The Primary Teacher/Leader – Improving work-life balance through Collaborative partnerships

I truly believe that the only way to succeed as a teacher (in today’s world) and to reduce teacher workload, creating a better work-life balance, is to work collaboratively.  Not only internally within schools, clusters and MATs but also externally, online, through teacher resource sharing pages like TES and blogs!  Teacher’s need to work together and share their ideas, there is no point in everyone reinventing the wheel thousands of times.  Lets do it once and share it thousands of times!

Budgets are also getting tighter within schools which often hinders good quality CPD for teaching staff.  This good quality CPD can often be the first thing to go sadly, as it is expensive.  However, this is when standards can start to slip and teacher’s are left feeling unsupported and isolated.  We wouldn’t expect a child to progress in reading without reading lessons!  Therefore we cannot expect our staff to become better teacher’s without quality CPD.  This is something that is a never-ending cycle, you can always learn more and improve your practice.

This is why I think collaborative learning is so important, I’m sure that many of you already do it.  In fact I know you do because that is where some of my ideas have come from.  All schools will have staff that have a lot to offer in terms of school improvement.  CPD isn’t just going out on a course (and having a nice lunch, although that is definitely a perk!).  Sometimes you don’t need to use external CPD providers, you may have the expertise in house already!

Here are some ideas on how you can keep within budget yet ensure all staff have quality CPD that meets their needs (and the schools needs).  Just things that I have used or come across on my journey to reduce workload and create a better work-life balance;

  • An obvious one but often forgotten or lost, you need to prioritise.  What does your school need to improve first?  Ensure all staff understand this and that they are on board.  Set milestones to achieve over the course of the year.
  • Showcase lessons – Use the skills of existing staff.  Pick out strengths and development points for all members of staff.  This should be done with that staff member.  Then hold open classrooms internally so that Teacher 1 (who wants to develop their Phonics teaching) can watch Teacher 2 (who is a strong Phonics teacher).  Allow all staff to share their strength in some way with others.  We found that the teacher’s responded much better to each other than SLT.  It is helpful to have a debrief session after this to discuss what they saw and to ask questions.  A word of warning, just ensuring that teacher’s are showcasing what you want them to.
  • Provide good quality books and time to explore the content.  We used a book called ‘Making every primary lesson count’ by Jo Payne and Mel Scott and we built this into our staff meetings.  You could also buy copies for the staff room!
  • Pair up teacher’s in Year groups or Key Stages for PPA.  Sometimes all you need is someone to bounce ideas off.
  • Team plan – Get your subject leads to plan and teach lessons together to build confidence and consistency in teaching and learning across the school.  Also, use your ‘stronger’ teacher’s to team plan.  If Teacher 3 is really good at adding challenge into Maths lesson, pair them up with Teacher 4 who needs support with this.  Again, teacher to teacher support is always much more effective than SLT to teacher support.
  • Share planning – Create a central platform to share planning and resources, like Google Drive.  You can also share out planning responsibilities for some subjects.  For example, in Reading and Topic, our Years 5 and 6 teacher’s take it in turns to plan.  One teacher plans Reading one half term while the other plans Topic etc.  That’s one less subject to plan each week.  Bonus!
  • Provide teacher subscriptions like Twinkl.  Although you don’t want endless worksheets and no thought going into planning, Twinkl can be a lifesaver and dramatically reduce workload, the same as TES.  Paying for this as a school rather than expecting teacher’s to pay for it themselves or always make everything for scratch, will go a long way to support staff well being.  Happy staff, happy children!
  • Make staff meetings relevant to all staff and don’t have them for the sake of it.  Also, ensure that staff understand how this is relevant to them and the purpose.  Make sessions practical so that they actually get time to ‘do’ the things you are telling them about.  For example, if you leading a meeting on improving spelling, give them time to plan a lesson or play with the games and resources, or make them.  Use this time wisely and ensure that the staff see this as CPD.  Get them to feedback on it’s effectiveness.
  • An obvious one, but if you are paying for someone to come in and provide CPD, such as an Inset session or a twilight, invite other local schools or even your MAT schools to split the costs.
  • Create subject teams – I got this idea at another school recently.  Based on strengths and interests, teacher’s join either a Maths or an English team.  These subjects will still have a leader, but they also have a number of other teacher’s on their team to help create more of a whole school approach and responsibility for that subject, improving accountability too.  It helps to get everyone on board.  It is helpful to have representatives from across the school on each team so that all key stages (including Early Years) are represented.  This way, when new changes are implemented, the lead can have feedback from across all year groups as to what worked well and what didn’t.  Teacher’s will also feel like they are part of the process rather than feeling like it is just being ‘done to them’ and that they have no freedom as a teacher.  It is also helpful from the leaders perspective to have that support network and fresh ideas.  Provide times, such as briefings or staff meetings (not additional though) for teams to meet.
  • Hubs – Join and sign up to working with your local Maths Hubs or school improvement projects in your area.  These are often free and are a really good way to get high quality CPD and new, fresh ideas.
  • Reach out to other local schools, visit them, talk about practice and what works or doesn’t work.  Look at their planning and books.
  • Attend or create network meetings.  For example, I created an EYs network as a support group for our NQTs who were new to Early Years.  They visited each others settings to look at provision, timetables, planning and to moderate.  I just sent out emails to other schools to see who was interested.

I hope this was helpful and I’d love to hear your ideas.  Work collaboratively with me, follow my blog and social media for more teaching inspiration, resources, ideas and planning.

Thanks for reading.

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