Here is a short, edited version (without all the erms!) of my TENC18 session.
I was somewhat misleading with the title; my recent maternity leave taught me only a proportion of the strategies outlined here. Being a single parent whilst I completed my teacher training course taught me how easy it was to flounder under the demands of teaching. Struggling to work within constraints of a school system taught me the importance of taking control of my own workload. But beyond all else, the desire to do what is essential within my working day, and what is enjoyable outside of it was my main motivator- as I am sure it is with every teacher across the country. You can adore this job, but it WILL consume you if you let it; boundaries are essential to our survival.
We all know the teacher that works the longest at school- that looks the busiest, that has lunch the least, that leaves last. It is all too often that those individuals are praised for their commitment and drive. How alien, that we should celebrate and not support those working above and beyond any measure that they could be expected to sustain? Why do we not celebrate the people that work hard not to allow it to spill into the weekend? That rather than mock those that are leaving on time and not skipping to the car park with books, we work towards that as the norm for all teachers?
Wellbeing is more than regular sleep and eating properly. It’s taking measures, evidenced based steps towards teaching in a more streamlined way that doesn’t drain you as a resource, but also that makes your teaching more effective and reaps rewards in the long term. Sadly, ‘more effective’ or ‘lessening workload’ are often associated with corner-cutting and ‘easy lessons,’ but I stand by the conviction that there are a series of steps that you can take to challenge an unreasonable workload, whilst actually teaching in an efficient, succinct way.
1 There is a right way- for you
Ensure that your methods are embedded and implemented as a result of research. Focus your energy on strategies that are steeped in evidence of their success and discard those that are not- be ruthless. Being well read in education is a time sponsor- here is a lot of noise out there but by taking away practical ideas that are based upon theoretical approach and not simply ‘because this is the way it’s always been done,’ not only will it improve your teaching, it helps form comprehensive debate against crap like VAK and drawing yourself on the learning tree at INSET. True story.
TOP TIP: Teacher Tapp folk saved me heaps of time by providing me with a short, concise blog that provided the highlights of some incredibly extensive research.
2. Embrace the Gimmicks
We learn the alphabet song and the colours of the rainbow, only to sneer at rite learning and adopting a formulaic approach. Although PEE and AFOREST belong in a skip, using What How Why and narrative Story Circle structure have been invaluable to act as springboards for students. A formula that acts as a starting point rather than a confine aids all students, informing further analysis or sophisticated cyclical narratives that are still capable of creativity and individual craft.
3. Lighten the Cognitive Load
Yours and theirs. Focusing on learning environments alone, strip your wall space and provide students with only the essentials- @jamestheo’s Literature Through The Ages timeline, essential terminology and a What How Why framework will be my choices this year. This allows me to return to my displays for reference during my teaching, make explicitly obvious to students the connection between the units that they learn and expand their analytical vocabulary.
4. Reading is Magic
If we don’t preach that as English teachers, we are simply doing our students a disservice. It’s easy to be deceived by our own childhoods or family environments as atypical for reading groups habits, but books in homes are not indicated by affluence; I work in a demographic that lends itself to affluence and yet I teach a great deal of non readers. Remove homework and replace it with reading and spelling. @TLPMsF has written an extensive blog about the journey her department took to implement reading logs as homework, and we have adopted this approach in the last year. It outlines the importance of reading above all else to students and eradicates all those homework menus (guilty!) that we slaved over for so long.
To bring this into the classroom, more and more, I find myself compiling an entire lesson with just the text, a visualiser to model our thinking and discussion. The magic lies not with dressing up or disguising literature as ‘fun,’ but exposing the intricacy of a text as something quite enchanting. Y7 were blown away by the psychological profile of Captain Hook, his callous and ruthless behaviour driven by fear and insecurity.
My own personal focus this year regarding reading is to incorporate etymology within my teaching; @jachwartz’s word of the week resource is inspirational and I’m keen to share the bewitching nature of words with students.
5. Knowledge is the Fun
This brings me aptly to inclusion of knowledge as a tool to reduce workload. By leading our teaching with knowledge, we reap the rewards in years to come with students. Using five a day starters to encourage retrieval practice, providing knowledge organisers for the testing of the this knowledge but providing students with additional outlets for their curiosity of a unit. @evenbetterif’s cover sheets idea curated a couple of years ago is a great way to provide students with additional reading or resources; I’ve included my KS3 examples in my presentation but this is something that I want to explore further in the forthcoming academic year. The benefits of teaching knowledge are phenomenal: the standard of work evidenced speaks for itself and it really is a strategy that will pay back in spades (retro idiom for free there, you’re welcome).
6. Dump Perseverance: Cherish Memory
As David Didau said in a recent Q&A, co-hosted with Nick Rose for their new book, ‘What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology,’ ‘Angela Duckworth simply proved that some people succeeded if they spent a long time doing something.’ We, and students don’t have the luxury of time, so what can we rely on instead? Memory. Explicitly teaching students the value of memory supports and aids retrieval practice, interleaving and encourages memory exercise outside of your subject, leading to a more secure chance of success.
Share successes of memory with students; highlight those students that are taking time to revise for self quizzing. I used to set spelling tests for the term in advance, providing students with words to revise for the entire term and giving dates foreach word group. I once had a student with dyslexia win for the entire year group and the whole of Y8 were blown away. How did he do it? His mum tested him four times a week without fail. He looked at the words himself every night, using look/cover/write/check. Students were astounded at just how simple success was – and how memory could work for them.
TOP TIP: The Learning Scientists Podcasts are a great time saving way to get to grips with six key strategies of effective learning using memory. Short and backed with a fantastic website.
7. Most important? Maybe . Time is your most precious tool.
There’s barely any of the stuff. Therefore, you need a way of working with less of it. For students, whole class feedback and marginal gains in the classroom slashes minutes and buys back time. I’m lucky enough to work in a school that has embraced a whole school policy for whole class feedback, but if that isn’t the case where you are, make it a talking point- Ofsted support it, it is more effective than paragraphs of feedback and it has a huge impact on workload- and ultimately, your ability to spend time in a more valuable way. In the classroom, having a five a day up, having books handed out by eight students rather than two, planned questions around texts (Reading Reconsidered is brilliant for this) are vital to making sure my time is spent teaching.
To value your own time, find a way that works for you and stick to it. To work full circle, boundaries are essential for your survival. I don’t take books home, I don’t do the essential work at home (resources are like a hobby!) and I don’t keep hefty to do lists. This doesn’t work for everyone, but stick to whatever system you have created so that work doesn’t encroach on the time that you have to invest in yourself beyond teaching. Similarly, surround yourself with people that are doing this really well: as a profession, collaboration is what will save us. Find out how they do it, magpie, share and repay the wealth. It will feel fantastic but you never know, you may also change the reputation of streamlined teaching as ingenious, rather than simply taking a shortcut.
Thanks to #mtptproject for the amazing accreditation process I have undertaken this year with them- endorsed to the point that I now have the role of East Midlands Representative! Thanks also to #TeamEnglish for helping me to shift the way I approach teaching and last but not least, huge thanks to old friend @martynreah and the #teacher5aday support that has helped me to revisit and explore the issue of workload over and over in the last few years.
Presentation is here: