How our filters work:

Our team sorts through all blog submissions to place them in the categories they fit the most - meaning it's never been simpler to gain advice and new knowledge for topics most important for you. This is why we have created this straight-forward guide to help you navigate our system.

Phase 1: Pick your School Phase

Phase 2: Select all topic areas of choice

Search and Browse

And there you have it! Now your collection of blogs are catered to your chosen topics and are ready for you to explore. Plus, if you frequently return to the same categories you can bookmark your current URL and we will save your choices on return. Happy Reading!

New to our blogs? Click Here >

Filter Blog

School Phase

School Management Solutions

Curriculum Solutions

Classroom Solutions

Extra-Curricular Solutions

IT Solutions

Close X

Busywork or Busy at Work?

The global pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home for teachers. How can we ensure we are productive at work but also able to have a sustainable work-life balance?

Shuaib Khan provides an insight into the notion of toxic productivity. Busywork or busy at work looks at the role of teachers and school leaders in effectively managing workloads, setting priorities, reducing burnout and challenging workaholism.

Khan provides some practical tips and ideas in making the most of the “gold dust” which he refers to as time.

Toxic productivity, academic perfectionism and workaholism
After a long day of teaching, driving home always feels like the perfect opportunity to reflect. One question I have repeatedly asked myself is, “have the tasks I have completed today been necessary and useful?” I love teaching but the role is accompanied by copious amounts of admin, bureaucracy, and what my old NQT mentor calls “busy work.” Like many teachers, being a perfectionist hasn’t just been a throwaway line at interviews. We want the best for our students but sometimes we must take a step back, look at the bigger picture and re-evaluate the purpose of the tasks we are undertaking. No one benefits from toxic productivity and given the teacher workload crisis, our time as educators is quite literally gold dust.
What is busy work?
Naturally, teachers are conscientious and reflective practitioners. However, with this comes the insatiable desire to want to look and appear busy in the eyes of our colleagues and peers. We often undertake activities that aren’t necessarily important or add value. Teachers are often the masters of creating work for the sake of work or for the sake of looking busy. Tasks like making a new display or tidying a bookshelf do have their own time and place but pressing tasks like deadlines and assessments need to take precedence. As a society, we celebrate busyness rather than restfulness and as a profession, rarely do we stop to ask others how they are doing? The focus tends to be on what they are doing.  
During the summer holidays, we see our wonderful new NQTs on social media sharing their new resources and decorating their classrooms. In 2016, I was one of these gleeful NQTs and spent my entire summer making my classroom into the utopia of teaching and learning. Within weeks, I began to feel burntout. There is a tacit expectation to work longer and harder which is often glorified on social media and perpetuated by professional guilt. However, harnessing the enthusiasm and work-driven busy ethos we have as educators and our own wellbeing is the balance we should be striving for. 
How to deal with toxic productivity?
From personal experience, I have developed three strategies I have used to help cope: 
Do Now, Prioritise, Tomorrow and Later – Setting short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals is how we can prioritise and help ease the workload crisis and reduce the impacts of toxic productivity. We often hear nebulous and reductive phrases like “work smarter, not harder.” Yet, what does that mean for a teacher who has spent the entire day teaching their heart out, completed duty, skipped lunch to print resources and done a 2hr after-school CPD session?! So, how to tackle this? Setting small daily goals is vital. I have previously used a simple table like this to help prioritise my daily/weekly engagements. This bitesize oversight really helped improve my time management and compartmentalise my thoughts and anxieties. These goals are not set in stone and will constantly change. But having an oversight of these goals can be really empowering as you plan your day or week.

