Adrienne Hornby coaching an executive school teacher

Effective Strategies for Addressing Increased Teacher Workloads

Evidence suggests that school leaders and teachers are spending more time on administrative tasks than ever before. With little to no extra time to spare, the increased workload puts droves of school staff at risk of burnout. 

Furthermore, the mounting responsibilities of teaching not only affect those currently working in schools it also impacts the attractiveness of the profession to those outside it. 

This is also reflected in my own school wellbeing survey data, which identifies workload and administrative tasks as leading causes of stress across most schools who have surveyed their staff. In addition, staff shortages stemming from the pandemic continue to impact stress levels as classes are split or canceled, putting teachers further behind in curriculum delivery and assessment. 

This article will cover

  • What affects teacher workload
  • Six ways to address our school workload problem
  • Possible solutions to common workload challenges

What affects teacher workload

A workload survey conducted by Satchel (4) identified five main areas affecting teacher workload: 

  • Communication
  • Curriculum planning 
  • Marking, feedback and assessment
  • Data management and collection
  • Student behaviour 

In my work consulting with schools, I am seeing: 

  • Teachers with impacted health and wellbeing struggle to manage their workload
  • A lack of time management skills. Many lack the skills to manage their time and prioritise tasks effectively. 
  • Instructional leadership, expectations, and assessments put added pressure on staff
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more staff shortages and impacted staff wellbeing 

Studies reveal that teachers are more likely to leave the profession when they have concerns over their workload. (3)

Addressing the issues of staff wellbeing is a joint responsibility. It’s up to the leaders to adapt school practices (especially during the pandemic). While teachers should adjust their practice, improve time management, seek support, apply boundaries and provide respectful feedback to the school when their workload is unmanageable.

6 ways to address our school workload problems 

1. Build a healthy workplace culture

A healthy workplace culture protects and promotes the importance of maintaining good physical and mental health. It challenges the stigma associated with mental health challenges such as burnout, anxiety and depression and provides a space for staff to be vulnerable and lean on each other for support. 

A healthy workplace culture breeds respect, trust and loyalty between teams and their leaders and builds a momentum that positively impacts the whole school. 

School leaders have the ability (and responsibility) to positively influence and transform their school’s culture. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure they’re implementing policies and practices that safeguard teachers’ psychological and physical wellbeing. 

As a leader, consider the behaviours that you encourage and discourage at your school. Are they conducive to staff wellbeing? 

2. Set a good example as leaders 

Promoting and encouraging a healthy work-life balance is only the first step. Modelling the behaviours you want your staff to engage in can help build a healthier workplace culture.

Staff look to their leaders for guidance on how to act. So, if they see leaders working through breaks, staying late and never taking a day off, they may feel they need to do the same or fear repercussions. 

Modelling desirable behaviours can look like admitting when you’re stressed, showing vulnerability in front of your team, having conversations about non-work-related matters in the staff room, or setting boundaries. 

These small actions can help foster an environment where people feel safe bringing their whole selves to work, effectively increasing their overall wellbeing. 

3. Ask staff where the workload challenges lie

One of the best ways to find out where staff challenges stem from is to ask them. By giving them a chance to voice their opinions and provide feedback, leaders can gain valuable insights into what the problems are. 

This process involves a joint responsibility between leaders and staff. Leaders find the problems and address them in ways they can, while staff contribute by providing respectful feedback. 

If you’ve determined that workload could be a problem at your school, survey your staff to determine where the work challenges lie. See this example here.

Most common workload challenges are often linked to: communication, planning, assessment and marking, student management and data tracking.

After you’ve surveyed staff, review the results, identify the problems and share your findings with staff. Consider having structured conversations with staff in order to identify any solutions moving forward.

4. Up-skill staff in time management skills

Many professionals lack skills in time management, and it’s largely their responsibility to develop this skill. Providing professional learning opportunities to staff so that they can learn how to prioritise and schedule key tasks to manage their workload gives them a greater sense of control. 

