One of the most demanding aspects of being a teacher, but perhaps also the most rewarding, is having such a broad range of responsibilities and tasks to complete within the course of the average day.
A teacher might begin the day shepherding a few dozen students towards their classroom, trying to ensure teenagers arrive at their classes in time. Their task then transforms into that of a lecturer and facilitator, explaining a concept to a class of 25 students, and then organising them into groups of 5. This, of course, must be done while maintaining the engagement of these two dozen, information-saturated pupils. At the end of the class, a student might walk up to the teacher for a precious 5 minutes of advice on an issue they are experiencing.
The teacher must then become an assessor and complete the marking of that class’s previous week’s assignments. Of course, this is often coupled with the work of a detective who must determine the reason one of their normally diligent students is struggling with that particular homework.
All this and not half the day has gone by, and we have yet to touch on all the other parts of a teacher’s life, from lesson prep and responding to the dozens of daily emails, to uploading student data, contacting parents and the endless barrage of meetings. It is no wonder then that 1 in 4 teachers in England reported working over 60 hours per week.
Of course this is hardly news. Teacher burnout has long been a hot topic, with various policies having been set in place to reduce teacher workload. The challenge, however, is one that must be addressed at multiple levels and is at the heart of many school leaders agendas.
What can be done at the school level, to address this pandemic of teacher burnout?
As shown above, the complexity of a teacher’s task(s) requires a lot of time and mental energy. This makes some simple tasks, such as going through emails and planning one’s week, along with more complex tasks, such as improving teaching and learning, less attainable due to the increased workload required.
For this reason, a great way to keep teachers motivated is to make their tasks, especially the more mundane ones, simpler.
What does this look like? It could take the form of single daily update emails, rather than a barrage of meetings and emails. It could be a single platform providing a single central hub to perform all their administrative tasks and access important resources. Maybe make it possible for teachers to give audio feedback, as some teachers do using Firefly, saving them precious time writing when marking, and allowing them to provide more meaningful feedback to the student.
While large workloads can be reduced, there is no getting around the difficulties facing the teaching profession, especially when it comes to what matters: helping students learn. Fortunately this is not necessarily a deterrent for most teachers, who openly accept this challenge.
For those teachers who accept this undertaking, it is essential that school leaders show appreciation, especially as, more often than not, teaching can be a thankless profession. This can be as simple as verbal praise for a job well done, to more organised forms of recognition. One school instituted a “Random Acts of Kindness” program, to provide teachers with small, yet meaningful gifts as a “thank you”, such as small vouchers or gift baskets, or even a coffee.
It can also take the form of formal recognition for teachers who go above and beyond the call of service. Mentioning a teacher’s accomplishments in department or staff meetings can go a long way to motivate them to push themselves even further. Technology can also play a role in facilitating this; using platforms like Firefly, leaders can track the learning experiences of their students, giving them ample opportunity to point out laudable actions or support overwhelmed teachers.
There are several things packed into this phrase. First is the term “professional”. Teaching is a complex and technical profession, and teachers must go through extensive training and certification to be in the position they’re in now. For this reason, it is critical to treat them as the professionals they are.
The second is “growth” which goes hand in hand with professionalism. More often than not, teachers are very aware of their own successes and shortcomings and know exactly what needs to be in place in order to help them succeed. Taking a moment to listen and address their needs can go a long way. More formally, some schools put the teacher’s professional development in their own hands, letting them decide their own needs and ways of addressing it themselves.
Following our previous principle of simplicity and ease of use, many schools use tools such as Firefly to make professional development resources easily accessible. Separate sections in the platform can be created just for teacher PD, allowing them to share tips and resources amongst themselves. This creates an environment that encourages co-development and learning, rather than top-down criticism.
Teacher wellbeing is at the centre of Firefly’s priorities. We adopt many of these principles ourselves, making sure to respond to teachers’ needs in a timely manner, and aim to provide a seamless and simple experience for teachers, reducing their workload and allowing them to focus on what matters, teaching. If you want to see how Firefly can help reduce your teachers’ workloads, register for a free consultation.