Is it possible to control a teacher’s workload? | Education Support
Teacher workload - what can be done

Is it possible to control a teacher’s workload?

There’s a reason why Brexit has rumbled on for three years, and shows no sign of relenting: it’s because - much like the title of this guest blog – the answer is more complex than the question.

Wellbeing vs workload

Workload and wellbeing are being spoken about not just in education but in others industries as well. For me, the two are interlinked- much like anxiety and depression- and two sides of the same coin. The very best schools understand and respect this; they invest in their staff and students, and understand the long-term aspects of this.

However, the distinction is an important one: for me, workload is more about our ability to be productive, whereas wellbeing is more about looking after ourselves in order to give us the best possible chance of being in a headspace where we can best tackle our workload.

We cannot every truly divorce wellbeing and workload – and we must see them as constantly in negotiation with one another, relying on one another to define themselves. However, it’s important to provide some clarity around how we can most usefully reflect on both these things.

Workload

Every year, I buy a planner: I go shopping for them and fantasise about how the latest one is going to turn me into a teaching genius. They never do. However, one thing I have learned about myself is that I’m a list maker. I constantly make- and remake – my own lists of things to do. By about October time (as has happened this year), I’ve bought a pad which contains list after list.

It’s really important to know what might be causing me stress at any one point: is it amount? Is it the variety of tasks? Is it time? Is it deadlines? If I perceive it’s the latter things, I’ll make a list of specific times over the next few days I have- before school/after school/ PPA and so forth- and then I’ll assign tasks to those slots. If they don’t fit, then something more profound might need to happen- like a conversation with someone about feasibility (again, this hugely depends on the kind of school you find yourself in). I’d really recommend apps such as Wunderlist and To Do, which are simple list making programs that allow you to keep them to yourself or share them across groups of people.

Apps are incredible as they offer so many solutions to so many different kinds of problem: lots of people that feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading and resources would benefit from apps like Dropbox or Google Drive. Another little gem to save blogposts and reading for later is Pocket – I love Pocket!

Again, though, it’s really important to reflect on workload as something that needs to be managed effectively so as not to begin to impinge on your wellbeing. When I really, really struggled a few years ago, it was because I allowed by workload to spiral out of control, and constantly make myself feel like a total failure.

Workload: takeaway tips

  1. Use Google Drive ‘Slides’ to plan your lessons on: for each class, you can create a presentation and continually add to it, making referring back to previous learning an models very easy.
  2. Use Google Drive/Dropbox to archive resources, and take the time to organize them into folders that you can easily access.
  3. Get yourself onto Twitter and try to tap into the amazing online communities out there that are willing to share and collaborate.
  4. Make lists- and remake them to add perspective! Assign tasks to times/days or sort them into Pressing, Not Pressing, Ongoing and ‘Why am I bothering?’
  5. Use apps like Wunderlist and To Do to help you manage tasks and projects (you can have a ‘Home’ tab for personal life stuff too!)

Wellbeing

This comes down to mind and body- it’s as simple as that. Again, these two little nuggets will feed off one another if we don’t understand them individually and collectively. In terms of our mind, it’s so easy to not give this due care and attention; day to day, apps like Calm and Headspace can be extremely useful in giving your mind space to switch off and heal.

Remember, things like mindfulness and meditation can be done pretty much anywhere! For me, it’s not only about the act of doing meditation and the effects on the brain, but it’s about the act of respecting and valuing ourselves enough to make the time to do this every day. 

More generally, psychologically we need to be aware of the things we tell ourselves as a matter of course every day- ‘I’m not this,’ or ‘I’m not that’ and so it goes on. Being aware of this, standing above it and being kind to ourselves is vital: a great rule of thumb is to try and talk to ourselves how we hope a best friend would speak to us: with honesty and integrity.

Wellbeing: takeaway tips

  1. It’s not all about yoga or meditation: it’s about finding the things we enjoy and that give us calm, and making space for those things
  2. Discipline is not what we do to ourselves: it’s what we do for ourselves. In other words- make space for the things that promote health and wellbeing
  3. Be kind to yourself: that doesn’t mean making excuses, but it means being honest and realistic about what we need at any given moment
  4. Schools are wonderful places: there’ll always be someone to listen somewhere. Give people a chance to show you their best side
  5. Remember that stress is a natural reaction to things in order to make us do things to help us survive: it’s all about getting that stress into perspective

Andy Sammons is a Head of English at a large secondary comprehensive in Wakefield. He tweets @andy_samm and has written more about mental health and wellbeing in his book ‘The Compassionate Teacher'. 

If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing please call our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.