Planning Ahead: How to find a work-life balance as a teacher

By Gemma Bott

At last the final half term of the year has arrived.  The time of year when you can get caught up with all of those jobs you’ve been putting off or just not had time to do. For secondary school teachers, exam classes have left, hopefully leaving extra PPA time in the week, and for primary teachers the SATs are finished and a reprieve from endless practise papers. The holy grail of the academic year; you look forward to it like a child looks forward to Christmas! However, as we all found out when we became adults, the arrival of the festive season brings with it endless jobs and is actually pretty exhausting. 

I often find the final half term of the year a similar situation.  Since September, I have been writing gained time jobs on Post-it notes and scraps of paper and putting them in my diary for the first Monday in June (the day I returned to school after the final half term break).  Rather than feeling less stressed now that my Y11 and Y13 classes have started their exam leave, I am met with a wall of Post-it notes and a ‘to-do’ list as long as my arm.  Where to start?  Probably need to put the kettle on!

One of the many jobs I have tasked myself with this year, and my main priority before the end of July, is to ‘spruce up’ some of our departmental schemes of work and develop some more varied feedback tasks.  I have prioritised this as it will undoubtedly make lessons run more smoothly and reduce workload involved in marking and feedback, therefore resulting in less stress in September and beyond. 

As a Head of Department I have also been tasked with taking my department through some in-depth Ofsted training prior to the summer to prepare us for the new framework that comes into effect from September. A ‘mock-sted’ if you like. Ofsted will place a much greater focus on ‘quality of education’ through the new framework, focusing on ‘curriculum intent, implementation and impact’ for half of a school’s overall judgement. School leaders (senior and middle) and classroom teachers must be able to explain in detail the rationale behind the curriculum being delivered, how it enables students to make progress and provides appropriate stretch and challenge for all. This will then be triangulated against evidence from lesson observations, work scrutinies and interviews with a range of students to ensure that what has been explained is actually happening.  This is of course a very simplified version of it and further details of the new framework can be found here

Whilst I am very proud of the curriculum my department delivers, the new framework has uncovered areas that need to be improved.  For us it is resources for revision and memory recall.

So, back to my wall of Post-it notes… I’m now tasking myself with sprucing up schemes of work and developing feedback/revision/recall resources for several year groups. On top of that Y10 and Y12 mocks are next week, so they will need marking too. The list goes on. How I’m going to manage all of that in 6 weeks, I’m not quite sure!

When I came up with the idea for the book ‘How to Create Great Lessons: 100 Tools for Planning’, my main motivation was to reduce the workload when planning and allow teaching professionals to regain some control of their work-life balance. The following is an excerpt from the preface of the book and explains my rationale for writing it…

I have taught in several schools in the UK through my career and teach full time despite having a young family. Teaching is a wonderful job, but recently I have become frustrated by the growing amount of time I must commit to do my job in a way that is deemed satisfactory, never mind outstanding! The rationale behind this book is to provide teachers at any stage of their career, of any age group or any subject with inspiration to add variety to lessons and as an aid to speed up the planning process. The activities included are all ones that I have used successfully in the classroom and vary in length and style, so this book will offer realistic and helpful ideas that can be included across a wide range of lessons. I have aimed to write in a brief and uncomplicated way so that the ideas I’ve shared can be implemented quickly, leaving more time for the countless other jobs teachers must complete on a day-to-day basis and of course the ever elusive work-life balance!

As mentioned, my intention with this book is that it is easy to use so that it can help to speed up the planning process.  You might dip into the book to look for new ideas or refresh your memory of activities you may not have used for a while.  Alternatively, you might like to use the browsing menu that follows the contents page to look for an activity that suits your specific planning need; this gives a flavour of what each activity is particularly useful for.

I think I need to get my book out and get on – I’ll put the kettle on first though!

Gemma Bott is currently Subject Leader for Geography at Bradfield School in Sheffield.  Having worked as a Geography teacher since 2003, Gemma has developed skills in many aspects of teaching and learning at a departmental and whole school level.  She is passionate about providing learning opportunities outside of the classroom, running frequent visits within the UK and abroad.  She has worked with various ITE providers to develop new teachers; How to Create Great Lessons was developed after a conversation with a student teacher! Gemma has also written for textbooks specifically for teaching geography. 

Most recently Gemma has worked as ‘Leader of Learning’ for feedback at Bradfield, assisting in developing and implementing the school’s new feedback and assessment policy at a whole school level.  Work that focused on improving quality of feedback, whilst trying to reduce staff workload.  In September she will start a new role at Bradfield as Head of Humanities.

Check out extracts from Gemma’s How to Create Great Lessons: 100 Tools For Planning here.