Writing the calendar for the next academic year? What about using that to improve wellbeing and reduce workload from Day One?
Twitter, blogs, education chat and media articles periodically pick up on issues to do with wellbeing, workload, the retention crisis in teaching and other related topics – I’ve blogged a few times on aspects related to wellbeing in the past. And at the moment my twitter feed is reflecting the theme again. We all know there’s an issue and it needs addressing. For me this is the time of year when we most need to consider all of this. Timetables are being finished, calendars are being written and policies and practices updated for the next academic year. If you want to make a difference to staff wellbeing and workload then these are the places to start.
Poorly thought through calendars can lead to pressure points in the year when workload becomes unrealistic and can also lead to teachers having to prioritise the wrong things. For example, I’ve faced a situation in the past when I was expected to write 60 Year 7 reports at exactly the same time as the final run up to the GCSE and A level exams. Now clearly my attention should have been on ensuring students were ready for there exams but I spent hours writing reports instead despite having an additional 6 hours the following week due to the exams being done and dusted. It sounds really obvious and a silly little thing but things like this can make a real difference. I ready a blog recently (although I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it so if it was you please let me know so I can credit) suggesting that you count up the additional hours of parents evenings, reports and data that are calendared each week and check the distribution is even over the year. Through doing that with our draft calendar for next year I found two pressure points that we could avoid straight away by a simple date change.
When planning the dates of whole school events do you also think about where they will be held? Have you considered early finishes or late starts for Open Evenings? Or do you still have parents and career evenings in classrooms adding to workload in terms of time moving furniture back and forth? Could you plan your events in locations in school so this doesn’t need to happen? Another important aspect of planning your calendar for wellbeing and workload is including as much collaborative planning time as possible. I’ve blogged about this before in terms of my ideas for a model for CPD as I strongly feel teachers working and planning and marking together will support workload and drive forward improvements in teaching and learning.
These little things will make a huge difference to day to day workload in school but there’s another reason for flagging these up. You see we are increasingly talking about supporting flexible working and reforming workload so that people don’t feel they have to choose their family or teaching, however in these conversations there’s one group of teachers we don’t often talk about – the young teachers, often single, yet to have families of their own. Yet if we want to encourage people to stay in the profession these are the people we need to start thinking about – after all, if they feel the job is manageable and achievable when they haven’t got the demands of young families then surely it’ll make them more likely to feel they can balance their workload and family life when the time comes?
Going back to my points about the calendar above. Ensuring time for collaboration is really important with supporting this group of teachers. They don’t clock watch to make sure they pick there children up on time so can end up staying for hours after school without realising it. They don’t, especially if they live on their own, have anyone complain they work all evening and weekend so can suddenly find themselves working ridiculous hours. It’s no wonder they then don’t think they can balance teaching with a personal life as teaching takes up all their time. Similarly, collaborative working should also encourage teachers to share the things that went wrong too and work together to come up with strategies for next time. We all have bad days and a teacher who lives of their own takes this burden home alone with no one to ‘change the subject’ of their thoughts while someone with a family takes this home and might take this out on their loved ones through tetchiness. Both situations are equally wrong so how can we make space in the school day for people to be able to talk through the poor lesson, the set of test papers that aren’t as good as they should be or the incident with a child that ended up with the teacher feeling pretty rubbish? How can we promote open discussion and a culture of trust through which teachers don’t feel judged when they say ‘this didn’t work’ but instead talk through moving forward so no one takes the bad day burden home?
My final thought on using the calendar to promote wellbeing and reduce workload, particularly related to this group of teachers, is to reflect on your plans for that first training day in September. Have you included some time for everyone to just spend on their own getting their stuff sorted rather than cramming every minute with meetings and training? This is important for everyone on those first few days to feel like they’re ready for the year ahead but it’s even more important for those who live on their own. I’ll be honest here and say I always struggle with the start of term in September. The staff room buzzes with stories of holidays and great adventures. I usually get asked, with a eye roll, which exotic place I’ve been to (its pretty obvious to anyone who reads this blog or knows me that I love travelling) but what I don’t think they appreciate is that if I didn’t I would spend long periods of my holidays alone with friends and family still at work in their ‘normal’ jobs. The last day of the summer term means the last day of guaranteed adult interaction during the week for 6 weeks for someone who lives alone and then in September it’s people all the time again. It takes a bit of adjustment – just like it will for someone who has spent the last 6 weeks with their children every day. How can you ensure that everyone gets a bit of time for themselves at the start of term to readjust to constant adult company?
So as you finalise your calendar for next year, have another look at it with these things in mind and just see if you could make any little tweaks to better support your staff’s wellbeing and workload for the next year.