On the first inset day of last September, I made it clear that the workload and wellbeing of staff was going to be one of my key priorities for the year.
It would be ridiculous if I didn’t say that! If the staff don’t feel valued and happy, then the school quite simply wouldn’t function at the level of quality that is needed to drive forward student care and learning. I love them all deeply of course but am also aware that the 2 W’s are important buzz words currently and that most schools will have possibly read the latest DFE guidance and be anxious to prove that they have been pro-active in the areas of marking, data and workload. Have I managed to do enough so far, have I gone beyond sound-bites and managed to make significant changes which have impacted on staff and began to filter through to more effective learning for our students? I’m not sure but I will share what I have been trying so that my own colleagues can respond and colleagues from other schools can borrow ideas or come back to make with their own better ones-please!
During the autumn term one of our blogs explained how I had interviewed all of the support staff and how we were trying to better support the teacher appraisal process and link it to our PD cycle.
Which aspects of your role during the last 12 months do you feel you have been most successful with and should be celebrated and valued?-give me some examples
Please provide some examples of how you have supported any colleagues over the last year when they have needed support/advice/perhaps just someone to listen? Are there any times when a colleagues has really helped you when you needed it most?
What are the key skills that you need for your role?
How could we help you to become more effective in your role-this might be to up-skill you, change systems, anything else?
Are you as happy and motivated with your role here as you want to be? Are there any barriers to happiness/health that you want to share/need help removing?
Have you got any secret aspirations or career moves you would like us to support you with or discuss?
What do you think has been your biggest impact on student learning/development over the last year?
Looking at wider issues, perhaps in your own area or across the whole school, what can the leadership team do to improve any areas of weakness/lack of organisation etc. that you perceive-please offer some practical solutions for me to raise at the appropriate forums.
I followed this in January with interviews for all of our Teaching Assistants, so had managed to talk to at least 45 people who haven’t always been asked their opinions about work, their own professional development and wider school issues.
What aspect of your role have you most enjoyed or feel has been the most rewarding over the last year? Can you explain why?
What do you feel has been the biggest impact you have had on one of your student’s learning? What did you do specifically do you think to make this happen?
You probably work with lots of different teachers-which methods of communication with the teachers actually helps you the most to be most effective in your role? What would you suggest could make communication better-any practical solutions?
Are there any barriers that are preventing you being as effective with your support as you might be? Please have some suggestions and solutions ready!
Are you happy with your role and work here. If you aren’t what can you or we do to change how you feel?
How would you like to see your career develop over the next couple of years? How can we help your professional development?
Are there any aspects of school life/structure that you feel we might consider changing? What would be so positive about your suggestion and what impact on learning would it have do you think?
Anything else you are desperate to tell me and ask about?
I was able to respond to some concerns raised quickly on a personal level-sort out extra hours claims, pay for extra PPA time, re-assure those who were worried about personal issues etc. and tackled some bigger whole school concerns such as bringing back an inset day with time in lieu for our TAs plus early finish PD 3 times in the summer term. Some issues raised will take longer to deal with and some ideas will help me to plan a far more effective administration and office team. I know that some were worried about coming to see me and others wanted to say things that should have been said some time ago. School leaders should give every opportunity possible to be transparent, seek opinions and encourage discussion and to listen and respond. Conversely, colleagues do need to come and raise concerns and not wait until they are difficult to deal with or we have moved on and an opportunity has been missed. I know that I have to model all of the qualities of a saint and create the open and honest environment that makes the conversations that I’m seeking possible. I do hope that this has become possible-if it hasn’t say something!
The teaching staff are used to having meetings where their opinions are sought on big educational issues but they haven’t before been opened up to invite other staff members and governors. When some of these issues may well impact on the whole future of our school that is madness! Three meetings were held with our senior team and governors and the whole staff were invited to attend if they wished to. We looked at Ofsted and governorship, pupil premium, raising our school admission numbers, acadamisation and MATs and our final meeting turned to workload and well-being.
I’ll focus on the last one for this blog which I led in the first instance to get it going. I came up with lots of questions and ideas which other may like to use.
The questions were intended to stimulate conversation and mixed some of my thoughts with what I had been reading. Other colleagues may not have the time to read extensively on wider issues and so I wanted to get the chat moving and also gave time to skim read documents from the 3 main unions in school-NAS, NUT and Unison with some of their suggestions re workload/wellbeing plus the government recommendations that they had gathered from their survey. I was interested to see if they thought that we should discuss workload and wellbeing together-does the former impact on the latter or are there other contributory factors. It was their discussion though and I withdrew after my input to let them decide on where next and to define their own definitions and remit should they wish to.
