There’s an extensive discussion to be had about how those working in schools can manage their workload in a sustainable and effective way. ‘More’ isn’t always better, and ‘I will work harder’ is rarely a useful response. (It certainly didn’t work well for the character Boxer in Orwell’s Animal Farm).
It’s in no one’s interest – least of all the children’s – for school staff to work themselves to the point of exhaustion. The ongoing workload debate is challenging us to consider how much of what we do is truly supportive of pupils’ progress, and how much of it is tangential, or even redundant.
Changing our work habits can be hard, even when we know they’re unhealthy, but leaders must support those they lead in making the most effective use of their finite time and energies. If we don’t, we risk exacerbating the teacher recruitment and retention challenges we continue to face and ensuring that those who stay in the profession aren’t working as productively as they could be.
Leaders face the double challenge of finding a balance in their own lives they can model to others, while simultaneously monitoring how successful others are at doing the same thing. If someone’s struggling, leaders need to help them in a way that protects and strengthens the school’s offering to its children. It’s therefore worth bearing in mind the following considerations:
1. Clarity is important
There’s a comfort to be had in ‘doing what we’ve always done’. If your colleagues need encouragement to do things differently, it’ll require discussion, a clear rationale and the courage to find the best way forward together
2. Colleagues have limits
If those you lead are completing tasks simply to prove that they’re doing a good job – producing lengthy written lesson plans, for example – ask whether what you’re demanding of them is reasonable, and whether pupils are being well-served by activities that evidently take up teachers’ time and energy.
3. Systems might warrant review
Check whether your systems as efficient as they could be, so that time isn’t wasted on tasks that might support learning, but aren’t fundamental to it. Try looking at your data collection and recording policy.
4. Duties can be jettisoned
Leaders and colleagues may have great ideas for new school initiatives – but if they’re worth doing, can something else be taken away? If not, your calendar will increasingly resemble a hamster wheel in which your staff are required to run faster each year. Consider your core business versus the ‘cherries on the top’ – the latter are nice to have, but don’t let them collapse the cake…
Jill Berry is a leadership consultant, author and former headteacher.