As I’ve only just dipped my toe into school leadership, I was surprised at just how difficult it has been this year. Simply managing your class, or leading a subject, is a full time, stressful job all year round. Throw the demands of leading a core subject - or the day-to-day demands of managing a school - into the mix, and ‘stressful’ doesn’t describe it. Thankfully, there’s a great, highly-accessible resource to hand: music.
How exactly can music can inspire leaders? To find out, we first need to discuss how it can make a difficult job easier. I am a musician and play a number of instruments. Playing an instrument, even when you have lots of experience, requires your full and complete concentration. Playing the piano, as I do, requires you to engage so many different elements of your body, both physical and mental that any other thought goes quickly out of the window.
That sheer level of concentration is how I destress. The only place where thoughts of school go fully out of my mind is sat at a piano stool. Any school leader, or teacher for that matter, needs something that completely frees their mind of school - be it exercise, meditation, and so on. This is definitely a vocation rather than a job; you simply can’t walk away at 3.30. However - and this is vital - you MUST be able to compartmentalise in order to survive.
The other way that music helps me with wellbeing is singing. I sing in a community choir once a week. Whilst the levels of concentration are different, this is another oasis in a busy week, one which frees my mind from thoughts of school. Music, and singing in particular, has so many physical and mental benefits.
A review by Chanda and Levitin (2013) highlighted the positive impact of simply listening to music in a variety of ways. The review showed that listening to music releases dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, whilst also increasing the body’s immunity by supporting the production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that works through the mucous system. One of the studies reviewed also found that listening to music resulted in a decrease in cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.
Singing has also been found to have major physical impacts upon the body, particularly the respiratory system (Vickhoff, 2013). Singing, especially in a group, produces a coupling of heart rate variability to respiration, a process called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Singing produces slow, regular and deep respiration, which in turn triggers RSA. RSA is a benefit of activities such as yoga and tai chi, so singing can be seen as an alternative to these, as well as having other physical and emotional benefits.
So music is good for you. Listening to music and singing along, whether in an organised way with a choir or simply in the shower, or in the car, on the way to work, can have a positive impact on your body - both mentally and physically. Music can provide a moment of calm in a busy, stressful day. It can help to clear your mind, allowing you to de-stress.
So where does the school leader inspiration come in? Well, if all the things above work, then you are better able to do your job. If your whole outlook has changed, if you are calmer and your body is tuned and able to function, then you will do your job better. I could write a whole article on how music inspires me and others, but first we need bodies and minds that are healthy and able to work. Listen to music, sing along (well or otherwise) and arrive at work with an opportunity to have a positive impact on the children in your care. This year, the doctor subscribes a burst of ABBA, Queen or Ed Sheeran on your journey into work (possibly not on public transport...).
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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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This is the year to finally sort problem paperwork within your school. You can improve safeguarding, productivity, space and compliance simply by improving the way you manage your student records, staff files and financial documents. Outdated ways of working can be transformed through a proven electronic document management system designed in collaboration with school business managers. Sound good? Here, school business manager Alison Jefferson shares how Durham Trinity School use mstore across student records, HR and finance...
“Clearing our filing cabinets has already created enough space to accommodate a new staff member, and we are really happy with the way mstore is transforming the way we work with documents.
“mstore was fast and easy to install; it works with our existing IT systems and software, including SIMS. We didn’t need to replace anything or learn how to use an entirely new system and the software is really straightforward to use. We can save and retrieve files quickly, and safeguarding is enforced more easily too.
“Arena is very familiar with the legal obligations surrounding records management in schools, and we were confident from the start that they could help us to achieve our goals whilst remaining compliant with all of the rules. The service has been great, we have had no complaints and I have even referred other schools to them.”
The King’s School use mstore for finance and HR records. Finance manager Tammy Gaines explains: “Before we had mstore, there were folders all over the place. We have sensitive documents to protect so we kept them in locked cabinets, but we had no way of telling who had accessed what, or if they had changed things.”
UK schools are obliged to keep a record of who has accessed particular documents types such as those relating to child protection. mstore makes this easy by automatically auditing activity in the system.
mstore also saves time and space, says Tammy: “We file everything electronically now. We used to shred a lot of documents as we could not store them all; it’s reassuring to have everything backed up in case we need it. It is without doubt quicker and easier to find things in mstore rather than searching through cabinets.”
Recent analysis based on mstore's use in four education institutions shows that return on investment can be achieved within two years. Digital gets it done!
So your new (school) year’s resolution is not a tricky one to make. And with the support of Arena’s education specialists, the transition to better ways of working that finally ditch that problem paper keeps you focused on more important aspects of school life.
