Focusing on ‘the right work’, setting goals and the issue of time

The Right Work

One of the best things about being an educator is that there is a large degree of independence. When teaching, it is just you and the students shut off from distractions for that precious amount of time that we have with them. Similarly, when we are not teaching a fair chunk of our time is ours to choose what we do. Of course, there are the regular collaborative meetings, after school clubs and activities but it is clear that educators have a fair bit of choice when you hear non-contact time being referred to as “my fee period” or “my prep time.”

As a leader in schools, a huge amount of trust is given to teachers that this valuable non-contact time is used effectively. We also do not know the work that teachers do outside of the school day or in their holidays. What is for sure is that some do more than others. In fact, some teachers go beyond what is expected or required and on the other extreme some teachers are minimalists. This disparity can cause problems in schools between teachers and between teachers and school leaders. Even those teachers who are putting in very long hours, we want to know that they are effective in what they are doing to help improve student outcomes and meeting the school’s goals.

So, let’s cut to the heart of the problem. The issue is the perception of autonomy that we can have as teachers; we make most of our own decisions. We decide what resources to make, the amount of feedback we give, the turnaround time of marked papers or the time we spend helping students outside class. The hard task, as a leader, is to ensure that what is being done is effective and is being carried out efficiently. Teacher goal setting is vital to school improvement and should be a delicate balance or leaders setting prescribed goals for teachers and teachers setting their own. Goals should be monitored, feedback given and new goals set each year. Of course, we need to celebrate the successes too.

The culture that has to change is that whenever there are cries of “there is not enough time”, we all need to first reflect upon how we are using that time. Consider this. If all teachers in a school were given one class less to teach, would every one of them make the most of this time to improve what is being done in the school? The answer is, probably not. ‘Free periods’ are not free to do what one wants, they are paid time for which the teacher is responsible, as professional, to improving what we do for students. Our challenge, as leaders, is to be both mindful of the demands we place on our teachers but also support them in using their time to focus on the work that really matters.

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