Some ideas for managing individual workload include:

  • Staggering assessment tasks to reduce surges in assessment marking
  • Developing a better understanding of the priority of work tasks. Learn to prioritise daily and weekly tasks and recognise that planning helps us be proactive. (5)
  • Honouring the boundaries set by the school or system (i.e., mandated and legislated breaks and finishing times)
  • Utilising non-teaching hours and stand down periods to complete work
  • Balancing work activities with family, social life, and hobbies

5. Narrow your focuses

Many schools are making the mistake of trying to carry on with business as usual post-pandemic. This practice is only causing more stress and feelings of overwhelm for staff, especially when staff shortages are at an all-time high.

That’s why it’s critical to scale back instead of trying to do everything all at once. 

  • Find your priorities and focus on those. Remember, staff do not have the cognitive capacity to take on too much during times of stress and anxiety (like the pandemic).
  • Review the schools’ strategic priorities and map out tasks for completion visually. Seeing how much work is planned during each term visually can help to highlight too many conflicting tasks.
  • Narrow the school’s focus on professional learning and meeting times. Focus the school’s efforts on key areas of priority only (often this is planning, collaboration and moderation)
  • Reconsider new initiatives or data collection that adds extra/unnecessary workload or mental load for staff
  • Communicate the schools priorities clearly to staff – make it visual!

6. Address the problem 

Once you know where the challenges lie, apply workload-reducing strategies that get to the core of the problem. How school leaders administer and how teachers organise and interpret the different components of their roles affects the time teachers have for teaching.

The most common workload related challenges are often linked to:

  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Assessment and marking
  • Data tracking
  • Student behaviour

While schools and teachers have a great deal of flexibility in how they organise for teaching and learning, they rarely review the efficiency and effectiveness of their own practices to identify whether some of their administrative time can be streamlined and modified. (3)

Once you have identified where your schools core workload challenges lie it is up to you and your staff to jointly decide on the best strategies to address any issues that continue. Read on to learn about a number of solutions to address and reduce workload across these key areas.

Some Possible Solutions for Common Workload Challenges 

Create boundaries with communication 

Schools rely on many channels of communication to keep teachers, parents, and students up to date on the information they need. However, it can be easy to overuse or overcomplicate internal and external communication. (4)

  • Safeguard teacher’s time: Send key school updates during working hours and avoid sending information on evenings or weekends. Doing this helps teachers understand they don’t need to be ‘on’ 24/7.
  • Consider why you are communicating: Review if the emails and memos you’re distributing are making a difference. If they’re not, consider condensing information and finding alternate systems to communicate instead.  
  • Streamline staff meetings: Consider reducing the length and frequency of meetings. It’s good practice to have clear start and end times on the agenda, so everyone knows what to expect. Finally, keep meeting minutes on a universal drive for staff to access.    
  • Consider the use of email.  Set boundaries around using email outside of working hours (while still being mindful of urgent needs.) Use functions such as out-of-office messages or delayed delivery.  
  • Review your approach to written reports. Assess the time and impact of current practice. Explore alternatives to written reports like tick boxes and one-liners, i.e., during peak times where staff stress is high due to short staffing. (1)

Improve Planning Practices 

Planning takes up a significant amount of teacher time. Streamlining the planning process can significantly reduce teacher workload.

  • Evaluate curriculum plans: Consider if your existing plans are correlated to student progress and attainment, are fully resourced with sequenced lesson planning and high-quality curriculum materials and planned over well-defined blocks of time. 
  • Facilitate collaborative planning:  Allot time for teachers to plan lessons together and encourage a creative and time-saving learning environment for teachers.
  • Review your current planning efficiency as a whole school: Review how staff are planning and if there are more efficient ways to do so. For example, where staff share the load, work to their strengths, and collaborate using their expertise. 
  • Regularly assess lesson plan protocol: School senior leadership often places pressure on teachers to complete lesson plans to measure performance. Reassess whether lesson plans are necessary for compliance purposes.
  • Choose high-quality resources with planned lessons/activities: Allot time and resources to research high-quality commercial, educational resources such as textbooks and digital resources. Then, assess whether they meet all or most of the curriculum needs. Agree on the most trusted sources as a school. 
  • Provide space for staff to plan collaboratively and share: Consider creating an online discussion group or shared drive to share high-quality resources with staff.