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An NUT survey in 2015 found that over half of teachers were thinking of leaving the profession in the next two years, citing ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking better work/life balance’ (57%) as the two top issues causing them to consider this. Research also shows that one in four teachers will quit the profession within the first five years of teaching. Yet, according to a Gallup survey in 2013, teaching was still voted number two out of the top 14 careers - beaten only by physicians.
Why did you go into teaching? Most of us came into it because we had a vision of how we thought education should be. We loved children, believed that we could affect change, had an enthusiasm for our subject, and we wanted to make a difference. Sadly, many of us have lost sight of that vision.
Consider this: On a scale of 1-10, how stressful is your job? Too often, we do not listen to our bodies, ending up with distress, which manifests physically as pain, muscle tension, injury or disease; emotionally with symptoms of jealousy, insecurity, feelings of inferiority, inability to concentrate, poor decision making, mental disorientation, depression, anxiety and so on.
In this article, I’m going to outline five steps to create delicious habits that will make you positively flourish at work!
1. Put your own oxygen mask on first
I am sure you will have heard it said, in the preflight demonstration, that if there’s an emergency, to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. The idea is that you don’t become so preoccupied with trying to help secure everyone else’s oxygen mask that you forget to secure your own. You are not going to be much help to anyone, let alone yourself, if you’re in a pre-comatose state!
Teachers and school leaders often tell me they have depleted themselves for the sake of others - pupils, management, staff, family, friends. It’s important to take the time and care to secure your oxygen mask, then when the challenges of school life come hurtling towards you, you will have some foundations with which to deal with them.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Drink water throughout the day. By staying hydrated you'll be taking care of your most basic needs first. Water is also essential for cleansing the body, so try to drink at least four to six glasses a day.
Cut down on all refined and processed foods, sugar, fried fatty foods, additives and all stimulants like tea, coffee and alcohol. Instead, eat more whole grains, vegetables, fruit, whole wheat pasta, seafood, free range/organic poultry and dairy products. Make sure to eat enough to ensure your blood sugar isn't crashing. Have healthy snacks around, especially when you are ruled by your school breaks and busy schedules.
3. Start an exercise programme
Walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing or yoga. Exercise regularly at least twice a week. There’s a lot of research out there that indicates the better shape you are, the easier you will find it to handle stress.
4. Take time off from the digital screens
While screens may feel relaxing, and allow you to turn "off", try and find a sans-screen activity to truly take time for yourself. Skip the TV and enact even the smallest self-care rituals, like:
5. Say “NO!”
This is the hardest word for a teacher to say! Most of us are kind and caring individuals, high achievers and hugely diligent. We teach because we want to make a difference, and the word ‘no’ is so hard to say. But we MUST say it if we are to survive in this culture of an ever-increasing workload. Try saying: ‘Not now’, and then give a future time frame.
Take Nottingham’s Education Improvement Board as an example. They have come up with their own fair workload charter. In brief, the charter deﬁnes what ‘reasonable’ means in terms of the additional hours teachers are expected to work beyond directed time each day. They say that school policies should be deliverable within no more than an additional two hours a day beyond directed time for teachers (and three hours a day for those with leadership responsibilities).
Schools adopting the charter receive the Education Improvement Board fair workload logo to use on their adverts and publicity. This reassures potential applicants about the workload demands that will be placed on them in choosing a charter school over one that hasn't adopted it. Read more about the charter at: www.schoolsimprovement.net/what-exactly-is-a-reasonable-teacher-workload.
There’s no denying that while teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, many teachers are working long hours to meet the demands of the job. At Whizz Education, we’re keen to empower teachers by providing high-quality interactive teaching resources that aim to cut down on planning time both in and out of the classroom.
We’ve already discussed how the Maths-Whizz Tutor can save you valuable time by automatically assigning and marking fully-individualised lessons, but our Tutor is just one of the four time-saving features in our Schools Suite. Let’s look at the others.
1. Assessment & Reporting
Each minute your students spend learning with the Maths-Whizz Tutor is actually a no-stress formative assessment that is used to tailor their learning experience. Maths-Whizz looks beyond just ‘right and wrong answers’: when assessing your students’ performances across its exercises and games, it factors in the time taken on each exercise and the number of hints and tips that are needed before the student answers. This information is gathered in Assessment & Reporting in real time, which converts the data into easy to understand reports that allow you to monitor the progress of individual students, classes, or even an entire school, at a glance!
Our Topic Focus feature allows you to direct the Maths-Whizz Tutor to focus your students’ lessons on any curriculum topic of your choosing. Better yet, these lessons are individualised. Students who are ready for the topic will receive lessons that meet their specific needs while students who aren’t ready yet will continue to build the right foundations. It takes just three clicks - simply pick a topic, set a deadline and click ‘confirm’. It’s that easy!
Not only does Assessment & Reporting cut down on your marking time by putting all students’ results in one convenient location, the fact that our easy to understand reports are easily shareable makes them invaluable for parent-teacher meetings, school performance reviews and meetings with school governors.
2. Teachers’ Resource
With Maths-Whizz, your days of scouring the internet to find the right maths resources for your students are over! With over 3,500 hours of teaching content in one convenient online location, Teachers’ Resource is the perfect tool to help you build your ideal maths lesson.
Our high-quality maths resources cover every National Curriculum learning objective from Reception to Year 6, and 96% of learning objectives up to the end of Year 8, allowing you to quickly and easily create differentiated lessons that cater for all of your students, irrespective of their maths ability. These lessons can be printed off as worksheets and given out to your class or displayed on an interactive whiteboard. All you need to do is log in, select your students’ ability and pick your topics.
That’s not all. With Teachers Resource, you can easily create assessment tasks covering multiple topics in just a few clicks.
3. Customer Success
At Whizz Education, we see ourselves as an education partner rather than an edtech provider, which is why we work closely with you to understand and achieve your specific educational goals.
When you subscribe to Maths-Whizz, you get your own personal Customer Success Manager, who will not only assist with the implementation of the programme at your school but will be available throughout your subscription to ensure you achieve all your unique educational goals. They will be responsible for providing your teachers with bespoke CPD-certified training courses and actionable impact reports while also holding special celebration assemblies that recognise student success.
So, if you’re looking to scale back your planning time this school year, while also ensuring that your students experience accelerated growth in mathematics, visit our website to request a free consultation.
Our 2018/19 Lead LIVE roadshow kicked off in Wigan, with educators sharing a wealth of ideas to address excess workload in schools. The roadshow features talks from innovative school leaders on tackling teacher's timesinks, a prize draw, and a 'speed dating' session with ten of the best edtech providers in the country. The roadshow is now heading to Wellingborough, Peterborough, Liverpool, Bradford, Hertfordshire and Hove, and these happy school leaders explain what you can expect...
There were two turning points for me that I distinctly remember. The first was in September 2014 on our INSET day. We’d just hit 85% 5A*CEM in the summer, been awarded Outstanding in every category in July, a far cry from Special Measures and 28% three years previously. Behaviour had been described regularly as ‘feral’ but was now brilliant. I announced as much to my staff, then followed with the line that would change our strategic direction:
“But is anyone having any fun?”
I didn’t regret the sledgehammer approach we’d had to take with the school to turn around engrained and endemic inadequacy, but I knew things had to change. Regional Harris director Dr Chris Tomlinson once told me that a head’s job is to make themselves redundant and this principle resonated strongly. If I got hit by the proverbial bus, the school would be stuffed. It was therefore not sustainable.
My question, and challenge, to staff was to begin our journey to create a school that the staff truly wanted to work in, where we could feel the buzz of burning ambition and professional success, the warm glow of helping the most vulnerable in our society change their lives, the pride of being part of a story that is changing our part of South East London. But with no burnout. Ever.
We started by collating all the reasons why staff wanted to work here, in our school, rather than anywhere else. I’m a big believer in your internal brand matching your external brand - by this I mean what you SAY you do, you ACTUALLY do. Staff can sniff out spin a mile off and it truly stinks, breeding cynicism and resistance throughout the organisation.
To avoid this we spent lots of time making sure our ‘20 reasons to work here’ was actually real for staff. I asked them to rate the three reasons that were most resonant and the three that felt furthest away. I then gulped, and shared it with all the staff; one of my mantras being “no elephants in the room”. We then openly discussed the issues and what to do about them. Only when we were completely sure about them did I have them branded for our recruitment strategy.
I regularly review these 20 reasons to make sure the school has not drifted away from what we say we do. We place huge value on integrity and ensure it runs through every decision, every conversation. Holding ourselves and each other to account does not have to involve being needlessly brutal - when you do it with integrity and honesty suddenly, it is much more powerful and does not corrode trust.
Three years later the school was in a great place. Staff morale was high. We were ‘bringing ourselves to work’, another of our mantras; great banter and belly-laughter was encouraged; the hierarchy was flatter.
And this leads me to the second turning point, shortly before we broke up for summer holidays last year. Speaking to my coach, I realised something else was missing.
I was talking to her about how I hadn’t seen my kids for four days as I kept missing their bedtime, and that I was going to leave early that night at 5.30pm so I could see them for half an hour. But I was filled with anxiety about how I could make that happen and what example that set - would the staff think I was lazy and not earning my salary? My coach asked what time I'd arrived that morning: 7.30am. She asked me if I’d had a break: of course not, I’m SLT. Then she asked the killer question:
“At what point did working ten hours a day stop being enough?”
The penny dropped. And this might be controversial. You see, while I am indignant at successive governmental failures to recruit enough teachers, I do believe that too many schools have not done enough to ensure that teaching remains a fun and highly rewarding profession. Often, we’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied, to become scared of Ofsted and the DfE and bad press. It’s therefore totally understandable that, on occasion, we’ve wielded the sledgehammer approach for too long, too hard, too often, too carelessly.
