Teacher Wellbeing: My top ten TED talks

I’ll admit it: I’m a geek. While other people lie in on Saturday mornings, I wake up early and complete household chores as I watch and listen to TED talks. I love it – I’m getting things done, but I’m learning at the same time. When you work in this profession, you spend most of your time working out how to motivate and inspire others. Sometimes we forget that we need this too.

Here are ten of my favourite talks that always give me a boost:

1. Amy Cuddy will teach you to tweak your body language and ‘fake it until you become it.’ Moving and brilliant. I highly recommend hiding in the toilet to perform the ‘Wonder Woman’ for 2 minutes before staff presentations. And yes, we get the irony.

2. Michelle Poler’s inspirational talk is the end product of 100 days ‘without fear’, a project in which she faces 100 different fears, ranging from uncomfortable to mess-your-pants terrifying. You’ll be facing off with the spider in the shed before you know it and maybe even encouraging your students to do the same.

3. If you’re a self-confessed loner; if you’d rather have a night in with the cats than go out and see your favourite band; you’ll love Susan’s Cains’ talk about why it’s friggin’ awesome to be an introvert.

4. Having one of those days where you feel like you’ll never be confident enough to face that class/speak at INSET/join the ‘Thriller’ flashmob at Tesco next Saturday? Watch Dr. Ivan’s Joseph’s talk and remind yourself that confidence is a skill to practise and grow, rather than something you either have or don’t. Growth Mindset isn’t just for the kids.

5. Caroline Casey’s talk is so moving and so inspirational. No spoilers – I’ll just say it’s all about perception baby!

6. When we grow up, we want to be Dr. Pam Peeke. Her insights and research into sugar addiction are just fascinating, and she looks (and talks) like she could star in ‘Dallas.’

7. Who doesn’t love a bit of profanity with their housework? Sarah Knight doesn’t disappoint.

8. Andy Puddicombe (the voice of the Headspace app) has such a soothing tone; if he can’t convince you to meditate for ten minutes a day, then you may as well give up now – you’re a lost cause.

9. If like us you’re prone to a little (or lot) of self-destruction now and again,  you’ll appreciate Mel Robbins’ candour, humour and tips to get things done.

10. If you take away even just one thing from Caroline Myss’s talk, you will be a better person for it. This is one to watch again and again.


Teacher Wellbeing: Does your morning set you up for rock-star teaching?

What is your morning routine? Do you even have one? I suppose it’s quite an American concept – something that most of my rather sarcastic British friends would feel was quiet ridiculous and even self-indulgent.

What? You don’t just roll out of bed, throw on your clothes, chug down a coffee and race off to work?!

And this is exactly what I used to do, in the years BT (Before Teaching). The idea of course, was to maximise sleep and therefore feel more refreshed and rested for the next day. Only I’m not sure this ever really worked.

When I began to feel overwhelmed with work in my first teaching position, and every minute of the day seemed to be occupied with thoughts of the to do list, I decided it was time to experiment with my morning routine and take back a little time, just for me, before I went out there to face the world.

What I quickly realised was that I didn’t feel any more crappy if I missed 30 minutes extra sleep; in fact, I felt a lot more emotionally prepared to face school, and my workload, because I’d had that time for me.

Just like an actor prepares to go on set or a rock star performs a number of rituals before they go on stage, many teachers might just find that they benefit from cultivating a morning routine.

My own individual morning routine has changed again and again; with my job, my mood, my exercise routine or the latest book I read. At one point, I was staring at a focus board while incense burned, then I would read through positive quotes about life and set an intention for the day. Yes, seriously. It was nice and I found myself surrounded by unfamiliar silence (in my mind too) but I didn’t feel particularly energetic, and my hair smelt like burnt lavender.

So I changed my routine – I stayed later in school on an evening, setting up my lessons, and went swimming at the local baths in the morning. It was a bit of a race time-wise (I really worked ‘drowned-rat chic’) but I felt amazing. At the baths, I would mix up fast power-lengths with ‘meditative lengths’ (Yes, seriously!) in which I would focus on my breath, and use all of my senses of feel the soft blanket of water around me. Sometimes, I’d throw in some ‘gratitude lengths’ too and I’d force myself to think about everything I was so grateful for in my life. Even on the worst mornings, when the pool was jam-packed and there seemed to be a convoy of kamikaze granddads directed towards me at every turn, I would come away feeling energised, strong, calm and grateful. I’d arrive at school knowing that I’d already achieved something; something for me as a person, not as a teacher.

