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Time Poor, Exhausted and With Limited Options

The Grattan Institute’s latest report “Making Time For Great Teaching” can be tough to read. The year has barely begun and many leaders are already exhausted and suffering decision fatigue through planning multiple scenarios. Whilst the report is predominantly advocating for increased government expenditure to support teaching, the impact of that is unlikely to be immediate.

The most precious resource schools have is time – students’ time and teachers’ time. There is a fixed limit on the amount of time schools have available to work with students – before the end of class, the end of term and, ultimately, the end of school. Deciding how to spend this time is the most important strategic resource decision school leaders make. However, time management can only have a limited impact when there are so few ‘moving parts’ in a teacher’s day.

So what can leaders in schools do immediately?
Whilst the context of each school is different, the following potential strategies are suggested to guide your reflection.

  • Conduct a ruthless audit of where staff and student time is currently being spent – what can be cut or reduced to free more time for learning. For example, do ALL staff have to attend assembly? Could we alternate and have half of the staff attend?
  • Review all meetings – Is the meeting an effective use of time?* Meetings have a tendency to fill the time allocated (and then some). Could we hold a stand up meeting for 15 minutes rather than sit down for an hour? Do we really need to ‘consult’ with everyone or could we communicate the decision that has been made. There is nothing more annoying for a staff member than “pretend consultation”. Does everyone really need to attend, even if it isn’t relevant to them? Making it obligatory for everyone to make it “fair” that we punish them all, leads to resentment.
  • Refine communication strategies*  – a staff newsletter before the beginning of the week can ensure staff are prepared for the week ahead. Staff get really frustrated with leaders who appear to be last minute and reactive.
  • Review data collection processes* – what data are we currently collecting and what do we use it for? If we aren’t using the date to inform our decisions, why are we putting resources into collecting that data?
  • Ensure priority is given to the important work in each role. Delegate to other staff tasks that don’t require teaching expertise. What tasks could we streamline or have done for teachers and leaders so they can focus on the more important work? Often in schools, we feel guilty using teacher aide or support staff time if it isn’t directly with students. For example, having teachers or leaders do data entry isn’t a good use of their time. It is likely to be done faster and cheaper by a support person with those skills. Consider the match between the ‘hourly rate’ of the staff member and the task to be undertaken. Is that bang for the buck?
  • Stop reinventing the wheel – Many schools put a huge amount of time into rewriting planning documents. Where possible refine what we did in the past with a tweak rather than a rewrite.
  • Build teamwork – Highly effective teams* are more efficient and save team members time by sharing the load. We don’t have to all do everything. In highly effective teams the roles are shared and someone completes a task on behalf of their colleagues. This saves everyone time.
  • Schools are people places* – it is essential that leaders are present, visible and supportive. Whilst I know that you are busy and have a lot to do. However, it is essential that you connect with your staff, are optimistic and confident that we WILL get through this challenging time together. Apply the Pareto Principle* (or 80/20 rule), I would recommend that leaders try wherever possible, to be available to staff for the hour before school starts each morning, visit the staffroom and playground at lunch time at least twice per week, be an informal visitor in each classroom twice per term, at the school gate for 15 minutes at pick up time and support any and all staff well-being initiatives undertaken by your well-being team.
  • Find opportunities to provide specific praise and appreciation to staff. The best praise is personal, immediate and specific to the individual. To provide this sort of praise you have to be present. Look for opportunities to praise at least three people every day, until it becomes a habit.
  • Avoid “Us and Them” thinking and language. Whenever leaders OR staff are saying, ”If only THEY….(Fill in the blanks) eg stopped whinging, cared more, got out of their offices etc” the void between the two widens and the problem grows. Be on the lookout for this language and address it quickly. Provide a consistent message of “We’ve got this!” and “We will get through this together!”

Many of these strategies are unpacked in our School Leadership Sprints.  You can find out more HERE