The tipping point; when does more teacher work not equal improved outcomes?

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Teachers clearly work more hours than they’re contracted. Survey after survey finds teachers working 60 hours a week and teachers leaving the profession due to workload. However, from classroom to classroom, school to school, these hours spent working are not consistent. There are some teachers who don’t work ridiculous hours and yet their lessons are still taught and their students are still learning.

At which point, does doing ‘more’ make no difference to the quality of the outcome?

What is the minimum a teacher needs to do to be effiecient and effective?

How can schools run systems that maximise teacher time & support them in keeping workload manageable?

This post isn’t really about workload. It’s about considering what is the minimum that a teacher and a school need to do before the work and systems have minimal or even no further impact. How many leaders and teachers consider the relative time/cost of what they do? 

Examples may help explain my point.

Teachers

Some teachers spend hours and hours planning lessons. At what point does making an extra resource or an extra PowerPoint slide have little or no impact on learning, and could easily not be created, thus saving time?

Leaders

Most schools get teachers to enter data into data management systems. Some have to do this 6 times a year, what if this was only 5? Would it make a significant difference? What about 4 times? What is the optimum time that should be spent on this to have the most impact? When does it become a waste of time that could be spent on something that would have a bigger impact?


I do think there are some people that are addicted to work so work many more hours than they need to. Some people think aesthetics are important and spend time ensuring things are neat and attractive in their lessons. This is a choice. I want to consider where the line can be drawn between necessary and optional.

The biggest issue with working out where the tipping balance is that few things that teachers do can be directly attributed to learning but can be deemed necessary to support the process. Adding data to a spreadsheet doesn’t improve learning in itself but may have benefits to the teacher and leaders in order to further support learning.

We could work out a ‘worth it’ rating for everything we do. If it has direct impact on learning and is time/cost effective then it will have a high ‘worth it’ rating. However if it takes a huge amount of time or has little tracable impact on learning, it will have a low ‘worth it’ rating and needs to be ditched. Leaders should consider everything that happens in a school and work out how it can be completed in the shortest amount of time with the peak amount of impact.

What ‘worth it’ rating do these teacher/school tasks have?

  • Marking
  • Writing end of year reports 
  • Whole school meetings
  • Department meetings
  • Coaching
  • Line management meetings
  • Writing development plans
  • Performance management

Finally, it is important to consider variation between teachers. If you take a set of books for marking, one teacher may take 30 minutes to mark them but another teacher 2 hours. Some people can come up with a development plan in minutes and others in hours. Might these differences make the difference in the working hours that teachers use? Might it be useful for some school CPD to be directly focussed on training and supporting people in doing the core tasks in a time efficient manner? (Not a time management course, direct support for individual tasks)

The idea isn’t to get rid of everything teachers have to do but consider carefully how each thing is impacting their work hours. Linking everything back to learning is crucial and whilst we can never pinpoint exactly the impact each task may have we can consider the ‘worth it’ value, and tweak or ditch anything at the wrong end of the graph.

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2 thoughts on “The tipping point; when does more teacher work not equal improved outcomes?

  1. My experience is that when teachers spend really long periods it is not for any of the things listed in your bullet points.

    “individualising” lessons takes far more time than anyone ever wasted in department meetings. Making activities “relevant” is far more time consuming than the few hours spent writing reports.

    The people who do that think that their students have extra learning. I don’t, which is why I don’t do such things.

    You can sit in meetings and more or less zone out. It is time you won’t get back, but it isn’t very onerous. Hours spent “perfecting” lesson plans or ensuring “correct’ feedback on minor tasks is what breaks people.

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