The Art of Saying No

  • #UKEdChat session 536
  • Should altruism be the default?
  • Saying no could make someone more valued
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On the whole, teachers are a collaborative bunch. While we often teach in isolation behind the classroom door, or more recently behind the warm glow of a Microsoft Teams filled screen, as professionals, we have the support of our institution and colleagues behind us. Because we see ourselves as an indispensable cog in the learning machine, it is difficult for us to refuse to keep other areas of the machine oiled.

I am a spinner of professional plates and have a tough time refusing pleas of assistance, even to my own detriment. This is not one of those ‘Name one negative thing about you that’s actually a positive’ interview answers, or virtue signalling. The ability not to say no, and thereby spreading oneself too thinly is a professional failing. I have marvelled at colleagues who are able to say no and suffer no ill effects by doing so.

This takes many forms which can be seen in most schools. The ‘immovable arm-folders’, the ‘overzealous committee-formers’ and the ‘delegating subcontractors’. Some are more subtle, for example, the ‘cunning minimalist’, is adept at completing visible tasks which win praise from school leaders, but does not do the less visible task that makes life easier for colleagues.

Perversely, saying no could make someone more valued. By sticking to doing what they are good at, rationing their time and effort to when they can give their full attention to something, saying no to all but those tasks where they can make a real impact could build one’s reputation.

However, when working towards a common goal in a team, where the whole is greater than it parts, shouldn’t unfettered altruism be the default?

In this #UKEdChat discussion, which took place on Thursday 14th January 2021 at 8pm(UK) we discussed the virtues and pitfalls of saying no, what strategies can be used by individual teachers to ensure they are not overloaded, how leadership can ensure that tasks are distributed fairly, and to what degree is saying no a life skill that we need to teach our pupils.


  1. Do you find it difficult to say no to others in your professional life? Why?
  2. How can an inability to saying no to others in your professional life lead to problems?
  3. When you simply can’t manage anymore on your workload, what is the best way to say no to someone?
  4. How can school leaders ensure a fair spread of workload is happening within their school?
  5. Saying no to power: How can teachers refuse to take on more tasks they perceive as unfair or too much?
  6. In your own experience, how can single acts of altruism help everyone?
  7. How can saying no actually help in the long run?
  8. Is the ability to gracefully say no a skill we should be teaching our students?

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About @ICTmagic 780 Articles
Martin Burrett is the editor of our popular UKEdMagazine, along with curating resources in the ICTMagic section, and free resources for teachers on UKEd.Directory

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