Showing posts with label time management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time management. Show all posts

Friday, 10 June 2016

Reach For The Cheese Slicer

When it comes to cutting cheese I'm a traditionalist. A knife; that's the tool for the job - preferably a made-for-the-job cheese knife. You won't find me using a cheese slicer. They're flimsy at best and the thickness of the resulting piece of cheese just doesn't do it for me. And I've sustained severe injury from them in the past - it goes against all my instincts to cut towards my fingers as I grasp the block of cheese in a manner not necessary when cutting with the proper implement: a knife.

Except every now and then one comes across a block of delicious mature cheddar whose length and width are perfectly adequate but which only measures about two or three centimetres in height. With a piece of cheese of this stature cutting a slice suitable for a sandwich is a challenge. Of course, I relish a challenge and out comes the trusty cheese knife and a slice of cheese measuring roughly 2cm by 10cm - you've got to cut a lot of those bad boys to fill a decent sandwich. I hesitate, sigh and then do the sensible thing; out comes the silly cheese slicer. And yes, the slices of cheese are paper-thin but at they do fill a sandwich properly. And using the ridiculous device wasn't that hard once I'd swallowed my pride. And this time I didn't even lacerate my digits.

This is not a post about the trad vs. prog debate. This is a post about occasionally accepting that there are more efficient methods of working than the ones you're accustomed to. This is not even a post where I attempt to tell you what those more efficient methods of working are, although I will illustrate my point. This is a post to encourage you to reflect on your practice and that of others around you, be that at work, amongst your friends or even on social media networks.

Ever found yourself envying another teacher's lack of weekend workload? Was it you that sarcastically said 'I wish I had time to just sit and read for pleasure!' or similar? Perhaps you even genuinely questioned how it was possible for someone to have seemingly less work than you.

Amongst teachers there are differing levels of workload depending on time of year, the leadership of schools, proximity to Ofsted and a million other factors. But perhaps one of those other factors is your working methods - and you do have total control over them.

Translate my cheese block to a pile of marking. My cheese knife becomes taking them all home to mark in the evening in front of the TV. The dreaded cheese slice is actually completing marking within a lesson - something you've designed your lesson structure around and which, as research seems to show, has a greater impact than marking books in the absence of the children. It's something you know other teachers do but it's just not the way you've always done it or you 'can't see how it would work'. Reach for the cheese slicer.

Alternatively my cheese block could be that half an hour after the kids have left, you know that time when you mooch down to the staff room, get a coffee and get caught up in a conversation you don't really want to have. That's the way it's always been - you always get a coffee at 3:30. It's your cheese knife. There's a teacher in your school with a cheese slicer. They don't leave their room at that time and they seem a bit antisocial but they are getting stuff done, probably their prep for the next day's lessons, or one or two more report comments so that they go home with less to do. They're maximising their time and you could too. Reach for the cheese slicer.

You rarely get taught on teaching courses how to reach for the cheese slicer and most CPD doesn't touch on it either. Use of the cheese slicer is something you either work out for yourself or it is passed on from others who have discovered the way of the cheese slicer. Remember, the cheese slicer is a better way of doing things. You should share the ways you've found of working more effectively and seek out others who work efficiently in order to learn how to put down the cheese knife every now and then, favouring the cheese slicer instead.

Even now there are those crying out: 'But I love my cheese knife! And cheese slices are ridiculous.' Yet it is they who want the sensible slices of cheese that only the cheese slice can provide and it is they who bemoan the fact that they only have the useless pieces they cut with their precious cheese knife.

Reach for the cheese slicer.

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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Wellbeing x Optimism

 Thanks to February I've racked up a fair few blog posts now and in looking back over them I can see there are definite recurring themes. This, of course, is deliberate; I want my posts to have a united focus and I want my blog to have consistency. But in review, I was left asking myself a question:

'What does wellbeing have to do with optimism?'

