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Teaching tricks: Better data strategies to ease teacher workload

We need to talk about teacher stress and workload. It’s a serious, and not very well publicized, crisis that is bleeding the education system of some of its brightest lights. The numbers speak for themselves.

In the UK the National Union of Teachers surveyed over 16,000 teachers and found:

  • 90% of teachers said they had considered giving up teaching during the last two years because of the workload.
  • 87% said they knew one or more colleagues who had given up during the last two years because of the workload.
  • 96% said their workload had negative consequences for their family or personal life.

In the United States the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) surveyed 830 of its members across a broad range of quality of work-life topics. When asked, “How often is work stressful?”

  • 23% of teachers said “Always”.
  • 61% said it was “Often” or “Always” stressful.
  • This is significantly higher than workers in the general population, only 30% of whom report work is “always” or “often” stressful.
  • More than half of the respondents reported that they have less enthusiasm now than at the beginning of their careers.

One ATF member said,

This job is stressful, overwhelming and hard. I am overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, questioned and blamed for things that are out of my control.

This trend is not only affecting teachers already qualified, but is in fact affecting whether or not candidates choose to become educators at all. The TalentIndex K-12 report from PeopleAdmin found that the number of applications received for each teacher posting in the U.S. decreased by 20% between 2014 and 2016.

Teachers are the fastest shrinking position type in the US!

What is to be done to ease the teacher workload?

Based on my reading, I have garnered there are three main pressure points when it comes to time teachers are spending on work that is not teaching:

  1. Data management
  2. Lesson planning and
  3. Grading

Today’s blog, and the following two, will explore each of these in turn, looking at how both simple and complex technology applications can lighten the administrative workload, so that teachers can spend more time...well...teaching.

Today we’ll focus on Data Management.

Teaching tricks: Better data strategies

This case is slightly ironic, as it is in fact technology that is generating the data in the first place, but there are approaches to capturing, managing and analysing the data generated in your classroom that need not be overwhelming and can in fact be extremely useful, and at the end of the day a time saver, rather than time waster.

When it comes to data input and management, on one of the forums I follow, José Luis Vilson, a middle school maths teacher in New York City, said,

Spurious data entry and analysis is critical; we really have to start looking at what data matters and what information we glean from it. Unfortunately, that gets lost in trying to become data managers.

The United Kingdom’s department of Education, this month reported back on a significant program launched there to manage and acknowledge the damage teacher workload is doing, not only to student outcomes, but indeed teacher work quality and satisfaction. Data management was again seen as a key driver in time wastage, and remarkably the report acknowledged that government policy itself, in terms of how student assessments are made and quantified, is part of the problem.

In the US many teachers will recognise the tremendous increase in time spent on data capture when the “No Child Left Behind” policy was implemented. I like what Lauren Costello said in the foreword of the report,

We must change the rhetoric around information relating to the judgement of school effectiveness. We must insist on broader professional pedagogical conversations where data is a component part, not a driver, and where trust is returned to practitioners and headteachers.

Tracking the right learning data

An important aspect of making sure you don’t waste your time on data capture and management, is to make sure the data you spend your time capturing is in fact useful.

There is a trend currently, where schools and districts demonstrate effectiveness, and embolden their lobbying for funding, by using impressive big data to signify student progress. But these analyses are not always useful to teachers in the classroom, or in fact parents. They do not necessarily drive intuitive, informed lesson planning and individualized student approaches.

As teachers (who have very little time) it may be hard to be the David to the Goliath of school boards and districts, but there is alot of literature promoting more holistic data collection, that gives a more nuanced picture of the student’s progress, skills and challenges. Activate for more broad-based data capture that reflects not only test scores, but classroom culture. Read this truly interesting article about tracking and quantifying classroom culture, that also profiles two great tech resources to track behaviors and responses in your students: ClassDojo and Kickboard.

The most obvious way that technology can assist with the overburden of generating and inputting data is through the use of a school LMS. Powerful, accredited learning management systems will always permit a degree if what is called “interoperability”, which simply means that that one program can “talk with” another (at times a competing program from a different vendor).

This means that data generated by teachers, can be used and uploaded by administrators and onward onto district administrators seamlessly, without the need of re-inputting data that has already been captured in one system. At the very least, data and reports must be available as CSV and HTML versions for swift loading into alternate systems, ultimately saving a lot of time.

Stay tuned!

Next time I’ll explore all the great ways that technology can help the overloaded teacher with their gradings and feedback.

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