“Lost time is never found again” Benjamin Franklin.
Teaching is a hard job, it is incredibly demanding. Before you start, I know we get great holidays but we can’t deny the massive wellbeing issue we have with teaching staff across the country. I can’t remember a day of my teaching career where the school hasn’t had to cover a staff absence. A lot of that absence is due to stress related factors which are all caused by the job.
In a recent report Scottish teachers were found to have among the highest contact times in the world. Contact times being the time spent teaching classes and being in front of children. If you add to this the findings of a recent survey of 12000 teachers that our teachers go even further by working way more than their contracted hours to provide the best possible experience for young people.
This is having a big impact on the mental health of teachers and this workload issue is now the biggest priority for our teaching unions. It was reported early in 2019 that nearly 4000 teachers in the UK were signed off with stress and stress related illnesses and 75 percent of Scottish teachers frequently feel stressed due to their workload. This is a real issue in our profession.
If we want to improve schools and attainment then maybe we should consider the wellbeing of staff and how they spend their time. This study from Briner and Dewberry outlines that staff wellbeing is the key to a schools success.
Time is our most valuable resource and how we spend it has a direct impact on the quality of our lives. Time is a big issue in schools and it is often wasted by teachers and school leaders. How many times have you sat through a staff meeting and began listing off your to-do list and how much better life would be if you could just go and get on with it.
Time in front of classes is invaluable and time well spent. Providing, of course, you have planned for a meaningful learning experience and the students have left with more than before. It is not here where we need to tackle how we spend our time but it is with the rest of our hours that we need to be more selective.
So what are the biggest killers of time in our profession and how do we go about tackling them.
Meetings. Who wants to go to them and how many times have you left a meeting feeling it is a waste of time. Far too often meetings are a waste of time, are dominated by one or two personalities, fail to produce decisions and are costly in time and money. However this doesn’t have to be the case. Here is a very small list of recommendations on how to make better use of meeting times:
- Avoid lunchtime meetings where possible. Everyone is entitled to a lunch and should have one.
- Think about alternatives – why not try a google doc everyone can edit in their own time and share ideas.
- If you must have a meeting share the agenda and required reading 48 hours in advance.
- Consider if everyone has to attend the meeting. You could invite a small number and have them cascade the information.
- Appoint a chairperson, timekeeper and snack bringer. The timekeeper must ensure you stick to time.
- Make the meeting 30 minutes or less and don’t waste a second of time. Make time your prisoner.
- Send out a summary of the meeting so that agreed outcomes are actioned.
Emails. They take time to write, read and action so it is important that they are used properly. We can’t get away from emails as a quick and easy way of sharing information but they shouldn’t be something you check every time you have a second. There is way more to life than an email. So what can you do to take back control of emails:
- Set times that you allocate to reading and responding to emails. Perhaps when you arrive at work, for 15 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes at the end of the day.
- Only respond to emails when it is impossible to speak directly to the human on the other end.
- If you use apps I would highly recommend Boomerang. You can pause your inbox (meaning no emails will be received during paused times) and you can boomerang emails so that they can be delivered back to you at a specific time.
- Never, ever send an email in the evenings. That is your time to be present for your family and loved ones.
Marking and Reporting. Until this year I would spend hours of an evening writing reports to be sent home to parents about how young Simon is getting on in my class, often using the copy and paste tools. This is unfair on pupils, parents and more importantly teachers. Could we find a better way to report. My school has and it is much quicker, user friendly and involves the young person. If you want to know more check out http://www.didbook.com. As for marking, I have spoken about this before where I advocate for replacing it with Verbal Feedback. You can check this post out here.
It is important that we streamline what we do and make everything we do for the right reasons especially if we want our schools to be high performing and happy places to work. First and foremost every action we take must improve pupils outcomes and secondly they should ensure a teachers wellbeing is a top priority. After all a happy teacher is a good teacher, surely?