Workload and wellbeing

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The term ‘wellbeing’ can be used to describe our holistic health, including our physical, mental and emotional health. When we have good levels of wellbeing, we feel life is in balance and that we can generally cope well. We feel motivated and engaged and are able to show resilience and ‘bounce back’ from life’s challenges. (‘Supporting staff wellbeing in schools’: Anna Freud, National Centre for Children and Families).

Workload is often cited by teachers as a reason for leaving the profession and is a topic often featuring in debates in staffrooms and on social media.

Workload is not the only thing that impacts our wellbeing, however reducing workload can help us to address it. To do this we need to be empowered to take ownership of our wellbeing and workload, and the schools in which we work in must take a proactive approach to ensuring a school culture that supports staff to grow and thrive.

How can we manage our own workload?

Workload doesn’t mean the same as work. Teachers will always need to plan, prepare, deliver lessons, provide feedback and assess pupils. How this is managed though is key. Workload can be one factor in causing us stress. Causes of stress can be external, such as our workplaces and homes, social situations and interactions with other people, major life events, as well as the build-up of daily work.

In teaching, unlike many jobs, it is difficult to leave the work at school. How many of us have a ‘job list’ that is never completed? Planning, resourcing, marking to do each evening and on a weekend? How many of us are exhausted at the end of a term counting down the days until the next school break?

It is vital we pace ourselves and ensure we make time for us, friends and family. We owe it to ourselves, our families and the pupils we teach. An overworked, stressed and burnt-out staff member cannot do the best in their job.

There are many time management strategies and techniques, which may work for you. Such as 80:20 rule, Eisenhower matrix, Eat the frog, Pomodoro etc.

Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep, diet and exercise on wellbeing! How good are your sleep patterns, how well do you eat and how often do you exercise, particularly during term time?

In March 2016, the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group Created reports aimed at
eliminating unnecessary workload around marking and planning and teaching resources, and workload associated with data management.

Since publication, I wonder how much has changed in schools across the country? How many senior leaders have read the reports? Or acted upon the recommendations and findings and on subsequent research? 

How can schools and school leaders reduce workload?

Here are some ways, however we should be mindful that all schools are different and no one size fits all.

Planning and resourcing – Teachers can spend huge amounts of time planning and
producing resources for their lessons. It needs to be done, but there is no statutory requirement for lengthy lesson plans. Do you or your school require unnecessary detail? Ask yourself how much time it takes to plan the lessons, who is it for, is it a tick-box
accountability exercise? What can we do to reduce this workload? Consider collaborative
planning with colleagues; the use of commercially produced lessons plans (with adaptations to meet the needs of the learners being taught); or commercially produced schemes of work and resources.

Marking and feedback – In eliminating unnecessary workload around marking, the
Independent Teacher Workload Review Group stated: “The quantity of feedback should not be confused with the quality. The quality of the feedback, however given, will be seen in how a pupil is able to tackle subsequent work… we recommend that all marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating.’”

Ask yourself who are you marking for? When did you last update your marking and feedback policy? Is marking manageable? How much impact does it have on pupils’ progress? Think about reducing marking and feedback by introducing more verbal feedback rather than written feedback; marking a section of the work rather than the whole piece; use of live marking; whole class feedback; marking codes or self and peer assessment and marking.

Data management and assessment – The opening summary of the Data Management
report suggests school leaders ought to challenge themselves to check which data is useful, what purpose it serves and collect the minimum amount needed to evaluate what is
happening. Reducing the number of data captures will naturally reduce workload,
particularly if the frequency is such that it is not having an impact on pupil progress and
attainment. Data is only useful if class teachers and subject leaders have adequate time to
input the assessment data, analyse and monitor it to measure impact.

Technology can be both your best friend and your worst enemy. Its purpose is to increase the speed, effectiveness and accuracy of information. It is meant to help us improve the quality of our lives by accomplishing key tasks in faster and more efficient ways, however it can so easily take over our lives – with the advent of the internet, emails and social media we are available and at its mercy 24/7!

Having said that, technology can be your friend when used effectively. For example, Schoolaspect is a cloud-based platform which draws together the school self-evaluation, school improvement plan, and monitoring tasks as well as staff appraisal and policy management saving valuable time.

This article was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt. Bretta has worked in education for more than 30 years and has a wealth of experience in primary schools as a teacher, senior leader and headteacher.

She now works as an education consultant, trainer, leadership coach and mentor. She also facilitates the Early Career Framework for new teachers, is a visiting tutor for those training to be a teacher and the National Professional Qualifications for senior leaders.

To find out more, please visit Schoolaspect’s profile on EdTech Impact.

Updated on: 26 May 2023

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