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Working from home: tips for teachers and leaders
Working from home is not something most teachers are used to. Liz Murray suggests ways to manage expectations and make it a positive experience
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- Adjusting to working from home
- Juggling work and family
- Leaders: role model and manage expectations
- Dos and don'ts for leaders
- Further reading and resources
Teaching is a profession unlike any other; we spend most of our time client-facing, working directly with young people. We are masters of multi-tasking in the moment, delivering a carefully planned lesson, personalising and adapting it as we go whilst managing unexpected responses and interruptions. It is a physical profession; we are performers, on our feet, moving around the classroom and the school.
Yet now, with very little warning, we find ourselves literally isolated, working remotely in some form or another. It isn’t surprising that many of us are floundering without the safety of the institutional routine in place.
Accept that you may not work in quite the same way as in school
We are all learning new skills; just downloading and operating the technology for a virtual meeting is a learning curve and not all colleagues will find this comfortable.
We need to manage our own expectations, adopt a reflective mindset – and not be too hard on ourselves.
Adjusting to working from home: tips and suggestions
- Think about what you need to achieve for work and the best way to complete this. If you are someone who works well in the morning and thrives on structure, continuing to get up early every day and working in a regular routine might work best for you.
- Accept that you may not work in quite the same way as in school; attempt working at different times of the day and find out when is most productive for you.
- Try to find the positives. If you usually struggle to read for work, this is your chance. Identify some CPD, be it a book, a webinar or some research and build it into your working week. This selected reading list from the Chartered College of Teaching could be a starting point.
- If you struggle to sit at the computer for long periods, build in other useful activities that are more active. For example, reward an hour of planning with watching or listening to a CPD video or podcast. Using a voice recording app while walking around the house or garden can help to keep you moving and working.
- Give yourself permission to rest and relax. Make sure that you are eating healthily, exercising and looking after your mental wellbeing as well. How about trying a daily meditation?
Juggling work and family
If you have children at home, you may not be able to work when you would normally, so you need to be realistic.
- We are used to working within the constraints of a timetable, so create your own. Write up the schedule for the day the night before and include the whole family in this. For example, explain to your family that you have to do a remote meeting or finish some lesson resources and let them choose when they might have some independent learning time, if they are old enough, or watch TV or play a computer game for a set period of time so that you can get on.
- Accept that you probably won’t be able to work in the same way as before but build in time that works to support your health and mental wellbeing also. For example, joining your children in PE with Joe is a good use of your time and energy.
- If you’ve got young children, working during naptimes or evenings might be your only option. If this is the case, be reasonable with yourself, and communicate with your line manager. Suggest how you might contribute, over a period of time, rather than trying to keep up with an imposed schedule of deadlines that is unmanageable.
- Communicate your situation and your plan to your team and line manager. This is not a time to hide our personal circumstances but to be open, creative and resourceful.
Leaders: role model and manage expectations
Effective school leadership is fast paced, and in normal times, effective school leaders are visible and present. The way in which school leaders respond to this situation is massively important. More than at any other time we must lead by example.
We are all learning how to survive in our new normal; be patient and kind.
Leaders must recognise that we cannot have the same expectations of colleagues. Even for those colleagues without dependents to manage, the switch from a social professional life to one spending hours in front of a computer screen is difficult. Many colleagues will also be coping with increased anxiety in this situation, especially if they are also going into school to support vulnerable children.
We need to model and support reflective, healthy and flexible practice and think about how to get the best out of our teams. Remember that we are all learning how to survive in our new normal; be patient and kind.
- Communicate organisational or team priorities early and make it clear why they are important.
- Think about how you are communicating and how your message will be received by others.
- Find out what each individual’s situation is and consider how best to support them in completing their responsibilities. If colleagues are in a key or senior role and need to complete statutory work or have safeguarding responsibility, do check that they will be able to do this and consider putting in support from elsewhere to help.
- Think about setting up projects that colleagues can work on over time so that they can manage their workload.
- Offer colleagues the opportunity to speak to you directly if they have concerns about working from home. By chatting it through you will understand their situation and be able to make reasonable adjustments to what is expected. They will feel listened to and supported.
- Check that colleagues are able to access work email or resources consistently, as not everyone may have a working laptop at home, and then make adjustments to support them. For example, offer to email to alternative email addresses, or get everyone to consistently save important information in the same place.
- Try to support colleagues on a human level. Some colleagues will be anxious and busy trying to juggle work and family, others may feel very isolated if they live alone. Try a virtual group coffee and chat where people can share home schooling tips and acknowledge the daily juggle.
- Encourage CPD. During busy school life, time for CPD can be limited. Get colleagues to identify something that they will learn. Consider how to encourage collaboration and learning discussions, for example, a virtual team book club or attending a webinar and then having a discussion afterwards.
- Lead by example: exercise, eat well, be mindful and remember to praise yourself and others whenever the opportunity arises.
- Set tasks and deadlines in a similar way to how you would operate in a school environment. Try to allow colleagues to suggest what, how and when they will contribute. Be clear that you are open to flexible working practice and make it clear that you understand that everyone has a different home situation.
- Be inflexible; in a school environment we have no choice but to work to a strict timetable. Try to relax your approach for these different circumstances.
Further reading and resources
- Connect with people isolated at home: Quarantine chat
- Mindfulness Assocation: Free daily online meditation
- WHO guidance: Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak
Ideas for CPD
- Chartered College of Teaching: Online, distance and home learning: Selected reading
- Free learning from the Open University: OpenLearn
- Tom Sherrington’s YouTube tutorials on Rosenshines’ Principles
Last Updated:08 Apr 2020