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Busting Workload #NRocks2017

Is it a report?  Is it a poster? Is it a decision to stop doing so many things; most of which don’t impact positively on children’s life chances?  With thanks to Debra Kidd and all the other organisers of another brilliant Northern Rocks 2017; here is an outline of the workshop session I gave.

We are in danger of becoming a profession that is “done in”.  There are too many concurrent initiatives from government.  An accountability system that is over bloated and aggressive.  School leaders focused on frantically trying to tick boxes rather than joining up the dots for people.


Using the ideas from my blog post on The Art of Lazy Leadership, the focus of the session was on prioritising; doing a few things really, really well.  The challenge of prioritising is twofold: deciding what not to do (we find this unbelievably difficult) and ensuring the few things that you do have a huge impact on the goals you are trying to achieve.  More “noes” create better “yeses”.

Teachers tend to enjoy teaching and relish the work that is directly related to it.  Discussions about their pupils and subject are not seen as hard work.  Conversely our over bloated accountability system has produced a bureaucratic industry of game playing; doing things to satisfy leaders who are trying to satisfy internal or external accountability masters.  We’ll look back and weep at the mess we have got ourselves into.  The more you try to satisfy the accountability monster; the more, it seems, you end up completing destructive rather than life giving work.

Instead we should focus on simplifying the work we do around a few core ideas:

  • Collaboratively plan the learning; create a spine, progression or flow of learning to move pupils from what they already know to an understanding of key concepts, big ideas, complex skills or great works that underpin your subject/phase of a child’s development.
  • Use assessment to find out: what pupils already know before you start teaching the topic; what they don’t know but should because you have taught them it (and do something about it) and what you do and don’t teach well as viewed through the lens of what pupils’ have actually learnt.  The latter forms the focus for personalised professional development that just helps you get better as a teacher.

We have developed and implemented processes to help us achieve these across the Trust but it will take a number of years before they are sufficiently refined and embedded.  We call it DAFITAL and its appeared in both Ofsted reports from earlier this term.  This means we need to keep committing significant time to DAFITAL rather than flitting from one flight of fancy to another.

Choosing priorities needs you to be informed; if you’re only working on a few things they have to be the right things.  In short, there is a need for wisdom; good judgement.  Experience, research, feedback and data all have a part to play in this decision making process.

Acknowledgement: Professor Robert Coe

In the presentation I’ve used a couple of slides from a recent talk by Professor Rob Coe; the one on trust is particularly powerful.  Schools have to create cultures of trust in which people are willing to share their vulnerability and professional weaknesses in order to improve.  Too many schools have macho accountability cultures which create a sense of fear and a tendency to hide areas for development rather than a culture in which teachers proactively seek to address them.

Be focussed, be informed and hopefully get a home/work balance back (says he who has just spent Saturday at a conference with hundreds of other teachers).



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