Start the School Year on Top: How to Manage Expectations, Workloads and Commitments

With so many demands from students, parents and school administrations, it’s no wonder why today’s teachers struggle to stay on top of it all. Being able to effectively balance workloads and expectations is an essential skill.

Here’s how to identify and prioritize these needs to ensure better mental and physical health, create a sustainable work-life balance and avoid professional burnout.

Prioritizing Commitments

Teachers have a lot commitments they’re expected to maintain, and prioritizing them can help prevent burnout. Education writer Janelle Cox says that student needs and interests should be at the top of the list. Having students as a teacher’s first priority goes a long way to creating a positive classroom environment where students can thrive. Additionally, teachers need to be focused on advocating for their students’ learning and success.

Geoff Masters, CEO at Australian Council for Educational Research, adds that this also means understanding a variety of student needs. All students start the school year at different learning levels, and will learn at a different pace than others. Teachers need to be committed to understanding and targeting specific learning needs of their students. Without this commitment, some students may fail to get the attention and instruction they need and deserve.

In addition to ensuring that students are getting the proper attention when it comes to learning, teachers must maintain a duty of care. This obligation includes making sure as far as possible that students have a safe home environment. Impact Teachers points out the signs that teachers need to be able to identify as indicators of possible problems, and says they should be ready to report all instances of potential abuse or neglect.

Balancing Workloads

A teacher’s work is never done. From the classroom to lesson preparation and grading, managing a full workload is the biggest challenge teachers face.

Organization is key to keeping that workload management, educator recruitment company Point to Point Education writes. Starting the year organized by having a dedicated place for all assignments, graded papers and homework. A detailed filing system can ensure you always know what needs to be done and when, so that you can break up tasks into more easily manageable chunks.

April McNair at A Modern Teacher agrees that keeping paperwork organized is an important aspect of balancing your workload. She suggests teachers label a bin “Everyday Essentials” and keep in on their desk. This bin should then be filled with well-labeled files according to the top documents you receive each day.

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For example, some files might include parent notes, student notes, substitute teacher plans and notes to send home. McNair says that all document and papers on your desk each day should be filed.

Another approach to workload management can be found in the 5-minute workload plan, pioneered by Leading Learner’s Stephen Tierney and Ross Morrison McGill, founder of Teacher Toolkit. With this plan, schools, teachers and leaders are asked to review their current workload to identify unnecessary tasks and time wasters. The goal is to help teachers identify their top three workload issues and consider them side by side to identify areas of improvement.

This technique can also make it easier for administrators and teachers to identify additional, non-instructional tasks that teachers are being asked to complete. In addition to lesson planning and grading, these include parent meetings, report writing and administrative tasks, Robin Bevan at teaching resource site TES writes.

Administrative Support and School Culture

Headteacher John Tomsett adds that school and classroom culture play a strong role in a teacher’s ability to manage their workload. Work cultures that are inspiring and supportive help teachers feel well cared for and happy, which in turn boosts satisfaction. When teachers feel more satisfied at their jobs, they’re likely to feel less stress and better able to tackle challenges head on.

School leaders must cultivate those environments in which teachers feel supported, Association of Managers in Education director Mark Wright says. Keeping teacher assessments to a minimum and focusing on pupil success can ensure that educators aren’t overloaded with unnecessary tasks.

If you feel that your culture isn’t supportive of your work or empathetic about your workload, it might be worth talking with the administration to identify areas of need. Education experts Kate Brimacombe and Tanya Ovendon-Hope, Ed.D. at Plymouth Marjon University in the UK write that teachers need to speak up when they feel that their workloads are unmanageable. If a particular task is taking you an excessive amount of time, seeking guidance from school mentors can shed light on workload imbalances and inconsistencies within the system.

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Learning Your Limit

From helping out at after-school events to keeping in touch with parents, today’s educators are expected to fulfill a wide — and often unrealistic — range of duties. Teachers, even the most dedicated, have the right to say to unreasonable requests, Mashup Math founder Anthony Persico writes. Saying no might seem scary, but it actually enables teachers to better fulfill other tasks that they’re mentally and physically prepared for.

Moreover, saying no is an important way to practice self-compassion and ensure that your personal needs are being met. Saying no also requires that you understand when to draw the line so that you can go home and take care of yourself. Learning to be assertive and honest about your expectations and your limits can also earn you respect from others, rather than overcommitting to events and responsibilities that you can’t actually live up to.

If you’re struggling to say no, or you’re not sure yet about whether or not you can commit, World Class Teachers suggests saying something like “Can I check my schedule and get back to you?” This will give you some time to assess your workload and see if you can realistically make another promise.

You’ll always have a to-do list as a teacher, third grade teacher Tammy DeShaw at The Owl Teacher says. But once you accept the fact that there will always be things to do, it’s easier to stop trying to finish everything all at once. Learning your limits will ensure that you stay grounded and ready to start the next day with your best self put forward.

Stephanie Petit at STEM Jobs agrees that teachers need to separate work and personal time in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. She suggests setting an off-duty time to clearly define when you’re done working for the day. Setting aside one day a week, for example, can help you reconnect with your family and tend to your personal needs. Setting aside an hour two each evening for personal time can also keep you feeling recharged and refreshed.

Images by: Shopify Partners, Matthew Henry, Sarah Pflug

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