Managing the workload teachers face is a consistent job within the profession. Teachers are obligated to allocate time towards teaching and also need to undertake other essential responsibilities. These include marking, diagnostic assessments, reports, pastoral care, financial management and a whole array of other key practices that contribute to the successful running of both classrooms and the school in general.
So how can teachers work towards accurately and effectively managing all their tasks that contribute to their workload? In this blog, we'll cover some of the best practices for managing teaching workloads.
- Time Allocation and Management
- Managing Stress
- Mindfulness and Anxiety Reduction
- Utilising Technology
Time Allocation and Management
Time management is sometimes easier than in other instances. For example, the start of the school year sees fresh timelines, no backlogs of work and no delayed projects. However, get to February and a department may languish in uncompleted projects and a tiresome amount of reporting left to do.
Here are some examples of practices that help manage workload from a logistic point of view:
- Invest in a time-reporting system so tasks can be tracked, analysed and reverse-engineered to produce the most efficient versions of them.
- Identify pressure points within the school year - what points are the most stressful or dreaded?
- Agree on mutually fixed deadlines to achieve transparency across departments and involve all staff in the decision-making process.
- Develop regular dialogue about workloads and share insights and improvements when discovered.
The most effective, rewarding and supportive teaching is achieved through quality, not quantity. This is true for all tasks carried out in a school. Tasks that are rushed and crammed back-to-back in one day are at risk of being done poorly, so time needs to be appropriately allocated to tasks, setting them into manageable blocks.
This means allocated tasks are more likely to be completed in the time limit set and to a higher standard. This helps to compartmentalise work, identify which tasks take smaller amounts of time to complete and which tasks to prioritise.
Remember, time running over only ends up in a domino effect that leaves teachers working into the evening, affecting their mental and physical health.
One teacher can’t undertake everything. A give-and-take mindset needs to be developed among teaching staff, where work starts with each person’s limitations. Those who take on too much tend to begin to juggle professional work, meaning they may miss out on stuff when it’s needed. Remember, schedules are worth sticking to.
Stress affects all professions, but teachers may find themselves as some of the most stressed due to the importance of the work they're doing - preparing children for a successful later life and ensuring personal wellbeing.
The presence of stress puts undue pressure on workload management. In fact, the process is cyclical. The more stress experienced, the less efficiently work will be done, which in turn increases stress. So how can teachers better manage stress?
- Develop an awareness of stressful triggers: Knowing what causes us stress allows us to be better prepared to deal with them before becoming an issue.
- Release pent up stress: This is important, but how stress is released is highly personal. A good conversation with a friend is a good example of this.
- Remember to move: Physical exercise is proven to reduce stress.
- Don’t rely on crutches: Consumables such as caffeine never actually deal with the problem; they simply mask it and become dependencies. Work on the root causes of stress to remain free of extra burdens.
Mindfulness and Anxiety Reduction
Anxiety is a big cause of workload mismanagement - not to mention self-esteem issues, depression and a wide variety of other mental health issues.
It's worth mentioning that reducing anxiety shouldn't be pursued to simply be more productive, as that's a reductive way of viewing self-worth. However, it does help with managing workloads, improving self-confidence and therefore aiding our work to become the best it can be.
Here's how teachers work to reduce anxiety.
- Practice mindfulness: Anxiety is often present in actions such as worrying about the future, fear of failure, lack of engagement in the present. The antidotes are relatively holistic and represent the opposite of these actions but can be summed up as ‘mindfulness’ - paying close attention to current circumstances, thoughts and feelings, embracing them and not letting them rule our waking hours.
- Preparation: The fear of not being ready often causes anxiety. The simplest answer is to prepare regularly, working towards a point where any question that might present itself will be answered.
- Seek professional advice: While the responsibility placed on schools is usually focused on providing mental health support to pupils, teachers are just as deserving. Anxiety presents itself in many different ways and for many different reasons. Seeking professional advice and help is both recommended and worthwhile.
- Set boundaries: This is similar to understanding limitations and is the natural next step. Once someone realises they're close to burnout from overworking, they should work on setting boundaries for themselves, which could be a physical routine, such as sticking to allocated times for work. Setting boundaries isn’t about creating limitations; it’s about finding healthy synchronicity our bodies feel comfortable within.
Technology is fast becoming a key method for reducing and managing workload for teachers. With additions of cloud communication, real-time data management and data analytics, technology can help to support teachers by making work and related items more visible and easier to manage.
For example, Ark Multi Academy Trust (MAT) begin to employ a ‘cloud first’ approach across their workings. By extracting and analysing data to produce actionable insights that support the network, they’ve been able to ‘support reductions in teacher workload by automating the transfer of assessment data between two systems.’
Another example, at Woodberry Down Community Primary School, they’ve been using technology to ‘level the playing field for their students and to help reduce workload for their staff’.
On the benefits of the use of technology, one teacher remarked:
The technology has just been transformative. It has reduced my out-of-class workload by almost an hour every day. It’s also introduced a level of flexibility that just wouldn’t be possible before – I can teach without standing in front of the classroom and I can home in on children’s digital devices to see who needs the most help even when they are not asking for it. I can target my teaching to where it’s needed the most.
To reproduce these benefits, schools need to look into what kind of technology is available and what will suit their specific needs.
Investing in oneself is an integral part of mindfulness. This could be practised in several ways, such as a bonding conversation with a colleague, taking a coffee break, compartmentalising work or avoiding negative conversations.
Here are some self-investment ideas for teachers:
- Join a virtual teachers group to share information and advice, such as Teach With Tech, Teachers Ask Teachers, Teacher Problems, Primary Teaching – NQTs and Trainee Teachers and SEN Teaching Ideas & Resources.
- Develop non-school related hobbies to focus on things other than work.
- Pursue further education.
- Take up outdoor activities.
When schools have highly trained and always learning teams, it gets easier to provide better teaching and therefore decreases the need to return to content, eating into the time that would have been spent on new topics.
A culture of aspiration is desirable within the student community and should also be present in the teaching staff, and can be achieved through the practice of Continual Professional Development (CPD). To pursue this, there are countless training opportunities open to teachers - for example:
While financial constraints do make it hard to upskill, the chances that present themselves should be taken. For example, internal training can be undertaken by teachers themselves, presenting learning to others. Some schools may have method experts on staff, individuals who have trained in particular methods that can be presented to the rest of the staff. Similarly, teachers can also look to partner schools and local charities for upskilling opportunities and support.
Overall, staff should be asked what training they would like to receive and should be factored into both time management and yearly budgeting.