenEd North East, I thought I’d jump on the digital bandwagon musing about the nature of leadership (and hopefully achieve it without it becoming a bit of a buzz-word soup).
Good leadership is about looking after people. It means being aware of pressures and workload. It means not piling another ‘little thing’ on without removing something else, because all those little things add up and the price may not be paid in school. Most teachers can think of stories where those little extra things make a difference between a teacher doing the little extra, marking their books or seeing their family/participating in their hobby/ seeing their partner. If they feel their family has to come last, then something has gone drastically wrong. Leadership is about priorities and understanding you can’t have a list of two-dozen priorities; that would be like Nicki Morgan and Michael Gove wanting all schools to be above average. It just doesn’t work. Good leaders help people to prioritise and to work smarter; they know when to remove a burden and they know the value of a chat over a cup of tea (or beverage of choice). Essentially good leaders know how to build people up with positivity and support.