I've written a lot about achieving a good work/life balance and its obvious link to wellbeing. I've also written a lot about being positive and optimistic about teaching (here, here and here, for example). But what's the link?

In a nutshell I propose that the better your work/life balance and the better your wellbeing, the more positive and optimistic you'll be. Stands to reason, doesn't it? But could it be the other way round? If you are more positive and optimistic could your work/life balance and wellbeing be better? Let's explore.

Apparently (and almost certainly unsurprisingly) negativity is one of the key indicators of fatigue. And we've all experienced that, haven't we? When we're tired it's very hard to look on the bright side of life. And teachers are tired, tired people. Especially the ones who for one reason or another have a poor work/life balance. A lack of clearly-defined boundaries between work and personal life leads to emotional stress and even anxiety and depression. And it's hard to feel positive at times when you're experiencing stress.

Interestingly, a quick google search of 'negativity and stress' reveals much about how stress can be caused by negativity. There are several articles suggesting that conditioning yourself to think more positively can reduce levels of stress. Of course, I would never prescribe positive thinking on its own; it has to be accompanied by practical doing. So if you took a few practical steps to improve your work/life balance and began to engender positive thinking at the same time, research and experience shows that you would feel less stressed. And if you were less stressed? What then? Well it would surely lead to more positivity and a snowballing optimism.

But that doesn't necessarily lead to better work/life balance and wellbeing, does it? Well, effective and dynamic optimists will look for solutions in difficult circumstances. Yes, there are arguments that pessimists identify problems and therefore make contingency plans but in the heat of a moment one with an optimistic outlook will be more likely to believe there is a way forward and to find it. Optimists won't look on workload and believe it is all externally governed, they will take ownership and find ways to make it manageable. In my own experience, dynamic and proactive optimists are more likely to take personal responsibility, ensuring that their wellbeing is factored into the way they organise their life.

So, when optimism is a key characteristic of a person they will experience greater wellbeing as a result. This will perpetuate their optimism which in turn will lead them to seek out more efficient ways of working to ensure their work/life balance is good. Which will make them more optimistic... the whole thing is cyclical. But what if you're not already running in that wheel? Jump on at any point - good habits can be formed. The cycle can be entered at either or both points: practical doing and positive thinking.

What could practical doing look like? See my blog posts:


What could positive thinking look like? See my blog posts:

Monday, 15 February 2016

>10%? (PPA Time)


A popular call as a solution for teachers' workload is for teachers to be given extra time at school within working hours to get more of the 'admin' done (throughout this post I will refer to planning, preparation, assessment, moderation and the like as admin). And it's not a bad idea. In fact it's something we do.

Guidelines suggest that a minimum of 10% of teaching time is given to teachers as PPA (planning, preparation and assessment), and it is a statutory right (more info here: http://www.tesfaq.co.uk/ppa#TOC-How-much-PPA-time-should-I-be-getting-). So, let's take a rough estimate of teaching time to be 25 hours meaning 2.5 hours of PPA time should be provided. Our children have 27 hours 5 mins of teaching time so our PPA time should roughly be 2 hours 45 minutes.

The first question to ask is, are you getting what you are entitled to? If not it is worth querying it with your leaders. Many teachers won't even stop to work out how much time they are owed.

The second point to consider is, is even 10% enough and what would happen if you were given more time? 

Our PPA time should be 2 hours 45 minutes, in actuality we get 3 hours 30 minutes. 45 minutes more than 10% of timetabled minimum allowance. As per guidelines this extra time is best referred to as non-contact time - it isn't protected in the same way as PPA time and as a result is designated for other meetings such as Pupil Progress Meetings and Appraisals. However such meetings occur only once or twice per term, leaving each teacher, most weeks, with the extra time to use for their own benefit. Phase Meetings take place during this time also but since all teachers in the phase plan together in one appointed room I find that the meetings become part-and-parcel of the PPA session, therefore taking up little extra time. Our PPA sessions are covered by a combination of senior leaders and HLTAs who teach PE, PSHCE and French lessons.

