Towards a model of well-being in the English department

In September I take a step up to lead the department in which I’ve been second for two years. From personal experience and looking at the year ahead, one of my major areas of focus will be staff well-being. We have increased responsibilities, shrinking budgets, higher expectations and a highly pressurised timetable which includes a lot less planning time. It’s essential to take what steps we can to make the department an enjoyable place to work. Schools aren’t (take a deep breath!) only for the students. Happy, balanced and enjoyable work lives enable staff to do better jobs, no matter where they are employed. So, some things we’re doing / will be doing in September to make our jobs a little easier. Many of these have had their origins in #teamenglish on twitter, especially @xris32, @TLPMsF and @FKRitson among others.

  1. Cover lessons can use the 250 word challenges

We’re supposed to fill in a cover form; I’ll prepopulate one as far as possible and email all staff, so all they need do is fill in their class code and email to our cover staff. These 250 word challenges are set up on a blog with pre=set dates so one is released every Sunday evening, meaning there’s always something fresh to write about.

  1. Encouraging creative writing

Alongside the 250 word challenges, this year I’ve created a series of writing lessons using resources including Back to Creative Writing School (Bridget Whelan). The Creative Writing Coursebook (Julia Bell and Paul Magrs) and various exercises I’ve done in the many years I’ve been attending creative writing workshops! These are available on the VLE, with suggested timings and peer assessment, for staff to use as they wish.

As Creative Writing is 25% of the two GCSEs students will sit, I’ve made it clear I’m definitely going to spend more time doing it. As well as embedding writing alongside analytical work, I intend to spend at least one lesson a fortnight on writing, if not more. Most of our department find these sorts of lessons enjoyable to plan and teach – while the planning is done for them if they wish, it also takes the pressure off in terms of marking.

  1. Changing assessments.

We’re ditching the year 7 baseline assessment. We’re judged on the incoming KS2 data, and will have to work with it. End of year assessments will be broadly GCSE style, in terms of the question formatting, but with supportive language to make explicit links with what they’ve been taught. We don’t teach the GCSE questions explicitly but do, as part of normal analytical work, explore language, structure and evaluation.

At least one set of mock exams will be externally marked. We won’t do all four – it’s not necessary. I’ll probably blog about my feelings on this another time!

Our school feedback and assessment policy is already pretty hands-off, which I want to keep. I would like to do more moderation in faculty training sessions which might mean having to rejig some things and shuffling around data entry sessions – but would be, I think, welcome and meaningful. Teachers will have to provide feedback to students, but I’ll be circulating whole-class feedback sheets as a model, having dedicated feedback lessons and live marking in class. Nothing staggeringly new, but all I think helpful in managing workload outside school hours.

  1. Calendar for the term ahead

Providing a one-page reference of all school events at the beginning of the term. It helps to plan out workload, and makes people a bit more comfortable when they know what’s coming up. Easier to have on one sheet than in several different places, which it is at the moment.

  1. Saying no.

I don’t really like doing this – which is as much my drive to please and perfectionism, but I’ve had to control my perfectionism in other areas since starting to teach so I’ll just have to be braver and say that we don’t have the capacity for everything we would like to do. The tricky balance will be saying no firmly but explicitly, while also making sure that opportunities aren’t denied by not asking. I’ve found sometimes saying no to one thing means people don’t ask for something later, which is not ideal.

I don’t think these ideas are  ground-breaking, but they’re not currently in use at my school and hopefully will make a big difference.

What do you think?