With research showing that teachers spend more than half their time on admin, we’ve rounded up some of the most effective productivity tools and techniques to stay on top of email, planning and collaborating.
Teachers in English schools won’t be surprised by a recent report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) which shows that teachers work around 50 hours per week in term time, longer than police officers and nurses – even when school holidays are factored in.
What might surprise many is the finding that teachers who work longer hours are more likely to stay in the profession. It backs research by Sam Sims at FFT Education Datalab who found that the key factor in quitting is not the long hours but the feeling that workload is undo-able.
How many of those long hours is teaching time and how many admin? According to a recent DfE letter to school leaders, “more than half” of teachers’ time is spent on non-teaching tasks, including planning, marking and admin, and this kind of workload is one of the most common reasons for teachers leaving the profession.
The circular coincides with the publication of a report from the Workload Advisory Group – led by education expert, Professor Becky Allen. In a recent podcast she highlighted that it’s the perception of work burden that is key and teachers don’t tend to feel burnt out if the things they are doing don’t feel like a hindrance and if they have the support to do it.
Teacher Tapp, which we’ve highlighted in a previous blog post, offers some clues to the nature of the workload. Teacher Tapp collects data on the work practices and experiences of UK teachers via three questions each afternoon. Email, email and more email (taking up almost a whole teaching day each week), planning lessons and marking (partly as a result of prescriptive marking policies) are top bugbears.
There must be a better way…
So, what tools and approaches could help teachers?
Email is not going to go away any time soon so, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or simply want to cut down on the time you spend in your inbox, these tips from Doug Belshaw are a good place to start to make it all feel more manageable:
- Turn off notifications. In 90% of all cases we don’t need to know immediately that there is a new message. Segmenting our email checking time into two, four, or eight times a day has massive benefits.
- Prepare, but don’t send emails on Sunday evening. Simply assess what your Monday game plan will be.
- Be concise – write shorter emails. What is the one main thing you want to communicate? Say it concisely. The shorter your emails, the shorter their response tends to be. It saves everyone time.
- Communicate facts by email and emotion – whether good news and criticism – in person.
- Be positive and friendly.
- Treat emails as if they’re postcards and assume anyone might read them.
If you’re looking for something more radical – possibly even life-changing – we’re huge fans of David Allen and his Getting Things Done (GTD) system. Put simply, with email, if it’s going to take less than two minutes to answer, just answer it. It’s quicker in the long run than reading, closing, reopening, reading again and then answering it. With those that remain, there will be (1) those that require more than two minutes to deal with and (2) those that represent something you’re waiting on from others. A simple and quick way to get control is to create a “Waiting For” label and an “Action” label – and review regularly. There’s much more to GTD than that – read this article by a fellow believer to get started.
Alternatives to email:
For internal messaging, the giant chat room that is Slack, the ‘email killer’, can be a good alternative. It’s starting to be used by a lot of schools and has both a free and a paid-for version (with big discounts for education). Point three of this excellent blog post details how a school uses Slack effectively. For text messaging to teachers and consent forms, services like ParentMail and Teachers2Parents exist.
At London CLC we’ve found working on collaborative docs in Google suite saves us huge amounts of time and, for teachers, having a cloud based system such as Google Suite or Office 365 is a game changer. Teachers have told us about how many hours they’ve saved since student reports were put onto a cloud-based system like Google suite – suddenly you don’t have to wait for colleagues to complete their section and pass the report on. Likewise for collaborative planning – Google docs or Office 365 makes working on the same document easy from anywhere.
Google Classroom lets you organise your classwork and hand-ins of work. When you collect pupil work it is automatically organised into a Google Drive folder. If you set a single document template worksheet for pupils to complete it will make a copy for every pupil and again organise it into folders on Google Drive.
Collecting and curating info
To do lists to get things done
If you must have meetings, at least make sure that sorting out dates and times that suit all the participants doesn’t add to the workload. Doodle polls make scheduling quick and easy.
Try Quizlet, where teachers share their question sets. It’s easy to search for specific topics, such as a year 6 spelling revision question set, and read through them or make a copy and amend for your class. Nearpod also has lesson content. Much of it is for the US curriculum but, again, it can be adapted for UK use.
Committed but overworked teachers might want to analyse personal habits as well as school systems. This US blog post has some tips for using routines and online tools to help manage the heavy working day.
Don’t forget to take control of your phone!
Finally, close down your day
Got a time-saving tool or app to recommend? Please share it in the comments!
Sign up to our weekly newsletter to get edtech news and views, free resources and reviews direct to your inbox every Thursday lunchtime – including a weekly ‘give it a try’ app or tool recommendation.