Don’t get me wrong. Headteachers should hold people to account. Those who are completely incompetent should be drummed out of our proud profession by all of us. We should drive high standards for ourselves. We should expect the best for our children. They deserve the best. But we don’t have to run cultures of fear and we don’t have to break our staff.
It so happened that John Tomsett, a headteacher I very much admire, was getting some well-deserved attention for the great work his school was doing on addressing workload. I took his list of ways to reduce workload to my SLT and we realised that we were doing nearly everything on there, and more. Just not consistently or mindfully enough. So again, like we did with the ‘20 Reasons’, I now took the ‘40 ways we reduce workload’ to the staff to ensure they were resonant. I also set them the challenge for this year: “If you’re still here after 5.30pm, something in your own system, your department’s system or the school system has failed. Then let’s fix that.”
By being open and honest about the challenges we face, getting the systems right, being efficient and streamlined in our approach, we’ve been successful in changing the culture: the vast majority of staff in a recent survey said they had a healthy work/life balance.
So what needs to change across the school system to make our working lives more productive, more meaningful, less frustrating and less exhausting? Read our ‘40 ways we reduce workload’ and let me know what you think. Share your ideas to make them even better. We’re really trying to make it happen at Harris Academy Greenwich and I don’t believe our results will suffer.
It has been an eight year journey to lead the school to this point where the systems are tight, the staff are slick and well-trained, the school purrs. We have fun, we laugh, and we don’t break. Ever.
I love teaching. I love life. It’s possible to have both.
Excess workload: it’s the recurring issue that’s driving teachers away from the profession in droves. Between planning and marking lessons, collating results and ensuring that every child is catered for, it’s surprising that educators have any time to think let alone teach a class.
In fact, a DfE survey has revealed that teachers currently work over 50 hours per week on average - that’s more than both police officers and nurses! Don’t worry though, because Whizz Education is here to help. At Whizz, we understand the issues you face, which is why all four components of our multi-award-winning Maths-Whizz Schools Suite are specifically designed to help ease your workload.
1. The Maths-Whizz Tutor
The Maths-Whizz Tutor is an adaptive, online teaching solution which cuts down lesson planning time by assessing each student, and then providing them with fully-individualised lessons that aim to close specific gaps in their core Maths knowledge. In other words, the Tutor can simultaneously provide 30 different lessons to 30 different students, at the exact time they require it. Once a student masters a topic, the Tutor will progress to more challenging material, and if they struggle, it will provide confidence-boosting prompts until they are ready to move on. Additionally, the Tutor also marks lessons and collates the results, all in real time and all without teacher input!
2. Assessment & Reporting
As each Maths-Whizz lesson is marked, the results are converted into easy-to-understand reports, which instantly show your students’ strengths and weaknesses in each topic across the curriculum. Not only are these reports effective for identifying students’ needs, but they are also easily shareable, making them extremely useful for school performance reviews and parent-teacher meetings.
3. Teachers’ Resource
It’s no secret that planning your front-of-class Maths lessons can be an extremely time-consuming process, but this certainly isn’t the case when you have Maths-Whizz! With over 1,200 engaging exercises and worksheets, and a series of ready-made assessments available in one convenient online location, our Teachers’ Resource saves you the time usually spent scouring the internet for lesson content. To plan your perfect Maths lesson, all you need to do is select your students’ ability level and choose your topic.
4. Customer Success
If not done properly, the implementation of edtech can be an additional burden on teacher workload. However, when you subscribe to Maths-Whizz, you’re allocated a customer success manager who will come to your school to assist with the implementation of Maths-Whizz. Not only that, they will be on-hand throughout your subscription to ensure that you are achieving your unique educational goals through the provision of rigorous impact reports, bespoke CPD-certified training courses and special celebration assemblies that recognise student success. Our entire team has teaching experience, so they understand the practical issues you face each day.
So, what are you waiting for? If you’re ready to take back your life this year, call us on +44 (0)203 328 6564 to book a free consultation or arrange a free trial.
There is a parable about two woodcutters. Determined to prove their superiority, they decided to have a competition to see who could cut the most trees down in one day. One woodcutter chopped on relentlessly, spurred on by the intermittent silence of his competitor whom he assumed was exhausted. But when the day ended, he discovered to his horror that his competitor had felled twice as many trees! His competitor had triumphed, simply because every-so-often he had taken time to sharpen his axe.
It can be difficult to find learning strategies and resources that both tackle of budgetary concerns and teacher workload effectively. In 2018/19, we plan on helping you double your pupils’ rate of learning, while not charging a penny. Our team of educators and scientists know that our new platform works, and we want to bring it to your school this academic year.