Hornets and Butterflies: How to reduce workload

Butterfly      Hornet

When teachers were asked about workload, 44,000 responded. Teachers work 50-to-60 hour weeks, often starting at 7am, often leaving after 6pm, and often working weekends. Some 90% of teachers have considered giving up teaching because of excessive workload, and 40% leave the profession within 5 years. There are teachers out there working 90 hour weeks.

For a school, there are great benefits to leading the way on reducing workload. Teachers who aren’t exhausted teach better. We contribute more over a longer time period. We are far happier to invest time in building trusting, caring, affirming relationships with children. We stay calmer in difficult confrontations, and are less likely to be short-tempered in everyday interactions. We support and encourage each other better. New teachers improve faster, veteran teachers stay longer, and everyone works smarter. A school that pioneers healthy work-life balance is more likely to attract teachers to join – and little matters more in a school than recruiting and retaining good people.

As a school leader, it’s worth asking: “what do you want teachers to say about the school when they’re with friends and family?”

In the school I work in, what I’d most like teachers to say is this: “We work smart. We focus only on what most improves learning. We stop ourselves from doing some good things, so we can put first things first.” 

What it takes to reduce workload is a shift in the mindset and culture of school leaders and teachers.

You won’t spend very long at Michaela without hearing teachers mentioning hornets or butterflies. I first borrowed the analogy in 2012 from Sir Tim Brighouse, who said that hornets are high-effort, low-impact ideas, and butterflies are low-effort, high-impact ideas. Barry Smith has advised teachers for years to think about ‘learning return on time invested’. Since then it has become a part of our everyday chat at Michaela. EffortImpact We can view everything we do at school through this lens. The idea is to get rid of the biggest hornets and search for the hidden butterflies.

Seeking out Hornets As senior team, we think ferociously hard about every decision through the lens of the impact-to-effort ratio. We encourage all middle leaders and teachers to do the same in their own arenas. Here’s what we’ve decided not to do:

  • No graded or high-stakes observations
  • No performance-related pay or divisive bonuses
  • No appraisal targets based on pupil data
  • No individual lesson plans at all
  • No expectation of all-singing, all-dancing lessons
  • No starters, plenaries, group work, attention grabbers, whizzy/jazzy nonsense
  • No cardsorts, discovery activities or flashy interactive whiteboards
  • No writing, sharing or copying learning objectives or outcomes
  • No extensive photocopying of worksheets
  • No shoe-horning of IT into lessons
  • No mini-plenaries or checks on progress within a lesson
  • No labour-intensive homework collection, marking or chasing up
  • No unnecessary manual data input or entry
  • No unnecessary paperwork
  • No labour-intensive written ‘dialogue’ marking
  • No time-wasting, temporary display
  • No split timetabling
  • No long-winded written reports to parents

It’s such a relief not to have to do any of these things and be free to focus on what matters most: our subjects and our pupils.  

Searching for Butterflies

Resourcing

Knowledge organisers are the ultimate renewable resource: they can be used by every future year-group and every teacher who teaches them. A knowledge curriculum, teacher-led instruction and strong textbooks reduce workload by eschewing differentiated or personalised resourcing. I’ll write about this idea of renewable resourcing in another post.  

Homework

We replace the hornet of setting, chasing, checking, marking and logging homework with revision, reading and online Maths – three of the most beautiful butterflies out there.  

Marking

Written marking is the ultimate non-renewable resource. By contrast, multiple-choice questions and icons are butterflies. I’ll write about our feedback approach and minimalist marking in another post.  

Two-Week Half-Term

Teaching teenagers full-time is an exhausting job in itself. The simple decision to have a two-week Autumn half-term has a powerful impact on staff energy in the longest term of the year.

Display

We replace the hornet of transient, temporary display with the butterfly of permanent, enduring display.  

Reports

We replace the hornet of highly labour-intensive written parental reports with online access to subject, behaviour and attendance data so parents can see online anywhere, any time, how their pupil is doing. WorkloadImpact ***

If you are blind to the hornets in your school, you are allowing your teachers to get stung. Hidden butterflies improve learning and reduce workload, burnout and turnover. At Michaela, we are just getting started, and we are confident that there are many more butterflies to find.

Advertisements

About Joe Kirby

English teacher, education blogger
This entry was posted in System. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Hornets and Butterflies: How to reduce workload

  1. Jacquie Turner says:

    As usual, your blog is sweet music to my jaded ears. Can you please open a school in Worcester which I could then join?

  2. geraldinecarter2014 says:

    Could you have regular contact with DfE + Nicky Morgan – and begin to influence?

  3. Darryn says:

    Michaela, the girl who kicked the hornets nest.