In my absence, it was decided to plan a series of meetings and form a committee of interested colleagues representative of all areas of our workforce should they wish to attend. Union reps, TAs, mentors, admin staff and teachers turned up to the first meeting and decided to devise a questionnaire to find out staff feeling of wellbeing [workload was the main aspect of their discussions]. The first problem was that they were going to use the ready-made NAS survey but it was very long and didn’t necessarily ask the questions that support staff might want raised. Marking and planning key teacher issues aren’t concerns for all so they came up with a much shorter set of questions which cut to the chase.
What is already working well in school that you feel we should do more of?
Is there anything you feel we should include to help us achieve our goal of a happy school where well-being and workload are important to all of us?
Is there anything that we do that is important but could be changed in order to improve?
Is there anything that we currently do that you feel we could manage without?
Is there anything you feel that could be done to reduce workload in school?
Finally, is there anything that you feel could be done for staff well-being that isn’t currently in place?
111 surveys were given out but only 24 came back which whilst initially disappointing could be attributable to lots of factors-perhaps everyone is happy, perhaps colleagues thought I wouldn’t listen anyway, perhaps everyone was busy, surveys never get a massive response and so on. I felt that it was important that I responded to any of the answers where more than a couple of people had mentioned the same thing and it was important to show how seriously I took both the time and commitment of the group and the answers given. I do hope that staff have appreciated the desire of senior leaders to do more than talk about wellbeing and workload and will explain some of our initiatives later, however the largest responses came in the wellbeing side of the Ws with requests for more social events topping the voting. A quiz night has been organised followed by a barbecue and hopefully these will be successful and allow older and new colleagues to meet in an informal situation with a positive impact on staff wellbeing back in the day job.
I would like the group to develop an agreed charter of wellbeing/workload that encompasses everyone in our school but how they use their time is up to them!
The 60 or so teaching staff form just over half of our work-force and they too have been consulted and given time to focus on the effective use of their time and to consider in terms of data, marking, monitoring etc. making professional decisions on what has the biggest impact for their own teaching and department. I explained in our January blog how we were trying to reduce data inputting and asking teachers/departments to tell us what was important for them in their data and how it should be best used to inform their teaching and student learning [not to give SLT lots of numbers to crunch!]
I explained in another January blog some of our other moves in building our professional development in a way that collaboration will not only respond to individual needs [classroom and leadership] but will support un-necessary workload.
We have moved on since then and I can see logically where we can take our initiatives further based on the success or otherwise of our trials. The subject reviews which allowed subject leaders to present what they felt that I needed to know worked well and the presence of other subject leaders provided a superb professional development opportunity.
It was nice to see our school mentioned in the EEF report this week https://t.co/c39XHJki5F when we talked a little bit about our desire to reduce teacher marking loads and I’ve shared our pathway from triple marking style to choosing which methods suit individuals and all aiming to be a fast and effective as possible in lots of blogs. The EEF guidelines are interesting but demand more research and just 1 piece on English doesn’t reflect the trials currently taking place in every department in MCHS. It is important that we share ideas internally but we do have a responsibility, not just as teaching school, but as teachers to share our ideas with others so that they might find something that might just ease their workload too. I’m delighted that we have so many tweeters who both share and gather ideas now but also still worry that teachers are often their own worst enemies when it comes to marking and they can’t let go of the more traditional mark everything/detailed comments format-stop it and be told!
Our inset this week will begin a different style of ‘book looks’ based on visits to other departments and a discussion on what is seen-no writing on forms! The self-reflection and monitoring on the more recent forms presented with a teacher’s choice of books was there to support the development of key marking/feedback initiatives that were school priorities. Without the guidelines and more prescriptive requirements of what I wanted colleagues to focus on I’m not so sure our marking revolution would have occurred and this leads to an important leadership issue.
Getting rid of paper and form filling!
When we have agreed on necessary changes in school and introduced them via inset and then shared good examples of practice, we have tended to use ‘scaffolds’ to encourage and support everyone to remember they key aspects of good agreed MCHS practice. We can then follow up with feedback, coaching and mentoring on agreed principles and adapt as we gather more and more shared examples. Everybody is clear about what ‘great’ looks like albeit the systems have always been flexible enough to allow for individual needs too [I think!] Any lesson plans, book monitoring, professional portfolios etc. have all had easy to follow guidelines BUT once ideas are embedded all of these should become the responsibility of individual teachers-there is no need for an extensive paper trail and colleagues should be able to take their own learning and development where they want to without a straightjacket. New colleagues and those needing extra support at any time, can always go back to our agreed fundamental principles if need be and if filling a form in helps, fine, but for others the development of strategies and reflection with self and others is a far more productive use of precious workload time.