Sadly, when I moved jobs to a school further away, I couldn’t accommodate my morning swim. I switched to morning gym sessions and started hitting the treadmill at a gym on the way to school, getting ready in the changing rooms. It’s true that getting up at 5.40AM isn’t for everyone, but I can’t describe how energetic and empowering it is to arrive at school at 7.30AM, knowing that you’ve run 5KM. I felt unstoppable.

Last year, a broken leg abruptly ended my morning gym habit, so now it’s ten minutes of YouTube Yoga followed by Berocca and avocado-peanut butter toast (don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.) Sometimes I review my gratitude diary too and have a sneaky peak at my monthly life goals (Yes, I really do this!) then off I go. Even in the car, I alternate between ‘mindfulness driving’, 80s power-ballads and podcasts/audio books. I regularly find myself wishing my drive home was longer because I want to hear more about the health benefits of Tumeric or because Harry Potter is about to go undercover in the Ministry of Magic (God love that Polyjuice potion!)

yoga pic

Finding my zen… if only these leather trousers weren’t so itchy.

Being a teacher is a lot like being a rock star or an actor; sometimes you wake up feeling like a gloomy Monday morning, but you’ve still got a show to put on; people have bought tickets and they deserve a good performance. I was always told that the children should never see a difference between your worst day and your best. There’s nothing worse than a teacher who inflicts a bad mood on their students.

I really encourage you to think about what you could change or add into your morning routine.

You might find that not only do you teach better lessons, but that everything just feels a little easier; a little brighter; a little better. Surely, this is worth the loss of twenty minutes sleep?

Teacher Wellbeing: Never put your happiness on hold.

This weekend I came across one of my favourite poems: ‘Days’ by Philip Larkin. I love the simplicity of this poem and the message, at least as I see it, to live in the moment and enjoy each and every day.

When I was previously unhappy in my job, or indeed in my life, I’d put off happiness constantly. I’d tell myself ‘I’ll be happy when I get these last ten pounds off,’ or ‘I’ll be happy when I’ve bought my own house,’ and certainly, as a teacher, it was a case of ‘I’ll be happy when it’s my next school holiday.’ In reality, no item on this tick list ever made me ‘happy.’ Even the granddaddy of school holidays, Summer, never lived up to this kind of street cred and I often found myself just as unhappy, only in a different situation.


She was eternally grateful for that one ‘good hair day’

I realised a couple of years ago that the old cliché is true and that happiness truly does come from within. It’s about the things you choose to notice and choose to ignore; it’s about what you’re consciously grateful for every day; it’s about how you choose to eat, move, interact, challenge yourself and others, and most importantly, think.

Nowadays, I still look forward to holidays just like I used to, but there’s less desperate urgency about it. I focus more on the small-wins of every day life: a gorgeous class to teach, a new idea to try with a tricky pupil, a lesson plan that gets the creative juices flowing, a free period, a homemade soup for lunch, a post-school Netflix binge!

I’d like to point out that my natural disposition is to be cynical, sarcastic, anxious and negative (and that’s on a good day!) so thinking this was hasn’t come naturally – I’ve had to force it. Cultivating this kind of attitude has taken years of effort and still continues to challenge me – it’s not like I don’t have bad days, or hormones… but it’s incredibly powerful to know that the feeling that you’re looking for is available to you right now, if you only open your eyes (changing your body language massively helps too!)

So please – enjoy your day and take notice of everything good around you. I’ll leave you with this awesome poem:


What are days for?

Days are where we live.   

They come, they wake us   

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:   

Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor   

In their long coats

Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin 




A broken system (and vegan hotdogs…)

Imagine a hot dog vendor, who has been going about his way, happily selling his product to happy customers for years on end. Let’s call him Jimmy. Then some shady guy comes along and threatens him. He says, “Jimmy – meat isn’t good for people. You have to start selling vegetarian sausages instead.” Jimmy complains – he knows that this man is a vegan, and doesn’t know anything about hot dogs – hasn’t even tasted one…but what can he do? This is a powerful guy and it wouldn’t take much for him to destroy his whole business, and with it his livelihood.

