February 26, 2018
“Teachers’ workload is too high, with various organisations – including the DfE – reporting teachers, working in-excess of 55+ hour weeks just to keep on top of their day-to-day workload.”
Ross Morrison McGill (@TeacherToolkit)
Over a year ago now, I worked with a few of our governors and the deputy headteacher to champion a whole school Health & Wellbeing Policy, which would encompass work/life balance. The Association of Teachers & Lecturers defines work/life balance as being “essentially about choice and flexibility, balancing life and work, balancing the needs of both the school and teachers and the optimum environment for high performance and satisfaction at all levels.” (2004)
Since then, teacher work/life balance has been the hot topic of conversation amongst senior leaders, local government and indeed politicians at a national level and prompted the DfE to launch The Workload Challenge consultation on the TES website ran between 22 October and 21 November 2014, and asked three open questions:
- Tell us about the unnecessary and unproductive tasks which take up too much of your time. Where do these come from?
- Send us your solutions and strategies for tackling workload – what works well in your school?
- What do you think should be done to tackle unnecessary workload – by government, by schools or by others?
“The survey generated more than 44,000 returns. The same themes were raised again and again by the profession as the key drivers of unnecessary and unproductive workload, including Ofsted and the pressure it places on school leaders (whether real or perceived), and from government – as well as hours spent recording data, marking and lesson-planning.” (DfE source)
In the consultation stages of devising our policy, staff reported the main factors affecting their health and wellbeing were:
- Completing admin tasks
- Demands of the job
Bearing this in mind, and taking notice of local and national guidance, our policy went through the drafting process and was adopted by the governors and staff in September 2016. You can read the current version of it here.
But does having a policy actually make a difference to the health and wellbeing of staff?
As both a class teacher and member of the Senior Leadership Team, I always pride myself on being an excellent role model for everything we do as a school – teaching and learning, classroom environment, books, pupil progress etc etc. But when it came to role modelling a health work/life balance, I’ll be honest, I really struggled. The demands of the role(s) meant I had to get a lot done in a finite amount of time. Because of that, through my own choice, I would arrive to work early (normally [well] before 7) and leave when the caretaker kicked me out at 6pm. This meant that I would sometimes get most of what I needed to get done, done! I would, however, find myself taking things home, normally my books – 33 English and 33 maths. I was working well in excess of 12 hours a day.
Now it was my choice to progress to the position I have, and I do not regret a single choice I have made. I thoroughly enjoy every aspect of my job and am privileged to have had the opportunity to do so this early in my career. However, I had a very work heavy work/life balance.
In September 2017, having been in my role since the previous April, I pledged to do something about re-balancing my work/life balance. Again, this didn’t happen. After much reflection (ironically!!) I realised why – I was not prioritising my work/life balance. I was “used” to what I did on a daily basis and I had, quite simply, come to accept that it was normal.
After this epiphany, I decided that actually I wasn’t too happy with the situation and so, conveniently timed to coincide with New Year, I took up running (again).
I began by Park Running on a Saturday – a free 5k timed run around a local course – but this went no way to alleviate my workload or establish more of a work/life balance… nonetheless, it was a start.
Midway through January, the Head (a fellow Park Runner) showed me a flier for The Great Northern Run in Derby in March. 10k? A bit of a step up from the weekly 5k; this would require a more rigorous training schedule! So, dedicated to both the run and levelling the balance between work and home, I signed up and began to follow the Bupa Intermediate 10k training plan.
Having paid my £17, I was determined to follow the plan, which meant training on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Now, we’ve established that the Saturday and Sunday are fine; the days that would cause a potential problem were Tuesday and Wednesday.
Well today is February 25th and I’m still sticking to the plan. And here’s how I achieved it:
- Looked at my planning for a Tuesday and how I planned to mark the learning.
- Planned more in-class intervention marking.
- Used the whole class feedback sheet (as pioneered by colleagues like @primarypercival)
- Experimented with recorded feedback via Vocal Recall.
- Switched to marking one set of books the following morning.
By looking closely at how I managed my workload and my time, I was able to get rid of some superfluous activities and focus my efforts on the important things.
The quality of my marking is the same (if not better in places) and my class have responded very enthusiastically to my different feedback methods.
I may have shot myself in the foot, though! After the 10k in March, I’ve signed up for a 12.5k in May and a half marathon in June.