10 ways to make your school department more efficient

When I started teaching I tried to find ways to ‘work smarter’ as a teacher in order to maintain my sanity, and to make sure that I gave my students and colleagues my best effort (without burning out). It worked well, and my results and development meant that I was repeatedly promoted. I dont say this to blow smoke, merely to highlight that a subsequent reaction to improvement and high standards is that you will inevitably be asked to take up more areas of responsibility, because you are trusted to get the job done.

But what do you do when you have made the jump from teacher to supervisor, or head of department, or head of faculty, or even SLT and you want to be more efficient (because you inevitably have way more to do)?

Below are some of the steps that I took to make my faculty run smoother, take what you think might work for you and try it out. Let me know how you get on!

1. Have one area on your computer system that everyone uses. Make sure that everyone can access it from home. Talk to your ICT people. They probably have a cloud system. I made a faculty folder and everything went in there, it was the one place where all information we needed was stored.

2. Change file names. Nobody has the time or inclination to go through multiple data sheets looking for the most recent one, change the file name, use block capitals, write the term and year on it.

3. Make sure you have a cover proforma. Make sure everyone can access it at home. People will get sick. If someone is sick and sends in cover, having it on a standard proforma means that it is easy to understand. And make it one slide with a simple task on it (textbook?) – emergency cover teachers aren’t going to use your slides.

4. Buy a teacher guide and/or an extra textbook for every member of staff to keep at home. You aren’t saying work at home, but there’s nothing worse than having an idea but then struggling to remember if it fits the spec. Just quickly check the textbook.

5. Download and use a scanning app on your phone. At any conferences, cpd, meetings, snap a pic, phone-scan it, save it in the cpd folder on your system. Then recycle the paper. (I use TinyScanner)

6. Don’t email people with questions that you actually want an answer to. Pop into the classroom/office and ask them. Then send a reminder email about what you agreed five minutes later. Make sure the key topics are in the subject line so they can search for it if they forget.

7. If it doesn’t benefit the students, don’t do it. Lesson plans with a overburdening proforma? Screw that. A waste of the rainforest. Instead write three lines – Aim, Action, Outcome. If the lesson plan doesn’t fit 3 bullet points it’s probably too complicated, and is only being done to not look incompetent or lazy. This leads us into point 8…

8. Don’t underestimate people. Assume that they are on top of it. If you want something to be done, ask them what their plan is. If they don’t include what you want, THEN tell them. Telling someone to do something when they already planned to do it makes people frustrated for no reason.

9. Limit the meetings. Do you need a meeting? If there’s not a clear agenda, no you don’t. And if you do have an agenda, stick to it. Chair the meeting where possible. Not a power move, but so that everyone stays on track. Talking to children all day does leave teachers craving a chat, and rightly so, but if that happens regularly you will get side tracked and digression happens. It wastes time and can strain working relationships. Instead, schedule a coffee after the meeting in the staff room, not compulsory attendance. Then if someone is busy or stressed they can either:

a) leave without feeling awkward (as they would do if they walked out of a meeting)

b) vent a bit over a coffee for five minutes

10. Make a plan. Sit down at the start of each term for an hour and outline all the ‘big picture’ goals you want to achieve. For me this year I want to improve staff induction procedures and make sure that our NQTs are the very best they can be. My plan to get this done is made up of over thirty bullet points There will be a million smaller jobs that crop up every single day, some more urgent than others, but taped to my wall will be the larger goals that I want to complete. I’ve found that this is the only way I can completely keep my eye on those massive tasks that take months or years to complete. Start with the end in mind.

And remember, whatever you do, be authentic. Tell the truth, even if it isn’t expedient to do so.