Stop. Change. Introduce. Day 5 #Teacher5aday

Question: With the new curriculum changes & increased accountability measures what will you stop doing, change, or introduce for your own well-being?

Amy Jeetley has posed this question in a post for today’s #Teacher5adayslowchat.

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.

(* delete as appropriate)

I’m also just taking time to embed habits that I’ve already talked about here.

Change -The way I set homework.

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.

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.

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.


Pass it on: top time-saving tips

work-life-balanceI’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.

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What WomenEd means to me

WomenEd_LogoRectanglePurpleFollowing 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.

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Happiness starts now. Have a break.


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.

Continue reading “Happiness starts now. Have a break.”

Progress over time: Why there may be still a place for ‘well done’

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.

A positive message for all teachers from Ofsted. Any marking policy that’s justified by ‘Ofsted want to see…’ is misleading. (Click to enlarge)

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:

  1. It assumes that the only way that meaningful feedback can be given is written
  2. If (1) is true, then all verbal feedback must be recorded with verbal feedback stamps (see @TeacherToolkit’s brilliant post about this here)
  3. That the only way to show student progress is if their response is close to the feedback given
  4. 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’.

Continue reading “Progress over time: Why there may be still a place for ‘well done’”