Streamline Assessment Practices 

Marking student work, providing feedback and assessment is key to their success, but teachers often note this as one of the biggest contributors to their workload. 

  • Review your school’s assessment schedule: Unpack each term/semester’s planned assessment pieces with all staff and ask for feedback. Can any be removed, eliminated, or simplified?
  • Evaluate the time spent on marking: Discuss whether this is proportionate to the time available. Are there simpler ways to mark work?
  • Explore quicker marking techniques: Explore feedback codes, verbal feedback, and tick-a-box systems. 
  • Use low stakes and self-marking tools: For example, Kahoot, Quizlet, Google Forms, and Diagnostic Questions can save teachers time. Prepared questions can be saved and shared, allowing teachers to re-use or adapt the content rather than create something from scratch. (1)
  • Self and peer assessment: This model saves teachers time and helps students develop critical thinking skills to better reflect on their work and their peers’. 
  • Verbal feedback in lessons: Not all feedback needs to be written down. Verbal feedback in lessons can make it come off as more “human” and personable.

Review Data Tracking

As student behaviour consumes more of our time, student data tracking is helpful but must be considered in the additional workload for staff. It’s common for tracked data to be duplicative and unnecessary, and at times has proven that it adds little or no value to students’ success outcomes. 

In an age where staff are hanging on by a thread, data that is not informing reporting can seem unnecessary and cause more stress. Reconsider the need to collect and review data when staff are burnt out, short-staffed, or lacking time to plan and collaborate. 

  • Plan and review your data collection strategy: Review the purpose of each data and determine an efficient collection process that ensures data is valid and reliable.
  • Map out data collection timetable: Consider the best times during the year to collect and review data and avoid doing so during high-stress times such as assessment and reporting periods. 
  • Develop staff confidence and ability to manage data to inform interventions.  Train staff on relevant data collection and monitoring systems and offer support to inexperienced staff. 

Manage Student Behaviour

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is managing student behaviour. Not only does it require skill, patience, and experience, but the implications of not managing behaviour can be detrimental. In fact, over a quarter of teachers’ mental health issues were provoked by student behaviour, and 70% of teachers have considered leaving the profession as a result. (4)

  • Review and, where appropriate, streamline behaviour policy and practices 
  • Explore online praise management systems to help you reinforce positive behaviour and prevent negative incidents. For example, promoting merits, badges, and house points helps create a positive school culture.
  • Demonstrate consistent behaviour management practices throughout the school. Communicate these effectively to all staff, students, and parents. 
  • Consider whether a central point in the school could be responsible for out-of-class behaviour management or tracking and understanding behaviour data. This can allow patterns to be spotted and reduce the burden on teachers. 
  • Review or implement simple systems to log behaviour incidents, detentions, and other pastoral information during the normal working day. Use appropriate technology to support straightforward data entry and reporting behaviour incidents. 
  • Consider the amount of text that is necessary when recording behaviour incidents. 
  • Manage parent and carer expectations about the level of detail to expect when reporting behaviour incidents.
Download the PDF Guide to Address Workload at Your School

Conclusion

As workload continues to be a major cause of pressure and stress for teachers, we must find ways to work leaner and meaner. This is achieved through a holistic approach that identifies the underlying causes of teacher stress and then works to address those challenges strategically. While it may be near impossible for some schools to reduce the workload teachers face, there are many ways to improve or streamline it. 

If you’re looking for a straightforward approach to addressing your school staff’s wellbeing challenges, I invite you to explore my School Wellbeing Consulting Bundles. These bundles include an Anonymous Staff Wellbeing Survey followed by workshops and coaching sessions to help support you in addressing the priority areas of need that emerged in your school survey. 

Resources

  1. Ways to reduce your workload in school
  2. Reducing Workload on Your School: 10 Strategies for Teachers
  3. AITSL: Shifting the balance: Increasing the focus on teaching and learning by reducing the burden of compliance and administration
  4. The complete guide to reducing teacher workload
  5. Nous Group: Better workload management can help schools focus on what matters

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