This cry, or a version of it, goes up in schools day after day. Forgive me for stating the obvious but maybe this will still come as a surprise to some people: There is no such thing as more time … TIME is finite, there is only so much of it, it is what it is.
So what people really mean is that they cannot do everything they are expected to do in the time available – or at least not do it well. They want time to be differently organised and often feel they have lost control in doing this for themselves. In many schools teachers are spending time on activities they do not perceive to be relevant or helpful for student learning – and particularly not on the vital task of helping them develop as whole people able to function well in the world.
As time is a fixed quantity how it is parcelled out is what really matters.
Here are a few suggestions. Some of these ideas are for individuals, some directed at whole school discussions and some both.
PRIORITISE, PLAN, PARTNER, BE IMPERFECT!
Setting priorities. What matters most? What do you believe will enhance the learning and wellbeing of your students? We know that when wellbeing is core business in schools then less time is spent on picking up the fall out from social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Teachers tell me that when students have learnt some relational understanding and skills they are able to sort things out for themselves, freeing up teacher time. So although social and emotional learning might look like an ‘extra’, the outcomes can pay back time laid out over again.
Not being dominated by testing. In a training session where some teachers were in despair at having to organise everything around NAPLAN (the equivalent of the UK SATS), one said that in her school, although testing was mandatory, it did not dominate conversations and neither were children ‘taught to the test’. Instead teachers focused on each individual fulfilling their potential in all domains of development. Staff did not spend valuable time revising, talking and worrying about results and getting stressed in the process. Surprise, surprise, their results were on a par with other local schools.
Doing differently rather than more. School climate matters – how people relate, the atmosphere is which learning takes place. This doesn’t take additional time – except in the planning and prioritising phase. What does it mean to do things differently? Processes in schools are equally important, if not more so, than curriculum or policy content. It is a valuable use of time to attend to the ‘how’ to maximise effectiveness.
What is ‘wasting’ time and what is not? The people who complain most about being too busy are often the ones who spend time moaning about it! It is not ‘wasting time’ to listen well – but you might need to find a respectful way to take your leave at an appropriate point. Is it wasting time to have coffee with someone and check out how they are doing? Is it a waste of time to get to know your students?
Meetings. I have been to endless meetings where half the agenda is not relevant to me, where one or two people stand up and dominate proceedings and others are not engaged at all. Are meetings for information giving, discussing issue, collaborative planning or for social interaction. Who needs to be there and why- and how can we engage everyone who attends? Make meetings meaningful and give those who are there a voice.
Look after yourself. If you don’t spend planned time looking after yourself you will not have the mental or physical resources that energise your teaching. Cherish your health, your friends and your own learning so you can be the best for your students.
Doubling up. This is where a single action fulfils multiple purposes. Is your drive to school a place for mental preparation and planning, relaxation and listening to stories, learning from CDs or the radio or just for some breathing space on your own. Whatever it is. be mindful and purposeful. Do not make three journeys when you can make one for three reasons. Whenever you cook, make double quantities of food and freeze half for another day. Use this strategy broadly. Be clever about saving time.
Delegation and sharing the load. Some of the best learning on my Masters’ course was planning with a group to deliver a seminar. Collaboration is good pedagogy. Expecting students to work with others, take responsibility for the classroom, help and support each other and you is not only legitimate – it is good practice. And why don’t teachers share more resources, work more collaboratively and put their heads together to problem-solve? In some schools everyone is running around like headless chickens re-inventing the wheel (forgive the double metaphor!) Now that is a waste of time!
Forget perfection! What do you need to do to the best of your ability and what can you get away with? You cannot do everything to the same standard of brilliance – and neither do you need to. My own pet hate is unnecessary verbiage – long documents or reports where you have to fight through words to find useful information. Succinct is good for both the writer and the reader. Do we really need to write a book on every child every term? (I exaggerate but you know what I mean!). Filling in forms is not the best use of teacher time – for whose benefit is this? How can we limit bureaucracy?
Finally – remember what motivates people? If you are a leader then you need to take some responsibility for time management. Many do this by micro-managing and focusing on accountability. How about tuning into the evidence about what motivates people and gets them energised to give the best of themselves. According to Dan Pink this is autonomy, purpose and mastery. People want opportunities to be creative and innovative, they will go out of their way to do things they believe are meaningful (and what is more meaningful than teaching?) and they like to get better at things – and have that acknowledged. Wise leadership provides a vision for direction but then supports people to do this is their own way, using time productively to these ends.