Recently I lead a session with NQTs and RQTs on the subject of wellbeing. The group was young, diverse and keen- just some of the very qualities we need in teaching. I purposely chose the theme of wellbeing as the first session in their training programme as it’s a topic I find fundamentally important as I’ve suffered from burnout before and it’s not a feeling I’d like anybody to experience if I can help it. Also, leaders in every school I’ve ever worked in have never openly expressed concern for the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental wellbeing of their staff. This is plain wrong! I felt a strong need to ensure that these newly/recently qualified staff felt that the school they had chosen to work in was genuinely concerned with their welfare.
Teachers in the group said they regularly worked more than 50 hours, which included taking work home.
The most common things the group perceived as threats to their wellbeing were:
1. Excessive marking loads
2. Lesson planning and content
3. Data entry
How to cut excessive workloads
By no means a panacea for the issue but here are a few strategies to cut workloads.
1. Decide what is worth marking. Greater effort does not equal greater results. Try to use feedback strategies such as ‘take a snap!’. This is where you place a picture of a student’s work on the board and peer assess as a whole class. The piece of work should be of the highest quality so all have a ‘gold’ standard to aim for.
2. Don’t try to plan every lesson from scratch. Scour online for resources which you can tweak or use as they are. Make use of high quality textbooks also.
3. Ask yourself ‘do students really need their exercise books this lesson?’ Perhaps annotating a copy of a poem or using sketch books is enough. This will reduce marking time. I know of on maths teacher who issues all of his students with ‘draft’ books where students use these on a day to day basis for rough work and these are never marked! They have another book where final executions are made and these are marked
4. Use symbols and codes for marking. It’s surprising how much time you can save not having to write out the same targets numerous times.
We rounded off the session by conducting individual SWOT analyses on our personal wellbeing, paying particular attention to the weakness and threats areas so as to avoid burnout and ill health.
With teachers leaving the profession in droves, schools must do far more to challenge the issue of workload. Retention is key to ensuring students get long term stability in the classroom. I admire the approach taken by school leaders such as John Tomsett. Click here to read more about his conscientious and pragmatic approach to whole school wellbeing.
Overall, feedback from staff participants was positive with one staff member almost giving me a running commentary on how he has taken charge of his own wellbeing since the session!