Taking charge of your time | Education Support Partnership

Taking charge of your time

How long do you spend on school work outside of directed time? Too much?

With yet another report (TUC, 2019) demonstrating how much unpaid overtime the teaching profession puts in, it’s time we take a stand and find ways to reduce the workload for ourselves.

Whilst the 2019 TUC annual analysis on overtime shows that teachers worked on average 12.1 additional hours a week in 2018, this has seen a slight decrease since 2014 when the average was 12.9 hours.

It’s never going to be an easy task however, but by working together with your colleagues and school leaders it is possible. Here are my top tips for reclaiming your personal time one step at a time.

Know your limits

Set yourself clear boundaries for when you will work and how long you will spend on tasks. It’s so easy to get carried away, I often do it when planning lessons. I’ll find something interesting that will lead me down a rabbit hole and before I know it I’ve spent several hours planning a single lesson. Be strict with yourself. Set your working hours and stick to it. Put yourself and your family first. What doesn’t get done in the time available will simply have to move over to the next day or session for doing school work.

Plan your time

Being organised doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but if you can master it (or at least attempt to) it does make all the difference particularly when it comes to managing the stress of the everyday juggles.

I like to think of time in terms of fixed and fluid, influenced by Alex Quigley’s discussion on time management in ‘The Confident Teacher’. Fixed time is the time outside of your control, your directed time essentially, whilst fluid time is the rest of the day, the time you have control over. I know what I have to do in the fixed time but have choice over what I do and when in my fluid time. Organising my workload in order of importance and deadlines through the use of the Eisenhower Matrix helps with this; this allows me to consider how soon I do tasks, whether delegation is suitable or whether I should just forget about the task until I can fit it in. I often find that several tasks on my list are things I want to do but don’t have to do. When I realise this, the pressure to do them eases and I just wait until I have some time, or better still I don’t do them at all.

Take breaks

Additionally, when it comes to planning your time ensure you take your breaks; they are vital for your body. Plan time into the working day and give yourself an opportunity to step away. For instance, I don’t allow students to see me at break or lunchtime without prior arrangement unless it is a safeguarding, health or welfare concern. If students wish to see me, they book a meeting slot by popping their name on the sheet that I keep on the back of my classroom door. The first 20 minutes of lunch belong to me, I will then happily spend the remainder of lunchtime with students but only if they have pre-booked. It means I have time to pop to the loo, eat slowly and relax before the next part of the school day.

Simplify things

Simplifying my teaching, my marking and planning has worked wonders for my workload. If I’m honest I think I used to over-plan lessons in my first few years, I’d try to fit too much in and make them as exciting and engaging as possible. At times I’d find myself differentiating the lesson so much that I’d end up teaching 3 or 4 lessons within one lesson. Now I simply scaffold up unless students have very specific needs that need catering for; I plan what I want my learners to take away from the lesson, the skills and content and then plan backwards to get them there. ‘Outstanding Teaching: Teaching Backwards by Andy Griffith and Mark Burns I found particularly influential in developing this strand of my teaching.

Additionally, each lesson embeds feedback throughout, I receive feedback from the students through assessment for learning and they receive feedback from me from modelling, ‘live marking’ and discussions. I use what I gain from this to feedforward into the next lesson meaning I don’t need to mark or review their books quite as frequently as I used to. You can see an example of how I embed feedback into my lessons here.

Another thing I have found useful in helping me to simplify my lessons has been to create a template bank of go-to resources that can easily be amended to suit the task or topic. With a template I can then amend the complexity of the task each time to scaffold and challenge, developing my learners' independence over time.

Share solutions

When you find something that works, that reduces your workload, ensure you share it. Start small, perhaps share it with a colleague or your department, see how they find it. What works for you might not work for others, so take time to discuss and review; consider changes that might improve it.

Once refined, if it works for you and others, consider sharing the idea, strategy or approach with your school leadership. It’s not always easy for school leaders to come up with the ideas themselves, often they are out of the classroom more than the average teacher and therefore may not experience the same stresses and pressures as the rest of their colleagues, offering them ideas can help bring about whole school change.

Time for you

Finally, and most importantly, plan time for you. Take time in the week to spend with family and friends, organise your weekends in advance to stop you doing the ‘oh I’ll just get this done’ routine. Putting yourself before work is not wrong, as the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to spend time refuelling and looking after you, if you are to look after and provide the best education for your students.

To read more on Victoria’s experiences and advice on tackling workload visit her blog, MrsHumanities.com, follow her on twitter (@MrsHumanities) and check out her book ‘Making it as  Teacher’ due for publication in June 2019. Pre-order available here.