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Workload Management: Triage in the Digital Age

As we gear up for exam season, it can feel like workload is at its height. Revision sessions, anxious students, last minute arrangements for assessments, and a final sprint of teaching, it can be difficult to keep on top of everything.

Worse still, can be the dread of the approaching workload – whether real or perceived, the impact this can have on mental health (for students, teachers and leaders) can be profound.

Clearly, we need a strategy to manage this.

Thankfully, there is a solution: triage.

Triage is the process used by medical professionals to complete a preliminary assessment of patients, determining the urgency and nature of required treatment. In other words, in a busy hospital, triage is the process used to decide which patients are seen first, who sees these patients and when/ how they are treated.

The stresses and challenges of workload can not be allowed to take over in this situation. As outlined by ER Dr Darria Long here, allowing workload to takeover we are ‘less capable of handling the busy’. Stress rises, memory deteriorates and the likelihood of anger increases.

So, what does this look like in education? Let’s take a look.


List of the tasks you need to complete

You can list the tasks to be completed for a day, a week or even a longer term such as a half term or term, but the first stage is to list all of the activities for completion. This must include teaching, planning, assessment/ feedback, administrative tasks, emails, meetings – everything. There may be those shouting that this in itself represents extra workload – better to complete 2-3% extra in the short term and save 10-30%+ in the long term.


Identify all the mini-steps you need to take for each task

Having created your list of tasks, then identify the mini tasks within them. So, for planning, we need to create resources, print these resources and possibly distribute them online. For marking, we need to collect in student work, potentially take it home, read it, give it praise and developmental comments, identify next steps and then give students time to read through, and act on, feedback.


Identify mini-steps which can be removed/ merged

Now, we evaluate those mini-steps. Which can we adapt/ merge? Which can be removed entirely? For feedback, can we utilise self-peer assessment or whole-class feedback? Can we give verbal feedback (recorded via Teams (or similar) in lessons)? For planning, do we share resources with peers or plan collaboratively? Many of you will say ‘yes’ to these strategies, but is this being done consistently? Or do we abandon these strategies as stress rises and workload pinch points occur? Too often, this is exactly what happens.


Classify and re-order tasks based on level of urgency and importance

Having merged and removed mini-steps, we have now already streamlined workload. Now, we move onto the vital task of ‘fitting in’ whatever remains. By classifying and re-ordering tasks according to urgency and importance (using a RAG system, as Dr Long does, or by your own system such as emergency, very urgent, urgent, routine etc.), we can see what must be done, against those less important tasks. Again, in periods of high stress or high workload, we often default to the tasks we’re good at or that we like to do – this isn’t productive, as an overreliance on this actually creates MORE work! Figure out what you NEED to do, do it and workload will decrease.


Reflect and identify CPD, support, guidance

There will be those of you sitting with completed, triaged, priority ordered task lists wondering when you are going to get through all of it. And that’s absolutely fine. Now is the time to look at your task and list and identify the tasks that you’re not confident with, don’t like or can’t do. And that’s fine too. This provides a fantastic opportunity – what CPD, support or guidance do you need to get better or more efficient at these tasks? Who are the leaders (whether by title, experience or skillset) in your team who are great at those tasks? Now is the time to discuss, collaborate and irritate to develop and continue cutting your workload.


Obviously, one blog isn’t going to fix every workload challenge and it can be challenging to find truly outstanding, inspirational professional development and support. That’s why we’re proud to offer resources to support teachers and leaders of all levels of experience, throughout the academic year with our portfolio of exceptional CPD. With a wealth of teaching and revision resources, and innovative tracking and progress monitoring tools, get in touch to see how you can access our fully funded, DfE project, here.


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