  4. Jaqi says:

    Basically brilliant

  5. Reblogged this on Dr Mike Beverley and commented:
    I even like the title:-)

  6. Debaser says:

    Sounds great. but it will be useful to hear how you ensure progress on tasks which can’t be reduced to multiple choice tests e.g. essay writing, writing to describe/persuade etc. i assume you’ll be covering that in your post on ‘feedback approach’.

    Also, again from an English point of view, how do you propose to teach lessons aimed at analysing an ‘unseen text’ in which background knowledge is restricted to a short contextual introduction.

  7. julietgreen says:

    Although I strongly object to the insect analogy for a host of attached reasons (do hornets expend more energy than butterflies?) I think what your post is pointing towards is a return to a lot of the common-sense practice that I experienced as a child. We had great text books and our teachers had time and energy to teach. Bureaucracy was minimal, as was constant monitoring and appraisal. Teachers were generally excellent because they were required to know their subjects and because the curriculum was excellent (I didn’t grow up in UK). To follow your list would be like taking off a weighty yoke, but it would require bravery on the part of senior leaders.

  8. I have been teaching for 15 years in a Southern California hornet district. I am slowly dieing because of the work load and politics. My district treats their teachers like they are a dime a dozen and easily replaceable. Veteran teachers have no value. We are to be seen and not heard. I love teaching and hate it too; I believe it is my calling. Currently, I have begun the process to get out of this beautiful and sick career.

  9. rgslearning says:

    Reblogged this on RGS Learning and commented:
    Some food for thought – how can we work smarter not harder?

  10. PaperlessEdu says:

    Really encouraging to see how wholeheartedly you’ve committed to this; avoiding busy work is such an important area of impact, for both teachers and students. Impressed you’ve been able to jettison so many long-held ideas so quickly. Reposted on @PaperlessEdu

  11. Pingback: because…I hate writing reports. | you get what anybody gets

  12. Pingback: Three things I learnt from Michaela | A few thoughts on education

  13. nappits1443 says:

    This approach is the bees’ knees! Hornets knees … Whatever. Brilliant.

  14. No plenaries or checks for progress… Rather a sweeping oath. How do know if your students are learning?

  15. Pingback: Obstacles to getting ‘character’ education right | Will Bickford Smith

  16. Steve Costen says:

    We are obsessed with reducing teachers workload, that’s why we created Lumici Slate, check it out here http://www.lumici.co.uk/lesson-planner/

  17. Pingback: The Infrastructure of School Improvement | A few thoughts on education

  18. Pingback: Hornets and Butterflies: How to reduce workload | Whiteboards, teaching and the usefulness of education secretaries

  19. Pingback: A guide to this blog | Pragmatic Education

  20. Pingback: The Blogosphere in 2015 | Pragmatic Education

  21. Pingback: On the Physical Challenge of Teaching | Reflections on schools, teaching and education.

  22. Tina Courtenay-Thompson says:

    Please start talking to the DofE about what you are doing and open a school near East Finchley!

  23. Pingback: Fast, good or cheap? The ‘Triple Constraint’ in Education. – primarytimerydotcom

  24. Chloe Stapleton says:

    Where do I apply for a job at your school? What a refreshing approach. Now I can forward this to all those who think that the “inquiry-learning-restorative-data-madness-insanely-differentiated-multiple-learning-style” way is THE ONLY WAY.

  25. Pingback: Disillusionment in Schools – The World Is Maths

  26. Pingback: Is this the best we can do? Part 5: hard work & homework | mathagogy

  27. Rufus says:

    Reblogged this on No Easy Answers and commented:
    Typically excellent blog from Joe Kirby

  28. Paul says:

    Just retired from teaching. This is what I’ve had to endure over the last 30 years:

    Rainbow groups
    JIgsaw groups
    Ability groups
    Learning Style groups
    Triple impact marking
    Dialogic marking
    Growth mindset
    Citizenship
    Differentiaton – should must and coult
    Mini plenaries
    Literacy coordinators
    Numeracy coordintators
    Half – termly data drops
    Traffic lights
    GCSE interventions
    Pupil Premiums interventions
    Graded lesson observation
    Mini- Ofsteds
    Mock Ofsteds
    Real Ofsteds
    Behaviour working parties
    Homework working parties
    Daily lesson plans
    Reconcilation meetings
    School Improvement partners
    Half a level of progress per lesson
    Planner checks

    and much more…

    So pleased to know that at least one school has ditched this nonsense.

    All the best

    Paul

  29. Pingback: A classroom teacher’s guide to formative assessment | Improving Teaching

  30. Pingback: Doing what we know and what we know how to do | MrHistoire.com

  31. Pingback: The Blogosphere in 2016: Roaring Tigers, Hidden Dragons | Pragmatic Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s