So now, every day, Jimmy has to walk five miles out of his way to get the particular brand of veggie sausages; he gets up two hours earlier and gets home two hours later. He misses his family – he argues with his wife and kids. Maybe it would be worth it if he was getting results, but no one wants these veggie sausages; people just don’t like them. The new boss doesn’t accept this. He just thinks Jimmy isn’t advertising them well enough, or that he’s not ‘making them right.’ Poor Jimmy is set ridiculous sales targets – targets that he would have struggled with even with business was good. His boss asks him to compile reports. He spends night and after night working on Excel, compiling data to show what he’s already explained…that people just aren’t buying. His boss thinks that these new incentives will force him to up his game and get results; it only leads to Jimmy feeling sad, lonely and unfulfilled.

Some way down the line, after so many failed targets, Jimmy actually begins to doubt himself. Was he ever really that good at selling hot dogs? Was he in the wrong line of work all along? Jimmy goes on for as long as he can, but in the end, he decides that he’s just not good enough anymore and he quits the job that he once loved. He feels like a failure.


Yes, I do have a thing for mafia movies. But this analogy sums up how I feel about the education system in the UK. Teachers here are leaving in droves. Why? Because just like Jimmy, they are subject to the whims of people who have little to no experience of what they actually do, or the children that they teach. It’s unbearably sad to see really incredible teachers leaving the profession as a result of this; even worse that so many leave blaming themselves, rather than the system that set them up to fail.

If you’re in the business of selling hot dogs, you need years of meat-eating experience behind you. If you’re going to dictate how every teacher teaches and every child learns across the country, then you need to have had years of experience working in state schools. Or at least have a group of advisers who work in state schools.

I really don’t think that’s asking too much.

Because let’s face it. If this doesn’t happen…if we are just at the mercy of one clueless politician after another…then the best we can hope for is job dissatisfaction. Our staff and our children deserve better.

Teacher Wellbeing: Are you hanging out with school Dementors? Are you one yourself?

There have days/weeks/terms in my career when I was overworked, stressed out and miserable, and as such sought solace in moaning, ranting and complaining to others. It wasn’t a conscious decision at the time. I just couldn’t seem to stop the words coming out of my mouth. And anyway – it’s good to let off steam right?

Frankly. No.

This wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t solving anything. All I did was bring myself and my colleagues down.

I had become a school Dementor. I was sucking the life out of anyone who came near me.

Now… I’ll be kind and let myself off. Looking back, my situation at that time was soul-crushingly bleak on so many levels, that I’m still amazed I survived at all. Still – I realise now that I made things significantly worse for myself through my own mental and spoken dialogue.

Teachers beware; beware of spending time with Dementors; beware of becoming one yourself.

A good rant is healthy and necessary every now and then, but if it becomes part of your daily routine to nip into your colleagues classroom every day at the end of school, and spend half an hour longing for another life, complaining bitterly about school mismanagement and unpleasant kids; about the pile of books you have to spend the night marking when you should be ironing instead, well… just stop. Half an hour a week is two and a half hours – that’s weekly PPA time for many. And you’re spending it complaining?

Instead, you could be rattling off some work and getting home a bit earlier to spend time with your family. You could race off to the gym and get some much-needed endorphins to help you cope all you have to moan about. You could go and sit outside on your own with a cuppa and enjoy a bit of quiet mindfulness. If you’re really unhappy, you could spend that time looking for another job.

You could do something that makes you feel better – not worse.

I know that this is easier said that done, especially considering that most of the time we really enjoy moaning and the company of those who moan along with us. They’re often not only colleagues, but trusted friends.

But this is your life. This is your well-being; your health. And it’s theirs too! 


If you’re more left than right, maybe something needs to change!

Tell your friends how you feel – tell them that you’re trying desperately to curtail your complaining to help yourself feel happier. Any friend worth their salt would want that for you anyway. Ask them to help you; maybe they can shout, “Chucky Cheese!” at you whenever you unconsciously start blathering on; if they’re a ‘funny’ friend, maybe they will start Irish dancing with a finger up the nose (I’ve never tried that but I know I have friends who would oblige!). Maybe set a day after school when you get together and have a good old moan. Just make sure that this day doesn’t spiral into a week.

And if they’re not obliging? Maybe you need to change your working patterns for a while; perhaps your classroom door gets closed at the end of the day; maybe you head home at half 3 and work on the kitchen table. Do whatever it takes to help yourself feel happier. Give it a month – if you’re no happier, feel free to return to your complaining!

