Teacher recruitment, retention and absence is starting to reach epidemic proportions in today's schools. It is increasingly evident that as school leaders converse with each other, they are becoming impacted by the teacher crisis. The main trigger seems to be the unmanageable workload.
The key to balancing workload is to ensure our teachers and schools are more efficient. Not in a patronising way through expecting fewer teachers to work harder. It is not about how hard people work but about making sure that the tasks people do have the greatest impact. In the case of schools, it should be about what has the biggest positive impact on the lives of pupils. Schools were created to educate our children. They were not designed as a place of 'ticking boxes' and repetitive administration tasks. We have an obligation to remove the 'shackles' of admin from our teachers. Here are some thoughts regarding reducing workload and improving the well-being of school staff
Everything starts with the culture, the 'feeling' of an organisation. A culture of fear and pretending teachers have everything under control just to save face, avoiding a recognition of a failure to cope. A culture of survival. Teachers should feel they are able to discuss openly and honestly to a member of the leadership team, when they are struggling, without feeling inadequate and condemned. A discussion leading to help and support. It should be a formal line of communication to someone with the power to help get a teacher back on track. Leadership also needs to positively embrace feedback and be willing to take on board the views of teachers regarding workload and meetings.
The key to a successful school is its communication strategy. How to engage and empower the staff. Think about how you share information with staff. Is there information overload? Avoid a culture of email overload, where you feel pressured into reading and sending emails. Emails that include lots of cc's to create evidence trails. Do you really need to send an email? Will talking be easier? Avoid sending numerous attachments where confusion arises around what version and what amendment is relevant. Make communication fun and purposeful. Use chatrooms, social media and 'cloud' platforms for sharing documents. There is a fine balance between too little and too much information. Sometimes it is about treating individuals differently. Some staff may require more information and guidance than others.
Create and embrace opportunities for teachers to work together. There are so many times where teachers are working in isolation, completing the same planning and assessing the same skills of the same pupils. Ensure the planning is making a difference to the quality of teaching. How many times does a teacher have time during a lesson to read their planning notes? Planning needs to be manageable and consist of the 'basics' of what is going to be taught, the resources needed, brief notes on how the lesson is going to be organised and how it is going to be assessed. The planning needs to refer to impact rather than the 'tick box' completion of lengthy time consuming templates for school leaders and inspectors.
Teachers assess the pupils on what they have or have not learned. These assessments subsequently inform future planning. It sounds simple, but why have we made it so difficult. Good teachers are experts in assessment. They do it almost every second of every lesson. They can pinpoint where each child is and what each child needs to secure their learning. We need to provide coaching and guidance to teachers to help them become experts in assessment. Creating systems where the National Curriculum is further broken down into sub elements causes teachers to have to record and assess an increasing number of objectives. Just think. Ten statement subdivided into two becomes twenty statements. Some curriculums sub divide into four subsections. One thousand objectives becomes an unmanageable four thousand statements. Will having all these objectives really have a major impact on driving up teaching standards and the learning of pupils? Leaders sometimes think they are helping and assisting teachers, but in fact are creating unmanageable and 'stressful' systems.
Feedback needs to be simple and effective. Less is more. It is not about creating a marking evidence trail to judge the quality of teaching. It is about providing appropriate feedback to ensure the pupil makes good progress. Progress can be seen 'over time' in the children's work. Feedback needs to be relevant and appropritately 'fit for purpose' varying in type based on the subject and the needs and age of the children.
We are obsessed with meetings and maybe this is linked back to communication. We sometimes feel we have to tell everyone about everything rather than creating a platform where they can access information for themselves. There needs to be some meeting protocol, where if there is nothing to discuss then don't have a meeting. The worst scenario is when information is created to fill a meeting. Make sure the meeting has a goal or reason around improving the outcomes of the children.
No one can deny that we want classrooms to be fun and engaging, but think of the purpose of the display. Does it celebrate and inform? Make sure classrooms reflect the teacher and the class. I am all for a consistent appoach regarding particular things to possibly include, but give teachers the freedom to creatively express their thoughts and ideas. Avoid repetition with each classroom looking clinically the same as another classroom. Don't replicate. If objectives are shared in planning, you don't have to have them rewitten in a display. Sometimes classrooms can be filled with so many WOW displays it actually distracts the pupil from their learning. How many staffrooms or heads offices are decorated in psychodellic colours with numerous things dangling from the ceiling. Just think. Could you work in the environment you have created in your classroom? Beyond all, how much time has it taken you to create this distraction zone?
Involvement of parents is key to developing a partnership in a child's learning. The question is how are you keeping the parents updated with information? Are you choosing platforms that are actually engaging parents? Are you putting time and resources into platforms that have little impact? Create systems where parents can access information regarding news and progress. It avoids extra preparation for parents consultations.
InfoMentor ticks many of the boxes that can help to resolve the issue of workload on teachers in schools today.
You can read more from me regarding my views and opinions on education right here on the InfoMentor blog. You can also find out more about InfoMentor which is a teaching and learning resource that has been specifically designed to make life easier for schools by reducing workload for the modern teacher. You can download white papers, view case studies and request a demo.