Top tips for middle leaders to reduce teacher workload

Thanks to James Hearn, Director of Learning at Hartshill School

Top tips for middle leaders to reduce teacher workload

Hopefully like many of you, I cruised through the winter break languishing in down time with family and friends. Pressing reset, reconnecting, and refreshing our perspective with the people closest to us, however, always comes at a cost – the price: ‘January Blues.’ AKA going back to work.  As the feared ‘January Blues’ approach, I ask myself does it need to be all doom and gloom as we prepare ourselves for the term ahead?

There are some steps as a middle leader you can take, to help reduce teacher workload, and keep a clear focus as our New Year’s resolutions steer us into gear.

Create and share a vision for how you want your team to work

Visions and philosophies have become the 2000’s vogue, with good reason. They allow everyone in a team to refer back to something, ensuring a narrow focus.

When creating a way of working, include in the consultation process everyone whom it impacts; teachers, support staff, you may even want a student representative if appropriate. Start with a blank piece of paper, but one important question, “How could we work that would more positively impact staff and students?” The ensuing discussion will take all manner of twists and turns, and everyone should have an equal voice (NQTs have as valid ideas as your 10 year experienced teacher- experience is only good if it’s good experience). However, the result should be a consensus that everyone has had the opportunity to contribute to. Whilst it can be tough to hand over some responsibility to the team to help create this vision, the benefit is it helps to get some buy in. It encourages shared ownership and becomes everyone’s vision. You want the people involved to work with you, not for you.

Things you might consider:

  • Delivery of lessons (style, format)
  • How to mark and provide feedback
  • Clubs and events in the department/ faculty
  • Responsibility areas (KS3/ KS4/ BTEC monitoring)
  • Units of work to be studied

teacher workload

Establish an environment of collaboration and support

Once you have your team’s way of working, it is important to ensure that responsibility for tasks or jobs is dissolved equally across the people involved. You don’t have to do it all yourself!

Provide realistic deadlines for when tasks need to be completed and provide an opportunity for people to meet to quality assure the work produced. This is especially important if people are producing lesson booklets or resources. Staff shouldn’t be planning for every lesson they teach all the time.  Work needs to be distributed fairly and everyone needs a chance to ‘shine’. This can be taken in turns as to who puts lessons together but ultimately it is a collaborative team effort and an ideal opportunity for sharing of good practice.  Quality assurance is vital here and time does need to be provided to check what is produced to ensure you are happy with what is going out.

At my school we are currently producing and working from student booklets (thankfully sense has shone through and PowerPoint is near extinction).  Whilst some time and effort is going in to these booklets planning time has gone down, more content is being delivered in lessons, and students are not having to labour over writing out notes or completing tasks put in to the lesson for the sake of killing time (card sorts, posters, drawing, cutting and sticking).

The support staff are giving each other to prepare these booklets has also transformed the group as people are now communicating more, working with each other more often, and most importantly staff are not going home every night to plan lessons. Dare I say some of them are even having a little bit more of a life outside of the school gates.

Repeatedly ask one question “is this benefitting the staff and students?”

If you cannot easily answer this question with a ‘yes’ then the answer is probably no, and is therefore wasting people’s time. Staff and students are easily demotivated if they don’t know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It links back to the question to pose in tip 1 when creating the vision.

Print the question off and have it stuck on the office wall, or as a note on your laptop screen so you can easily keep looking at it and asking it.

I was once in a meeting for over an hour where we deliberated over which colour pen to mark in, subsequently, where marking was provided in this colour a year 11 student asked “why aren’t you marking in red any more Sir? I don’t care what colour it is, I just want to know what I need to do to improve Sir”. The student was right, the colour wasn’t important, the information was.

Teachers need to teach, so unnecessary tasks that take them away from this are ultimately time wasting, demotivating and misusing the money being spent on their salary. Are you calling unnecessary meetings merely because they are on the calendar and “you’re supposed to”? Does the meeting have a clear agenda that is improving the department and students? Is time provided in these meetings for people to break out and discuss things relevant to them?

Using De Bono’s thinking hats has helped me in the past. I haven’t always revealed to staff which type of meeting it is, but it has helped me to produce a concise, time efficient and relevant agenda that makes the meeting worthwhile.

Whilst a bit of time and investment may be needed to get up and running with your new ideas, the benefits in the short, medium and long term, all contribute to help reduce teacher workload and even motivate staff. After all, it is the time of year to re-evaluate, start new chapters and usher in a positive and enjoyable mindset to help make life that little bit more enjoyable.

James Hearn has taught in secondary schools for the last 11 years holding roles including: Teacher of PE, Head of PE, Head of Football Academy and now as a Director of Learning at Hartshill School, Nuneaton. He’s currently completing a Masters in Leadership and Management. He’s also worked in various roles for professional football clubs in the Midlands.

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