It's anecdotal but many of my colleagues have mentioned that they prefer to work in the mornings; it's when they feel most productive. Our long PPA sessions can only take place in the mornings. I use the hour before it starts and some of lunchtime to make the session even longer and I complete a great deal of work.

Our extra non-contact time is a gesture which is indicative of our leadership team's commitment to reducing workload. Obviously it still isn't enough time to get EVERYTHING done, but it's a helpful kickstart. The structure of our PPA time encourages collaborative working and the sessions are attended by senior leaders - our staff are vocal about how supported they feel by this set up. If you are a senior leader in a primary school I'd urge you to consider a similar scheme.

Oh, and don't forget the cake.

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Saturday, 13 February 2016

Date Night

Tonight is date night. I say that as if it's a regular fixture in our calendar but it's not. It should be though. My wife is a stay-at-home mum of three and has recently set up her own baking business. Our evenings are taken up with book marking, macaron making and house cleaning, amongst a whole host of other chores.

Evenings out are what works for us - getting out of the house is important as it stops us thinking of all the jobs that could be done and we are less likely to be distracted by technology if we're in the pub or at a restaurant. We consider going out for a meal a luxury as we can't always afford it, and it means finding a babysitter too. Tonight we're benefitting from a kind Christmas present of Zizzis vouchers and my sister is doing the honours with the children. We're really looking forward to enjoying some good food and quality time together.

Even though we don't always get to go out, we ensure that we have a weekend night together to watch a film and have a glass of wine. We also try to spend the last half an hour of each day together, just to catch up and wind down. We've learnt that if we don't do this things get strained between us and communication breaks down. The time together is essential.

If you are a teacher in a relationship then you have to prioritise time with your significant other. Thankfully I have a super-supportive wife who understands the time requirements and the pressures of the job and she enables and encourages me to use time at home effectively. But this understanding is part of a give and take relationship - sometimes I have to put the work down  clear the schedule and make time for what's important. If I never did this I don't think my wife would be inclined to be as supportive, and she'd have every right not to be! 

Having said this I know that this is the first time in five months we'll have been out for a meal together - that is not good enough. This half-term holiday I pledge to make time for more regular date nights during term time - we can't always wait for holidays! Who's with me?

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Monday, 8 February 2016

Managing Marking

The year I began my requested move to year 6 was the year marking and feedback became high on the agenda. With the knowledge that book scrutinies with the SIP were going to become common place, not to mention the expectations from Ofsted, I quickly sought help and advice. How was I going to keep up with the marking when the output from year 6 was proving to be voluminous?

My deputy head at the time was a seasoned year 6 teacher and she gave just two pieces of sage advice which revolutionised my marking:

Mark as much as you can during lessons

Previously my focus in a lesson would have been group work, or even one-to-one work, and whilst this has not fallen entirely by the wayside, my focus is now on seeing as many kids as possible during the lesson. By doing this, and marking as I go, I find that I ensnare any issues with understanding before the end of a lesson, meaning I can address needs there and then, often pulling together a group who need help with a similar problem. As I feedback verbally to them I make a written record in their books which they then respond to within the lesson. This I find to be much more effective than the marking I do once the lesson has finished which they are expected to respond to in the following days (when, to be quite frank, it is hard to find time to allow them to do this). Having done this, I'm left with 15 to 30 minutes of 'mopping up' marking to do, usually at lunchtime or straight after school when there's not a meeting. 
If you're lucky enough to have another adult working with you in the classroom then asking them to do the same saves even more time, even if they're just marking right/wrong in maths or checking for spelling and grammar mistakes in English. Share the marking policy with them, take time to show them examples of your own marking and then give them a green pen; trust them enough to have a go.

