Author: Mark Anderson, ICT Evangelist and NetSupport’s Head of Education

It’s fair to say that working in education can be tough. Whether you’re the janitor, teacher’s aide, teacher, or administrator, there are always daily ever-changing pressures and difficult situations to contend with.  

Often, you can map out your day and plan your activities – and then a fire alarm goes off or there’s one of the many thousands of different issues that can take place in a school that send you off on a completely different path to the one you had planned. 

One of the mainstays of school life is the timetable but even that doesn’t leave you much flexibility to get all the work done that you aimed to complete.  

This recent tweet from @CajunMSTeacher and its popularity clearly demonstrates that there is some disparity between the possible and the impossible. 

Clearly, everything is contextual, but the overwhelming response to this tweet goes some way to exposing the issue. 

Correlating the above with a poll from December 2020 by TeacherTapp in the UK, further reinforces the point that whatever the local context, there is an issue between expectation and what is possible: 

Now, we can’t sit here and wave a magic wand and fix all the woes around capacity, administrators’ expectations and mandated policies such as those around assessment. What we can offer however are some strategies to help make us more efficient and to save time. Here are four approaches that you might find useful. 

DO NOT be responsive… 

…particularly to email. Notification anxiety is real, so try turning them off. Be strategic and have a set time to respond to and deal with your emails. You might like to consider approaches such as “inbox zero” to help, but the best advice we can offer is to not respond to emails at their point of entry. Blocking off a specific time to work through them (and it doesn’t have to be every day), can be a huge timesaver. Additionally, if the time that you’re responding to or writing your own emails is at a time which you don’t think you should be sending emails, be mindful of your colleagues who are in a similar boat to you and schedule them to be sent at a more appropriate time, such as within school hours. 11pm is not school hours! Most popular school email programs such as Outlook or Gmail have scheduling features built right into the software – so use them!  

DO NOT mark everything 

The evidence shows that marking everything doesn’t lead to student progress. So why do it? As their teacher, you’ll be undertaking regular low-stakes quizzing to reinforce current learning – and linking that into retrieval practice to reinforce prior learning. So if it’s progress or knowledge about where your learners are at in their learning journey you’re after, that is enough to help you know what next steps of help your students need. The beauty of this approach is that you can save marking for those activities that need assessment, such as a summative end-of-unit test or essay – and use low-stakes quizzing software such as the assessment tools in to reduce your marking load.  

USE your voice! 

Sure, when you’re a teacher, your voice is often tired, but as regularly shared by Mote, a popular app used by teachers around the world to leave audio notes, you can share far more in a shorter time with your voice than you can by typing –  and certainly, a significant amount more than writing by hand. 

If you’re worried about students’ work being analogi.e. on paper, then why not simply ask them to use the camera on their device to send you a scanned image of their work for you to assess orally? If you’re worried that Mote is mostly used in a Google setting, you can try Microsoft OneNote instead, which also supports audio. 

GET an assistant! 

Ok, so this is unlikely to happen in terms of you getting an actual colleague to support you with some of your regular tasks, but why not consider using a digital assistant on your device to help and support your work? Whether it’s Siri, Alexa, Cortana, or something else – they can really make a difference. Siri, for example, can: 

·         Take notes 

·         Make calendar entries 

·         Send messages 

·         Compose emails 

·         Solve maths problems 

·         Perform web searches 

·         Set reminders 

And so much more!  

To sum up… 

Strategic approaches to reducing workload will always need to be done at a top level, sure, but at a personal level there are many things that you can do to help yourself. Be smart, work smart, and leverage some of the tools you already have to try and help improve your efficiency and save you time. After all, it should be life-work balance, not work-life balance – or, for what many educators experience: work-work balance.  

Taking control of how you work can help you improve and gain some balance to make it feel a little less as if you’re swimming against the tide.