With so many teachers leaving the profession, the ones who are staying need to take steps to protect themselves in any way that they can, even from themselves.



Are you a resource-miser? Share instead!

If there is one thing that infuriates and befuddles me, it’s the numerous colleagues that I’ve met in different sectors of education, who refuse to share planning, resources and ideas. They keep them under lock and key in filing cabinets; they hoard them on their personal memory sticks; they remain silent when colleagues say they’re not sure how to teach Chromatography to year 6, knowing full well that they have a brilliant lesson under their belt. Even when these resource-misers do put things onto the shared drive, when they move year groups, subjects or jobs, everything miraculously disappears.

It begs the question: what is the purpose of our planning, prep, ideas and resources? Surely the answer is that it’s to teach, support and help children to learn.

resource miser








As far as I can see, sharing your hard work has the following benefits:

  1. Other staff will be really grateful and probably likely to return the favour when you’re in need, saving you time and effort.
  2. More children will be taught a lesson that you created. More children will learn and benefit from your hard work… so without doing anything more yourself, your ‘learning royalties’ just keep totting up. That’s a great feeling.
  3. Teaching can be very insular, with staff only really being aware or caring about what’s happening in their class, year group or subject. Sharing at least allows you to ‘give’ to the school as a whole, without doing any extra work.
  4. Every teacher has their own style and every class is different, so others may well adapt your lesson to suit them, and who knows… you might decide to use their alterations the next time you teach this. No matter how proud I am of a lesson, I always have to make some kind of change to suit the class/time of day/my mood/their mood.
  5. In term time, the majority of teachers work constantly. Keeping up with the ever-changing demands of the classroom can be incredibly stressful. If we can make things a little bit easier for others – if we can give them the odd lesson that saves them an hour’s planning on an evening – then surely that’s a good thing.
  6. It’s so easy to share – just save it on the shared drive.
  7. It’s a really nice thing to do. Doing nice things makes you feel good.
  8. Your colleagues will appreciate you even more and hopefully respect your professional and supportive attitude.

Just to play devil’s advocate, let’s look at the other side. Being a resource-miser has the following benefits:

  1. No other soul will ever benefit from your blood, sweat and tears. Everyone else will have to work and suffer just like you did – no easy rides for anyone.

Point made.

So please spread your resources around school like jam on toast. The more you spread, the sweeter it will taste. And the more mouths you’ll feed.


Teacher Wellbeing: Getting comfortable with stress

If you haven’t seen this amazing TED talk, then I definitely recommend!

Kelly McGonigal discusses the medical effects of stress versus the effects of what we believe about stress.

Evidence from the study of 30,000 people showed that those who experienced a lot of stress were 43% more likely to die early – but this was only true of those who believed their stress to be a bad thing. For those who believed that their stress response to be a good thing; who saw the physical symptoms of stress not as fear and anxiety, but as their bodies becoming stronger and more aware, preparing to rise to a challenge; they were happy and healthy despite coping with large amounts of stress in their daily lives.

This way of thinking really goes against the grain. In our modern world, we’re programmed to see stress as a bad thing. If you picture a ‘stressed-out’ teacher, you don’t see some fantastically healthy and happy individual, consistently stepping up to challenges. No. You think of some wide-eyed, sleep-deprived maniac rocking in the corner of the staff room, surrounded by target sheets, coated in red pen and drool.

So maybe if we re-wire our thinking as to what stress actually is, we might actually find that it can become like a slightly cheap, uncomfortable sofa – while it takes some getting used to when you first test it out, you soon find that after a little while of sitting down, the cushion has moulded to fit your backside and it feels okay.

As McGonigal tells us, the body responds to stress in some really incredible ways.

Alongside the release of adrenaline and the whole ‘fight or flight’ response, the body also releases the hormone Oxytocin. As far as hormones go, this one has a serious amount of street cred. Also known affectionately as the ‘cuddle hormone,’ Oxytocin is all about human connection. Its release in times of stress heals and strengthens the heart, protecting us from the effects of adrenaline, as well as motivating us to seek or give support, tell those around us how we feel and basically, to connect with others. It’s really incredible! McGonigal also reminds us that those who care for others appear to be the most immune to the negative effects of stress.

