Quick Wins to Reduce Teacher Workload

This is a write up of the presentation I did at last night’s #TMBpool18, with a few things that individual teachers can do in order to help manage their own workload.

There are two aspects of managing teacher workload: systemic and individual changes. Systemic changes are the ideal – changes in policy and procedure that minimise the administrative and data-driven tasks that add nothing to teaching and learning, but which act as accountability measures both internally and externally in schools. If you’re doing 6 data drops a year, what’s happening with that data? Who are you compiling it for? How is it adding to the progress that your students are making?

Individual changes are those little things that we can all do to help make the workload that we have that little bit more manageable. The suggestions below are not silver bullets, nor are they intended to work for every teacher in every school. They are a few things that work for me and some of my colleagues, and which might help someone else.

Tip number 1 – plan it.

I’ve been a long time fan of Planboard. I’ve written about it before, although there’s been a few updates to it since then. In essence, Planboard is a free online teacher planner. A few of the reasons that Planboard is the platform I’ve stuck with over the years:

  • It’s on all platforms – web, iOS and Android.
  • No more lugging both a teacher planner and calendar around!
  • It’s ridiculously easy to set up and change your timetable and using it is self-explanatory.
  • Quick and easy updating (and no messy scribbles when plans change).
  • The ability to upload documents to your lessons for quick and easy access.
  • The ability to move, copy, share and print lessons. Things change in schools, and it’s really easy to copy content and share it with other staff if you plan collaboratively.
  • You can add reminders and notes.

There’s a range of other tools available once you’re registered – it’s definitely worth looking into.

Tip number 2 – print it.

I’ll take a moment here to address one particular issue involving my enthusiasm for my label printer – I should not be spending my own money on something to help with marking and reduce my workload. But you know what? I did, and it was one of the best things I’ve bought. Besides, my labelling knows no bounds – you should see what I did to my kitchen cupboards… Full disclosure, a brilliant member of #TeamEnglish first brought this idea to my attention a few years ago, and I thank them on a regular basis.

Whilst clearly other brands are available, and indeed newer models, my Brother QL-500 has been a brilliant addition to my marking accoutrements. It’s a thermal printer, so no ink required, and I’ve been able to source off-brand labels to keep the cost down. I bought the label printer on Amazon, but it’s currently cheaper elsewhere, and you can purchase the label rolls in a variety of places too. Buying one as a department/ key stage would be ideal, because you can keep it centrally located, and people can print off a load of personalised labels as they need them. The other benefit to that is having what amounts to a comment bank for standardising certain aspects of book work.

If you don’t want to splash out on a label printer, then you can do a similar job by using a normal printer and A4 sheets of labels. It’s easy to find or set up a template to use.

I also mentioned the coloured post-it notes that I print longer feedback onto. I don’t always do it, but let’s be honest – green pen doesn’t always show up brilliantly amongst student handwriting, so anything I can do to really highlight where the feedback is, especially if they’re action points, is going to help. I try to use the same coloured post-its as we use with our highlighter marking (details below), to keep it consistent for students. I stocked up on these in September – super cheap and easy to set up a template to print on.

Tip number 3: visualise it.

Last year I had the pleasure of road testing a fancy Vidifox visualiser. It was a brilliant piece of kit that really made a difference to the way that I was teaching, particularly as I had a GCSE English class at the time. Unfortunately I had to give it back, and they’re just priced too high to be a feasible purchase.

Enter the iPevo P2P visualiser (again, other brands available – there’s a lot in a similar price range these days). They’ve upgraded things since we bought ours, but this cheap bit of kit still makes a big difference in lessons.

Self- and peer-assessment are all well and good, but often times you still have to go back and mark that work yourself because students haven’t understood success criteria or they’ve been overly generous for whatever reason. Being able to live mark on screen – and talk through your thinking and reasoning – cuts down on misconceptions and enables students to get those assessments right more often than not.

Tip number 4: organise it.

Teacher planner. Diary. School calendar. New deadlines. Changing deadlines.

