Is there such a thing as “work-life balance” in teaching?
As teachers, we know that it can be difficult to find the off switch. A teacher’s job is never done and that is what makes finding a good work-life balance so difficult. I have always strived for perfection in my job as a secondary mathematics teacher, but I have also always been a sociable and active person. When I began my career I found it hard to achieve both. I soon learnt to work smarter rather than harder, allowing me to reduce my workload and gain a great work-life balance. So, here are my tips on how you could achieve this for yourself.
In March 2016 the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group completed their report entitled ‘Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking’. Since the publication of this report, I wonder how much has changed in schools across the country? How many senior leaders have read the report and those written by The Education Endowment Foundation, along with blogs and recommendations from people such as Ross ‘@TeacherToolkit’ McGill?
In the report’s foreword, Dawn Copping wrote:
“...What was very clear from the start was the shared view that marking had become a burden that simply must be addressed, not only for those currently in the profession but for those about to enter it. Our job was to discover how we ended up here and how we could make the long overdue change needed to help restore the work-life balance, passion and energy of teachers in this country…”
So how do we do it? What should schools do? What should senior leaders do? First, we need to look at the expectations we have of our teachers on the type, frequency and volume of marking they are completing, and the impact this has on their workload. The NUT reported last year that 45% of young teachers have concerns over their mental health and are considering leaving the profession, with 85% citing workload as a factor (NUT 2017). Yes, you read that correctly. 85% citing workload! When I considered the biggest impact on workload here at Kingham Primary, marking would be near the top of the list - if not at the very top. So, what did we decide to do about it?
Firstly, as the headteacher of the school responsible for staff wellbeing and therefore workload, I did some research - I wanted what I was saying to the staff to be accurate and not based on a whim or any new fads. Here are some of the books and articles I read to prepare:
As a staff, we then discussed the research and unpicked the myths staff had during a staff meeting - this was very animated, and we had a robust discussion. Interestingly, most staff had myths about what Ofsted would want to see, such as: the volume of marking, frequency of marking, written feedback, pupils responding to feedback, every piece of work being marked, verbal feedback needs to be recorded and depth of marking - all of which can be very burdensome. We asked ourselves who are we marking for? This was also a discussion we had as a staff. Was it for: Ofsted? Senior leaders? Subject leaders? Parents? Pupils?
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.’”
The following, meanwhile, is taken from the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook, April 2018:
“The information below serves to confirm facts about the requirements of Ofsted and to dispel myths about inspection that can result in unnecessary workloads in schools. It is intended to highlight specific practices that are not required by Ofsted. Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. It is up to schools themselves to determine their practices and for leadership teams to justify these on their own merits rather than by reference to this inspection handbook."
The response at Kingham Primary was to create a new policy – not a Marking Policy, but a Feedback Policy, and start trialling the ideas in June and July ready for the start of the new term in September. What does this look like? What did we include? The most important was the fact that we would do less written marking and more immediate feedback or live feedback.
Staff challenged me to create a policy based on our discussions and ideas that had NO MENTION of the work marking anywhere. This does not mean we never put pen to paper in pupil books, just that we could use our professional judgement as to when would be appropriate to do so and when live feedback could be used and have more impact on teaching and learning in the lesson.
What is feedback? In our policy we agreed that feedback is an important form of communication, between the teacher and pupil, through:
What are our reasons for providing feedback? Our policy states:
What methods of feedback are we trying? What will they look like in the classroom? Here is the list from our policy:
We are all really excited about our new guidelines, as we are sure it will have a positive impact of teacher workload without having a detrimental impact on pupil progress. We are all giving it a go, and even in these early stages the methods are proving to have an impact on workload. Staff have trialled the Whole Class Feedback Sheet and the new marking codes, but more importantly they are using Live Feedback in the lesson and are not expected to write the verbal feedback given in pupil books!
As Dawn Copping wrote in the ‘Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking’ report:
“…marking practice that does not have the desired impact on pupil outcomes is a time-wasting burden for teachers that has to stop.”
Kingham Primary School have started a revolution, through staff discussion we have created a Feedback Policy based on practice that has NO mention of marking ANYWHERE EVER! who will join us? #markplanteach Willing to share. pic.twitter.com/NftfxihOIk— Bretta (@2106Head) June 12, 2018
Join Kingham Primary School in this marking revolution - after tweeting this in June 2018, I had over 75 requests to share the policy (find our Whole Class Feedback sheet here). Will you join the schools developing a Feedback and NOT Marking Policy?
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If you are reading this, you are no doubt privy to the expectations heaped on teachers and school leaders about the importance of feedback in driving student success. If you hear the word “feedback”, and are haunted by images of lengthy, scribed comments that go ignored, much to your distress (how many hours of your life that you won’t get back?) and to the student’s peril, you are not alone.
Over the past five years, I have had some big changes in my life: I became a dad for the first time; I left my position as a Primary school deputy headteacher; I became an SLE in formative assessment; I set up my own education company with my headteacher... These changes were all massive, but the thing that has made them manageable for me was the smaller, more marginal changes I could make, all of which which contributed to the bigger picture.
With so many different assessment measures being used throughout Primary schools, we’re often asked to clarify the difference between them. So, we’ve gone back to the drawing board to provide some quick facts about two key test outcomes: scaled scores and standardised scores (because while both show performance, they aren’t the same thing).
Andrew Mulholland, chief marketing officer at Groupcall, discusses how schools can elevate effective edtech use and teacher workload to the top of the leadership agenda:
Whatever education setting you work in, the word “marking” will have a different meaning for you. For a lot of people reading this article, “marking” is the albatross of their teaching career; the one thing which can really impact upon a person’s well-being and, no matter how much we might loathe it, a fundamental part of our jobs.
I do like my job. Of course, I do have moments when I want to pack it all in or plan myself a new career but those are normally moments at the end of term when I know that I am at my lowest point in terms of energy and creativity. It’s often at that time that I feel overwhelmed with my to-do list which I write out religiously everyday. There are even days when I have been too busy the night before to write out my plans so I will write it out after the events have happened so that I can cross out each achievement with satisfaction. Tell me I am not the only one who does this?
So, with all this negative press about teaching how could I possibly like my job? It is not easy to identify one particular thing. I enjoy many aspects of the job I do. I think most importantly I enjoy teaching and I enjoy thinking about how best to convey what I want my pupils to learn. I love thinking of ways to engage my classes so that they are motivated and inspired to learn. It’s what I feel is the creative element of my job and I know that I do have some good ideas. However, importantly, I also know that it is important not to reinvent the wheel. Inevitably, someone in my department or one of the lovely #mfltwitterati will have a great idea to share and so I never feel that the ideas have run out. I consider myself incredibly lucky in this respect. Creating is what I do when I have got all the horrid stuff out the way. Yes – there are elements of the job that I do not like. Marking. I don’t like marking. Well, I like it because I can see what my pupils have mastered and how well they have done. On the other hand, there is nothing more depressing than sitting down to a pile of marking or papers full of mistakes on the very grammatical concept you have just spent a week or so teaching. So, marking is something I do not enjoy. In fact, right now, I’m putting off marking…