Eliminate Muda in your school

George Stokes

George is an experienced school leader and co-founder of Springpad. As a frequent reader about all things education, he enjoys sharing ideas through various events and publications. George is driven to find innovative solutions to improve learning in schools.

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Teaching is one of the most noble, rewarding and gratifying professions you can choose, with an impact on our society that is immeasurable in its reach; however all of this has come with some small print in recent years.

Too many teachers, and school leaders, are working too long hours – and too often on tasks that are not helping children to learn.

The Japanese have a word for this called ‘muda’, meaning futility; uselessness or wastefulness, which is a key concept in lean process thinking, like the Toyota Production System (TPS).

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The volume of bureaucratic tasks can vary greatly depending on where you are in the world and what type of school you teach in, but the general theme usually remains the same.

One possible reason for certain schools drowning teachers in endless paperwork could be the accountability system. Principals are often under enormous pressure. Inspections can be very high stakes for school leaders, which can cause some leaders to set off on a mission to ‘evidence’ all of the learning that’s been taking place. Ironically, this then makes it more difficult for teachers to actually impact learning.

Clearly, this process is ridiculous and begs the question: Is all of this really necessary?

We need to confront the fact that there are practices that have developed and spread based on beliefs about what governing bodies want to see happening in schools. These simply don’t help to improve outcomes for children, but do make life more difficult for teachers. A few examples include:

  • Long winded ‘Marking Policies’ stating how teachers should mark and in which colour.
  • Entering data repeatedly into various forms, which rarely see the light of day about who is making progress and who is not.
  • Providing the senior leadership team with extensive lesson plans every week.

Yet, In the UK, the message from OFSTED in March 2018 was clear: you have our backing to stop doing those things that add to workload but don’t actually help children to do better.

So why are some schools still doing it? Do the school leaders at these schools believe that is the best way to improve teaching and learning? Are inspectors still asking for these things, despite instructions not to? It’s more likely that old habits die hard.

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Gradually, school leaders are increasingly rejecting these practices and developing more effective strategies, by using technology to speed-up and simplify many of the tasks that teachers undertake.

One of Springpad’s goals is to support schools to use our technology to reduce the workload burden, while supporting teachers to deliver great lessons. Our mobile application makes lesson planning much quicker. Sharing resources with your students is seamless; and providing feedback has never been easier.

The days of lugging piles of exercise books home and spending all night marking can be a thing of the past. Our app makes it possible for teachers to quickly give feedback on their phone, meaning feedback takes seconds rather than minutes.

Managing communication with the parents of students in the class can be like a full time job in itself sometimes. Springpad enables teachers to make announcements to all of the parents in one go via the app.

The class wall feature allows parents to feel like they are part of the classes learning without having to constantly ask the teacher for updates personally. The virtual exercise books provide parents with up-to-date insights into their own child’s work throughout the year, which means there is less need for teachers to arrange parent meetings or produce time-consuming reports.

As educators, we have the opportunity to do something materially different here: to change the culture in schools and to reduce workload for the long-term. Ultimately, education is all about people. It’s time we start looking after our peers, and ourselves. By eliminating the meaningless tasks and finding smarter ways to impact learning, we can save ourselves time, reduce stress, and ultimately gain happier, healthier and more effective teachers.

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