She calls the stress response the ‘biology of courage’ which I just think is terrific. Just imagine, if all of the ‘stressed’ teachers learnt to re-think their stress as a positive, empowering thing. Or even better, what if we taught this approach in schools to worried year 6s approaching SATs, or year 11s gearing up for final exams. How would this impact results if our students saw increased heart-rate, sweaty palms and slow-motion, ‘cotton wool’ thinking as their body making them hyper-aware and heightening their senses so that they could ace their exam?      

As Kelly McGonigal tells us, perhaps the most powerful part of this is that by accepting our stress and viewing it positively, we are saying that we can trust ourselves to handle what life throws at us, and that we can face these challenges with others. If nothing else, this is a message that needs sharing with our staff and our students.

Teacher Wellbeing: I kept a Gratitude Diary for a year and this is what happened…

Editor’s update (20.11.17): Since writing here, the big change is that I felt ready to leave the security of secondary employment and ‘go out on my own.’ Looking here at the benefits  I noticed over a year ago, I wonder if had I not developed and maintained this daily habit of gratitude – and through this happiness – if I’d have had the courage to leave my safety net and leap into the unknown. As it was, I felt a strong sense of trust in both myself and the world’s plan for me. I knew that this was something I needed to do, and that whatever the result was, I would be grateful and happy for the experience. I still keep a gratitude diary – in fact, I’ve migrated to the Six-Minute Diary – and have now branched out into gratitude washing-up! 

This last week, I came to the end of my ‘gratitude diary.’ I tend to use online calendars to keep track of events and tasks, so when I was given my school diary last year, I thought I may as well try out the latest ‘fad’ in positive thinking. Every day – usually on a night – I have written down as many things as I can think of that are good about the day: things that I’ve done and enjoyed, funny conversations or complements I’ve been given, lessons that have gone really well and just generally things that I’m grateful for.

After a year, I’ve noticed the following things:Gratitude Diary cover

  • I seem to feel a lot more positive and it seems more natural. When I started out, my instant reaction to problems would be negative – I’d have to think really hard to re-frame this in my words (and my head) to appear positive. I had to force it. After a year, I feel like my natural reaction is instinctively positively.
  • I’m often complemented on my cheery disposition. People tell me that they love to see me because I’m always happy and positive, and apparently inspire and motivate others with my sunny outlook. This is probably the nicest complement I could receive.
  • When things do go wrong, and I do allow myself to sink into the misery of a bad situation, it doesn’t last as long as it used to. I just keep telling myself that ‘the only way out is through’ with the certainty that the bad feeling will pass.
  • I am more forgiving of others. I don’t seem to get anywhere near as angry or annoyed at people any more – I certainly don’t carry around bad feelings towards others. I feel like I’ve developed a greater sense of empathy towards people: I actually try and think about the other person’s side of the story and consider why they have acted in a certain way, rather than immediately writing them off because they haven’t met my expectations.
  • I’ve become more accepting of both people and situations. Where I’ve realised that good friends and I have grown apart, I’m okay with that. I’m happy to accept this as part of life and wish them happy, fulfilling lives.
  • I moan less. I worry less too! My situation hasn’t changed – neither have the things that I used to complain about – but my attitude is much more ‘c’est la vie.’ While I still plan ahead and look to changes I can make to improve my situation, I can do this without taking anything away from my present situation; I consider myself lucky to have the problems that I do.
  • I protect myself from ‘Dementors’. If I always feel down/upset/angry after talking to a particular person, then I make a conscious decision to distance myself from them and instead gravitate towards happier people. When I come across people who behave in a consistently cruel, arrogant, selfish and bullyish manner, my initial reaction now is to feel sad for them. People that have to bring others down rarely feel good about themselves deep-down and often miss out on the genuine, rich friendships and connections that the rest of us enjoy.
  • I am much happier in my job. Even after a ‘bad’ lesson, I can pick out at least 5 things that went really well – a brilliant question or answer in discussion, a student who made me laugh, a support assistant who got the best out of a challenging child, a child who worked really hard on a piece of work… Even at times of the year when the deadlines are looming, I still feel genuinely grateful to be able to work amongst such wonderful adults and children.
  • I am much happier in general, day to day. I realised a few years ago that if I based my happiness on some future goal i.e. I’ll be happy when I lose a stone; move house; get a new job; have 2 weeks in the sun… then I’d never keep a hold of it. My gratitude diary reminds me be mindful in appreciating even the most mundane moments of my daily life. As a result, I’m much more content overall – just from noticing what was there all along.