MonDo Now: Lessons x4Prioritise: Year 10 Data entryTomorrow: CPD session
TuesDo Now: Lessons x3Prioritise: Year 12 TAG assessmentTomorrow: Duty
WedDo Now: Lessons X5Prioritise: Evidence folder Mentor meeting InterventionTomorrow: Teams training session
ThursDo Now: Lessons x2Prioritise: Textbook order Display backing Tomorrow: Faculty meeting
FriDo Now: Lessons x4Prioritise: Year 13 Mock paper Year 8 PSHE projectTomorrow: PSHE project prize

Teacher wellbeing – remains the hottest potato in education. Despite being etched into OFSTED frameworks, we still have a teacher workload crisis. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to teacher wellbeing as the needs of staff vary from teacher to teacher. However, a strong teacher wellbeing ethos is important. If school leaders are willing to invest in their staff, tackling teacher workload and making contact time as effective and learner-driven as possible should be a priority. Tackling busywork starts with defining what is and is not teacher wellbeing. For this, I would like to turn to my non-exhaustive list that distinguishes between what is and is not teacher wellbeing.

Wellbeing is:Wellbeing is not:
Caring about the person before the ‘teacher’Being reactive rather than proactive to support staff.
Research-driven policies that focus on student progressPreference of in-house arbitrary policies rather than research-driven initiatives
Realistic and attainable targets set with contextual factors in mind.Targets set with the ‘data is king’ viewpoint and contextual factors overlooked.
Communication and collaborationForced staff gatherings
Support with personal circumstances and necessary adjustments made‘Return to work’ causing greater anxiety and concern
A supportive staff roomNo staff room or place for PPA
Lunchtime for lunch and not workThe notion of ‘work smarter, not harder’
Being able to say ‘no’ to extra commitments without fear of repercussionsIncrease in ‘directed time’ or ‘non-negotiables’
A transparent and approachable SLTMore meetings and scrutiny
Teacher autonomy with planning, assessment, and subject-specific pedagogy.Rigid teaching and learning policies with the underlying idea of ‘this is our way’

Setting clear boundaries – The COVID pandemic has moved learning online several times. Alongside this, the boundaries between work and home have been blurred more so than ever. I often found myself wired into my computer and the guilt of working from home meant I was constantly checking emails or scouting for new CPD courses. Unintentionally I was creating more work for myself. The inability to take a break or be seen taking a break fuels this much valorised workaholism. However, the following practical steps have allowed me to wrestle back some autonomy, use my priority list (point one) and attain a better work-life balance.

  • No work emails after 5pm.
  • Making 8 hours sleep a priority.
  • Having a break and eating lunch every day.
  • 30-minute exercise every day.

In summary
The nature of the education climate right now, we must look after ourselves and our wellbeing as teachers. Alongside all the day-to-day roles we complete in the classroom, there is also a lot of busywork we can often unnecessarily prioritise. In a society that celebrates busyness, as teachers and particularly following the global pandemic, we must realign our values and ask ourselves what is important. As my old PGCE mentor once told me, “the two most urgent and persistent questions in education are – What is the impact on student progress and how does it affect staff?” So, it is busywork or are we busy at work?

Leave a Reply

The author

Shuaib has worked in education for seven years. Following the completion of his degree, he began his journey in education as a Teaching Assistant. Shuaib was given several opportunities to lead and plan lessons in his specialism; Sociology. After an additional six months of classroom experience, he began his PGCE in 2015. Ever since, Shuaib has taught at a range of educational establishments ranging from pupil referral units to sixth form colleges. He remains passionate about providing equitable outcomes for all his students. Over the past 12 months, Shuaib’s writing has gathered significant pace. He is a passionate writer who aims to tackle issues around social inequality and justice. Several of his articles on inclusion, diversity and unconscious bias have been nominated for SchoolsWeek blog of the week. Shuaib is also the host of #antismalltalk podcast and also a regular host on TeacherHug Radio. This is an independent venture where he aims to provide fellow educators and activists an opportunity to have their life stories heard. His podcast can be found on all leading platforms (Apple, Spotify and Anchor).

Subscribe to the monthly bloggers digest

Cookies and Privacy
Like many sites this site uses cookies. Privacy Policy » OK