Thursday, 29 December 2016

Whittling Down My Workload

First, a word of caution- there is nothing particularly impressive or really revolutionary here.  In essence, I just wanted to blog about how, since becoming a middle leader in the summer, my workload has changed and how I've managed those changes.  Making the transition to a middle leader involved changing many of the ways that I worked- including a distinct lack of activity on my blog and twitter account.  These are the main ways I started to get back some of that time.

1. Protected Time for Email Management
Before I become a subject leader, I aimed to deal with emails swiftly and effectively.  I could easily rattle through the couple of emails that had made their way into my inbox during the first five minutes before school, at break or at lunchtime.  I kept my inbox empty, with folders to file away anything that I might want to refer to later and a trip to the deleted items folder for anything that I'd only need to see the once.

That was how I started to tackle emails in my new post.

I quickly found that dealing with queries was not going to be as sleek as before- often emails could involve finding out more information before replying: parent queries to follow up came from students I didn't teach; I needed to spend time looking through a busier diary before I could get back to someone with a date for a meeting.  And then there was the increased quantity of emails itself. I had to adapt.

I decided to create protected time to go through emails.  This is mostly a 45 minute window before school, which also allows for arranging the resources for any cover, along with 15 minute slots at break, lunch or in my PPA.  This, along with a process of flagging or filing emails as I read them, made a massive difference.

2. PPA Plans
Thanks to the honesty of another middle leader when I was applying, I was never under the illusion that a couple of hours taken from teaching would give me more time to do marking during the school day.  It means less: much less.

I made the plan early on to use time during the school day to focus on my new duties as a middle leader.  This means that time is protected to carry out learning walks in the department (by far my favourite part of the role); meet with staff for support or a catch-up; or work on the other new jobs I've taken on.

Obviously, this also means a change in how I plan my lessons- which brings me onto my next tip.

3. Planning For The Week
With all of the last-minute things that pop-up across the working week, having protected time to plan lessons at school was the easiest thing to move.  To be fair, this was something that I'd already started doing beforehand- mostly because I felt that I was chasing my tail sorting resources  if I left it too late.  So now, I plan all my lessons for a week on the Sunday morning before it starts.

It has to be said that a culture of sharing planning (within my department and on Twitter) makes this a lot easier.  For KS3 classes, it is easy to adapt and edit existing resources- this has made it easier to create my own resources for the new GCSE and A Level specifications as I've had more time to do so.

Planning everything on a Sunday also means that I can get my repro sorted early doors on a Monday- it's usually my first job of the week.  Yes, there is the odd occasion when I need to change the existing plan mid-week (especially when I find that a certain concept/skill needs extra work), but- again- the culture of sharing makes a huge difference here.

4. Manage the Marking
To give a little context, my school has a policy that students get feedback once a fortnight in Years 7-11 and once a week in Year 11.  I have no problem with this.  Yes, it can be onerous and I definitely had points where I felt I was drowning when I started there as an NQT.  What made the difference was advice I had on planning my marking and how I approached it pedagogically.

To start with, I plan my marking schedule over a half term.  This allows for no marking on progress evenings/open evenings without falling behind.  I mark a set of books each night, with KS5 books being spread out as require (with only 7 in a class, this is simple enough to do).  I also plan in 'blank' nights to give myself extra flexibility- as the plan is digital (see below), there is nothing to stop me changing it to fit my needs throughout the term.  It also means I can 'check off' my marking as I go- changing the black squares to green to show when I've marked.  As a compulsive list-maker, checking these off is definitely satisfying.  Most of all, this has helped me to protect time at weekends.  After a month of not marking at weekends in December (or over the Christmas break), I'm determined to reduce weekend marking as much as possible in the new year.

Template available to download here

The place I give marking in my students' learning has also been important in helping me manage the workload.  I use my marking schedule to plan when I'll set tasks that students will benefit from quality feedback on.  Likewise, I make changes to my marking schedule if I feel a class needs a different piece of work marked and move things around to make this work.

In other aspects of my planning, I make the most of activities that reduce the amount of 'marking for its own sake'.  This means making use of collaborative learning activities on sugar paper or A3 (which has a combination of other benefits to students' learning), planning in oral assessment of students' presentations/debate contributions and giving feedback in lesson time- which can be verbal, on a post-it or noted in a student's margin for them to refer back to.  Needless to say, peer/self assessment is also a valuable tool, as it can also help students to understand what they are being assessed on more clearly (especially for exam classes).

I'm hoping some of these tips will be useful for others- certainly they have made a massive difference to me, in managing my workload comfortably and creating a healthier work-life balance.