Gratitude Diary 1We hear it time and time again: what you focus on is what you get more of. Taking a few minutes each day to think on all of the wonderful things/people/moments/challenges that have been part of my day is something that is now part of my daily routine. What I once thought to be a fad is now a good habit and one that yields countless results.

Next year’s diary has arrived today and with it the prospect of more love, joy and laughter ahead.


QUICK READ: Top 5 reasons to own a Memory Box

Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s a bit ‘girly.’ And yes, I probably got the idea out of a magazine years back when… but owning a ‘memory box’ is still a fantastic idea for anyone, and especially teachers. Once every few years, I’ll spend an hour carefully going over the items in the box, leading to lots of warm, fuzzy feelings.

Here are the reasons why every teacher needs one:

  1. Admit it – you feel guilty as hell when you bin that drawing that little Jimmy did for you… but if you kept everything you received (I’m mainly talking to Primary staff here – there’s a serious ‘gift drought’ in Secondary) you’d need to rent out a storage facility. Having a memory box allows you 9 guilt-free throw-aways for every 1 save.
  2. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teaching can be a ‘thank-less’ profession. When you do get a thank you… hold on to it for dear life! When you’ve had a bad day with lower-set year 9 or a lengthy staff meeting analysing ‘Raise Online,’ come home and sift through your happy memories to remind yourself of all the good you do and why you do it. Then you can shove your head into a tub of Ben & Jerrys.
  3. You can store all kinds of stuff: thank you cards, emails from grateful parents, photos from school trips, birthday badges, ‘so bad it’s hilarious’ kiddy artwork… along with lots of ‘normal people’ stuff like theatre tickets, postcards, stolen hotel pens and assorted holiday souvenirs. If you’re having a trip-less school holiday, remind yourself of all the adventures you’ve been on both inside and outside of the classroom.
  4. Bad memories can be good too! I have a Christmas card from a student I taught in year 5 that says, “I am sorry I misbehaved. I promise I will never do it again.” This boy wasn’t very good at admitting to his mistakes, and the fact that he wrote this makes me grin every time I open the card. Of course he broke his promise, and went on to cause me further frustration in the classroom, but we got through it and had some lovely moments together. It’s a good reminder that storms pass and make way for blue skies.
  5. Probably the most important reason of all, it allows you to buy or ‘craft’ a beautiful display box that your partner cannot possibly complain about – you can tell them it’s full of couple photos and past year’s valentines tokens, even if it’s not! Feeling really blue? Leave it in the living room (with the lid slightly ajar) and wait for your guests to enquire as to its contents. Then you can fake an embarrassed brag about all of the gifts/thanks/love you’ve received over the years due to the fact that you’re just an amazing teacher/person who changes lives…every single day.


Teacher Wellbeing: Multiply your time!

This morning, I watched a really interesting TED talk by Rory Vaden, entitled ‘How to Multiply Your Time.’ There’s a wealth of information on the internet relating to work-life balance and I’m keen to try any new ideas or strategies that may help me find more peace both inside and outside of the classroom. Click here to watch the video. I’ve broken this down and suggested how this might apply to teaching professionals below, though it could be applied to any professional or indeed any human being who has stuff to do. I’ve already used the questioning to eliminate a few summer housework jobs!

Vaden discusses prioritising in the modern age and what he calls it ‘3D thinking.’ Before you start any task, he suggests that you consider these three questions:

  1. How much does it matter?

  2. How soon does it matter?

  3. How long will it matter for?

This is so simple but very effective. Often teachers find themselves so busy with day to day teaching, planning, marking, emails and admin, that they forget to actually ask anything before they sit down to work. I know that this isn’t part of my own working routine.

The ethos of a ‘time multiplier’, according to Vaden, is ‘Give yourself the emotional permission to spend time on things TODAY that will give you more time TOMORROW’ – Prioritise tasks that will result in less tasks or at least more efficiency down the line; do what is most significant first rather than what’s most urgent.

In order to decide what needs to be done and when, he applies the following thought processes before beginning tasks. He asks:

  1. Why am I doing this? Is it worth doing? Vaden talks about giving yourself permission to say no to certain things if they are not worthy of your time; he says that by saying yes to things that are unworthy, you’re inadvertently saying no to other things that would have been more useful and fulfilling.