It can be hard work staying on top of not only how much work you’ve got on your plate, but managing the changes that have an impact on it as well. For me, Google is my saviour. Especially given that I have two jobs and no routine, I rely on Google Calendar to tell me where I need to be and what I’m doing each day. I use the agenda widget on my Android phone and it’s got around 17 different calendars synced together – this is definitely my bible. But it’s not just the calendar that’s important. Know that you’ve got reporting deadlines or work scrutinies? Whack it in your favourite calendar app and set a reminder a week or a few days beforehand. I might have also set up my two Google Home Minis with different Google accounts, so that one reminds me of personal bits and pieces and the other one gives my work reminders… But that’s another story!

The other Google productivity app I love is Google Keep. Reminders, notes, lists – they’re all on there. Colour coded, no less. My shopping list is on there because I remember things that I need at the stupidest times. I have multiple to-do lists, and I’m not ashamed to say that I put things on there that I know I can check off quickly, because it makes me feel like I’m on top of things and being super productive.

Tip number 5: time it.

This is a really, really difficult thing to keep in mind and stick to, but we are often our own worst enemies at remembering that teaching is a job, not a lifestyle. If you’re employed under School Teachers Pay and Conditions, then your working time is 1265 hours of directed time, over 195 days (190 school openings and 5 INSET days), plus reasonable hours to discharge your duties. If you’re not employed under this, your contract will specify working hours.

We have to learn to draw a line in the sand when it comes to working hours. If it works for you, set hours are one way to do that. When I was teaching full time, I liked to be in school by 7am and out the door by 4pm, unless I had meetings or parents evenings. I rarely worked at home, and usually only because there was a deadline I was struggling to meet and usually I was struggling to meet it because I’d procrastinated away my PPA time or I’d taken on too many additional responsibilities. I know that I’m more productive in the mornings, and I don’t have family commitments to deal with first thing, so I can get into work and get a few hours done before the day starts.

For others, it might be coming in later and staying later. We absolutely shouldn’t be spending multiple evenings and weekend days doing the basics of our jobs. If you feel like you need to, either you’re working hard and not smart, or your school’s policies and expectations need to be addressed. If you’re exhausted form working all hours week in, week out, are you really doing the best you can when you’re with your students? There’s an exception (in my mind, at least) when it comes to evening TeachMeets and Saturday CPD – these things are usually for the benefit of us, and not school improvement priorities. If you want to spend your time doing it and are under no obligation to, then have at it.

Other tips from EduTwitter and me:

I had struggled to remember (yes, despite my Google app addiction) the five main things that I’d wanted to include in my #TMBpool18 presentation after we got the Ofsted call last week and dealt with that. So I put the question out to EduTwitter, and boy, did they deliver. Check out the thread, starting with the tweet below, for a bunch of ideas that others contributed. There’s more than a few brilliant ideas in there.

The last thing I’ll mention is our highlighter marking system in my department, because I was asked about it again. For context, we’ve spent the past several years being told that pretty much everything we do in my department isn’t good enough. It’s a way of really motivating staff, I know. One thing we were told is that students can’t handle having books with separate folders for worksheets, so we had to glue them in. Ourselves.


That idea didn’t last, especially after I magpied someone’s idea from EduTwitter and hole punched the whole book and threw a few treasury tags in. Now we hole punch the worksheets and they go straight in where the students are up to.

We also mark in highlighters. Green for good, orange if there’s a few things to fix, red marker pens for incomplete or unacceptable work, and pink highlighter for subject specific spellings that need to be corrected. This is why I use the coloured post-its as I mentioned above. I still make comments, but I don’t have to spend my time writing comments about work not being complete, or to tell them to write out spellings etc – they see that colour, they know that it needs to be actioned accordingly. They might still need feedback on how to improve work (hello, printed post-its), but I spend far less time writing lengthy comments which frequently get ignored.

So that’s it – a lengthier, less rambling and nerve-wracking explanation of a few things that I do to help manage my workload. Feel free to add your own ideas or contact me on Twitter to add to the crowd sourced ideas, and good luck with keeping a lid on your working hours.

Posted in CPD

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