Work Life Balance….An Update…A Year and a Half On by @FloraBarton

In an earlier post that I wrote in January 2014, I talked about work-life balance. As a new head (I had taken up post in the September of 2013), I was determined to ensure that all staff at my school maintained some sort of balance between work and life. In this earlier post, I wrote about how I insisted on teachers leaving at least twice a week by 4:30 with no work in their hands. This was a big change as teachers had been used to working late and had felt the pressure to do so.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Flora Barton and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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It is now a year and a half in. I have kept to my word. Twice a week I leave before 4 to be sure I am home when my children get through the door. It has been a challenge, I have had my governors comment specifically on this fact. But, doing so has allowed me to keep perspective throughout the week, stay fresh and full of enthusiasm while I’m at work. Distance does wonders and without it a leader can quickly be so entrenched in things that they lose their effectiveness.

I’ve had many people ask for an update, so here it is. Our KS2 SATS results at the end of the summer term were excellent -in fact, we were listed in the league tables in the top twenty schools for our county. We achieved 100% pass rate in our phonics test and our EYFS results were above local and national. So, if results are what you are after, there you have it.

However, the biggest impact has been on staff morale. We are all working so well as a team. There is a ‘buzz’ in the school which you can literally feel. Staff have said how enthused they are and how different things feel with the changes that have been implemented. On the staff survey at the end of the year 100% of staff said that they enjoyed their jobs. Further, in the staff health and well-being survey that was carried out in November 2014, the results were outstanding. Teachers not only enjoyed their jobs but felt they were well supported in their roles and indicated that they had a good balance between work and their home-life. Areas that were highlighted green showed the highest ratings but there were some areas that weren’t all green, therefore this is what I have now put into an action plan to ensure these areas are tackled.

Further, during the debrief of our results with the external advisor who carried out the survey, she noted how impressed she was with the policy I had initiated in school and with our overall results, that she is now using our school as a case study.

As a headteacher, I have to model what I expect of my staff. If we as leaders haven’t worked out how to balance our own working lives, then how can we expect it of our teachers?

Since I have implemented this policy teachers now leave twice a week by 4:30. All teachers now leave school everyday by 6:00 at the latest (unless there are evening events which require them to stay). PPA can be taken in or out of school as I trust my teachers to use their time wisely. Our motto is “Working smarter, not harder.”

To help with the workload, I also give my teachers additional time every small term outside of the classroom to complete their subject leader requirements. Especially when teachers may not remunerated for taking on this responsibility, time is an important resource that helps to ensure that these responsibilities are carried out with the highest quality.

What many people don’t realise, until they try the profession themselves, is how tiring teaching actually is. It is a job that you can never really ‘walk away from.’ Teachers are always thinking about their classroom – on holiday, thinking about the postcards they could send their class, or the seashells they should collect for that topic they will be teaching next term – or worrying about little Suzy Q, who is struggling at home. Teachers never really get a rest. At school, I expect 110% from my teachers all the time. Teaching in front of the class is a full time acting role. The only difference is that you don’t get a break until everyone goes home. You are always on the stage – keeping the children excited, engaged and entertained. No matter what you have going on at home or in your personal life, everything gets put aside when you walk through the school doors. At the end of the day when you finally get to sit down, you are exhausted! Then there is always planning and marking to do…..the job never ends.

So yes, work-life balance is a priority as a headteacher. I will do whatever it takes to have staff who come into work full of life and enthusiasm so that our children learn from passionate teachers full of energy. Enthusiasm is contagious and children will always soak up so much more ‘learning’ when they are in a classroom that stimulates and excites them.

Work-life balance is a key discussion point at the moment. But this is all it will be until leaders take action. The DFE will continue to impose changes – there will always be assessment, testing, Ofsted, etc, etc. There is nothing that we can do to change this… the moment. So, it is up to leaders to do something about it in their own schools. Leaders should deal with change in a way that doesn’t completely wreak havoc on their staff – they must initiate the external change in a way that suits their school and the people within it. Together and as a team they should deal with all and any changes that are initiated. Further, it is up to the management team to help support staff and to model an effective work-life balance.

Blame cannot always be put on the external pressures – it is time for leaders to take action and to finally support their staff in gaining their work-life balance back. There will always be stress, time constraints and change, but it is up to us as leaders to cushion our staff from as much of it as we can.

What changes can you make in your school to help support staff to achieve this? What changes will you make yourself?

I guarantee that you will notice the change……

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