For teaching staff, whatever your role in school, you will obviously have tasks that come first, even if you don’t think it’s worthy of your time. If your class assessment is due on Friday, you have to get this done and maintain your professionalism. There will be plenty of other times though, when you’re plodding along through your ‘to do list’: this is when you need to consider the why and the worth of what you’re about to do. Have you had something on your list for months (something that once completed might result in less work) that you’ve ignored, because you’ve been too busy marking day-to-day? Maybe you need to give yourself permission to get a little behind on your marking and use the time instead to create some peer and self-assessment resources so that you can reduce your marking workload in future.

  1. Can I eliminate/automate this process altogether?

When I look at my ‘to do list,’ I have things on there that I’ve had there for over a year. A year! If I bought a top that I didn’t wear for a year, I’d put it down to a bad impulse buy and give it to charity. Clearly, if a task is on your list for a year and it’s not even touched, it needs to go. Otherwise it will only haunt you and reinforce the whole mental dialogue of “I’m so busy all of the time but I never get anything done!”

  1.  Can I delegate this task?

If you’re a school leader of any kind, can you select individuals or teams of staff who can take on roles and responsibilities? If you’re teaching within a year group team at primary level, or within a department at secondary, have you shared out workload so that it plays to people’s strengths and is fairly distributed. Like many others, I find delegating tough… but as Vaden points out, you need to allow time and training for people to complete jobs effectively (like you hopefully had when you started doing things for the first time). In fact, you’re really doing them a disservice in not trusting them enough to learn new things.

For teachers, it worth pointing out here that you can also delegate to your students! This might be asking them to self or peer-mark pieces of work, telling you what and how they want to learn, tidying up and looking after equipment or doing general class admin around school. Set your expectations high; model how to complete tasks properly; tell them that this is a test of trust and responsibility; and allow them a good amount of time to get things wrong until they get it right. They might eventually prove more helpful than the adults you delegate to!

  1. Does the task need to be done NOW? If it needs to be done now, then you need focus and concentration.

I’ve come a long way in the last year by adopting an attitude of ‘do the worst first.’ Turn the TV off and move away from distractions. Do not check your phone or your email. Tell yourself you’ll spend 15 minutes starting the task and see where you go from there. Momentum is everything.

With the really tedious jobs – big marking jobs for example, that require highlighted grids, stamps and stickers, and half a page of comments for the kids not to read – are often better broken down into smaller jobs. In the first few years of my career, I used to tackle sets of books with blinkered determination; I had to wipe the job off my list at all costs, even if it meant spending the whole weekend marking. Feeling burnt out after only a few years, I realised that it’s much more sensible to have a good weekend and recharge my batteries, and mark 6 books each day for a week. I’m certain that this not only improved my quality of life, but also the quality of my marking and assessment.

  1. If the task doesn’t need to be done now, allow yourself to procrastinate on purpose.While Vaden reminds us that procrastination is still ‘the killer or all success,’ he distinguishes this final step from the latter as a conscious choice to put something off until a more appropriate time, or until it fits into one of the other stages above. He talks about this as a means of ‘mitigating the unexpected change cost.’

I love this last idea! Education is plagued with change – change dictated from above (often by people who haven’t and couldn’t teach themselves); it’s rarely useful; it’s frequently harmful towards children, staff and the profession; and mostly it’s just unnecessary. From a personal point of view, this ‘change for change’s sake’ resulted in so much wasted time when my completed tasks/projects/resources/lesson plans /initiatives/ presentations/ displays/paperwork were binned after a term to make way for yet another new ‘drive for improvement’ or ‘success initiative.’

When I get behind an idea, I tend to go in full force with my heart and my soul. I believe in a job well done. I enjoy this: it’s who I am. But I’m also aware that if I don’t hold back a little with the way things are, I’m in danger of become extremely frustrated and cynical. In a three-round fight, if you throw all of your weight into every punch, you’re going to run out of steam in the first round. You need to throw a few jabs too. You need to be efficient with your energy and your power if you want to win, or even survive. Within the context of the classroom, this might mean doing only what is required when the latest initiative is introduced, and waiting to see if it’s still around in 6 months before you really hit the planning/displays/resources with some gusto.

Teaching is a truly exhausting job: use your energy efficiently.

If you want to read more from the Rory Vaden himself, please check out his blog here. Watching, reading and writing about this has definitely made me think about how and why I approach my workload in the way that I do, and inspired me make a few changes next time I sit down to work.