I’ve tried to give as much directed time as I can to the old paper exercises e.g. completion of the professional portfolio but as the necessary reflection goes into the subconscious, much of what has been written down can be said and as we make the links between appraisal and all the forms of PD and monitoring totally explicit, the final processes of discussing individual targets and priorities [linking them to department and school ones] shouldn’t have been preceded by hours of writing!
Don’t be precious with your old ideas!
Some of the ideas that we have used and I have described as changing have been mine. I’m biased and think that they were good ‘uns that were thought of to help something that was needed at a certain time in the school’s past. I can’t be precious about them because they worked well for a time-if they are past their sell by date, if they are creating too much faff for no other reason than we have always done them like that and they have been useful for a time or worse still colleagues only use them to keep me happy! I have told the other senior leaders to look at every aspect of what we do and to honestly consider if we can do it even better and more effectively. Why are we doing it like this and what needs to be chucked in the old ideas bin? I have to be part of the same process and it is important that others see this happen as we move on if all of our middle leaders are to model the same philosophy. We haven’t got the time to waste on ideas that don’t focus entirely on what matters in the classroom at the current time and workload can’t be burdened with precious egotistical nonsense-move on!
A vision of change
Changing old ideas and customs doesn’t mean simply replacing them with similarly time consuming new ones. I’m hopeful that our involvement in research will begin to provide the best ideas for us to trial, rather than wasting time and workload, at an individual and whole school level, on ideas that have been proven to have minimal impact. This isn’t always easy as with marking, evidence so far is quite limited. Managing any change does have to involve everyone and I have openly shared my vision and the decisions that need to be made via blogs like these, meetings and any form of communication that I can use. The decision making process especially when it involves huge issues e.g. the budget, time table and academies [or not] should be open and transparent and aired in public so that all are clear on what is happening and why. Wellbeing takes a huge hit when colleagues are anxious about their future and in these uncertain times the strong relationships we are trying to build, will support the wellbeing and workload of all. By opening up to ask for ideas, I have already been able to implement several changes that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. According to most research, a school like ours shouldn’t have been able to achieve the Ofsted grade we did, our progress measures without any fiddling are pretty damn good and like Leicester City our teamwork and commitment, led by a kindly old uncle, will hopefully help us survive and prosper happily beyond the government’s diktats with their forced ideas which are certainly not representative of good change management practice!
Small changes and goodwill
Nothing is ever too small in the world of wellbeing and workload whether it be thank you’s, staff prizes for attendance and phone calls home, Easter eggs and so on. Only the senior leaders cover lessons if cover is tight, I’m hopeful that BFL detentions [we have a strict BFL policy to support staff with a detention rota-vital to get the discipline right for wellbeing] will be manned by the new cover people so teachers don’t go on the rota, year 7 and 8 reports will have less work time for subject teachers [we already have drop down comments in any case] with senior leaders being asked to provide a more detailed summary of the data, inset days have been given, as requested, to departments and I desperately want to retain the great staff we have and recruit good ones who have heard of our reputation and want to work with us. It is my duty to listen and colleague’s duty to tell me what is needed to enable them to work effectively. Rather than just decorate the staffroom, I should go and ask the TAs who congregate there every lunch time what furniture they would prefer, any changes to the hours of parent’s evenings/review days should be consulted with the staff as should my desire to get rid off holiday revision sessions and their like. To me it seems silly that I shouldn’t behave like this but from talking to many colleagues elsewhere, I’m told that this isn’t necessarily the case and that resentment is caused by a lack of consultation and a build-up of enforced workload.
Sometimes decisions have to be made that aren’t popular but are the right thing, in my opinion. I can’t shirk from big decisions but would hope that because of the climate we are trying to create in MCHS, people can see why the decisions have been made. I will explain and be up front and if something needs to be said to a face rather than hiding behind an email, it will be said as professionally and kindly as possible. If I have made a mistake which has impacted negatively on workload and wellbeing e.g. life after levels, I’ll hold my hands up. If someone comes to me with a persuasive argument for introducing something that they feel will be better and save staff precious time e.g. Show My Homework, I will give in, even though I may not agree, because I can see that they probably have a point!
A colleague teased me the other day about my ‘spreading of love’ and although they were making a joke at my account, perhaps they had actually hit the nail of school leadership on the head. Amongst all of the day to day pressure of running a school and dealing with a myriad of different and taxing issues, maybe a head’s greatest contribution is to protect their staff from workload and external pressure and try to care as much about staff wellbeing as any of the usual data/inspection/government constantly changing accountability measures. If the staff are happy and working to their full potential all of the other things will take care of themselves. It’s a thought and I do like the idea of ‘spreading love.’ Anyone want to join the Meols Cop love train?
Join hands [come on] Start a love train!