Plan carefully so you don't have too much marking

Teachers really don't help themselves sometimes. In a bid to have as much evidence of a child's learning as possible they record everything in books. This is not necessary. It also points towards the possibility that the tasks being set are not that engaging. Children like working on paper, or on the walls, or verbally, and they learn a lot by working in this way. Additionally, non-book tasks often promote the use of other skills such as working collaboratively, problem solving and reasoning. 
When you're planning your lessons think of the entire week. How much time for marking will you have? In that time, how many books or sets of books can you realistically get marked? Decide which classes need that evidence in books and plan book work for them. For the other classes design tasks that mean you will have little to no marking. There is no need for these tasks to be considered pointless just because the work is not done in books. As you do this, be conscious of children, groups or classes who have not done recorded work for a while and make sure that there is always some up-to-date evidence in books.

Since then, at my current school, I have implemented a marking system based on using symbols which represent and replace common marking comments. Both staff and children have become adept at using the system and it frees teachers up to spend more time on writing comments which children can respond to in order to deepen their understanding. Even if there is no such policy in your school, this is something you could design and use in your own classroom.

By taking all of these actions, I have, for the last few years, succeeded in managing the workload generated by marking. Whilst expectations are still high for marking and feedback, beginning to build these ideas into your routine should see a reduction in the time you spend marking.

I realise many teachers will already employ these techniques but have written this in the hope that for some, as it was for me a few years ago, it will be a new time-saving idea. I would also love to hear from experienced teachers who have found other ways to reduce the time they spend marking books.

For more excellent stuff on marking:


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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Why I Never Use The Word 'Busy'

It all started when, every week, an unemployed friend would ask me how my week had been, to which I invariably replied 'Busy!'. As time went by, he began answering the question for me: 'Busy?' I felt mightily uncomfortable as I highlighted the major difference between my week and his: I was 'busy' and fulfilled, he was largely at a loose end as he applied for job after job, consequently feeling very unfulfilled. I decided to stop saying I was busy, instead telling him some of the things I'd been doing instead, making for much more interesting conversation.

I decided to completely stop using the word - not to colleagues, not to my wife and not to my friends. By definition I was, and still am, busy, but I ceased to describe myself so.

Apart from boring people with a one word answer when they genuinely enquired about my week, there has been another benefit too:

In telling others that I was busy, I was telling myself that I was busy too. And in telling myself that I was busy, I told myself that I didn't have enough time to do everything that I needed to do. I found myself writing things off before I even had a chance to look at my schedule - 'How could I possibly fit that in? I'm way too busy.'

Now that I don't label myself as busy, I am finding that I have a better attitude towards the additions to my to-do list. Now I think 'I can do that. I can fit that in'. And I do. I've also found (as previously mentioned here under 'Routines and Busyness') that when my schedule is full I work more efficiently; knowing that there are other things lined up for me to do means I get on with tasks.

On a practical note, there are three things that have really helped me with fitting lots into my day:

  • the apple calendar (there are other calendars available) which syncs between my ipad, iphone and icloud. I use this instead of a paper diary these days and I plan jobs into consecutive blocks of time. The calendar reminds me when it is time to do something; it's a bit like having my mum around and is very effective - I have to do it if the calendar tells me to.
  • the apple reminders app which again syncs between devices. Both this app and the calendar app allow you to schedule and set reminders for jobs - this is almost the key to all my organisational success! Naturally I'm quite forgetful, but with these apps, you'd not be able to tell. I am now in the habit of reaching for the nearest device and making a note on my job lists (in the reminders app) or booking something in to my calendar, meaning that I don't have to remember to write it down later. If something doesn't end up getting done, I just change the date and time of when I'm going to do it.
  • an actual notebook, you know with paper pages. I have no scraps of paper. Everything goes in the notebook: CPD notes, planning ideas, answers to maths tasks that I need to mark, observation jottings, SLT meeting notes... everything goes in!
So by being busy, but not thinking of myself as busy, I find myself maximising the time I have and using it much more effectively. It's been a very simple change, but one that psychologically seems to have had a big impact on how I work.