How can we meaningfully reduce teacher workloads?

In Teachers are Struggling I wrote about one author's distinction between demoralization and burnout and how the former is a better diagnosis of the problem facing teachers.

But after listening to Cal Newport talk about burnout this morning, I'm thinking more about the daily reality of that burnout-exhaustion for teachers. Cal identifies the size of a person's workload as the cause of burnout (as opposed to total hours) and believes we should change the way we work & assign work to reduce the risk of exhaustion + overwhelm.  This resonates with a lot of things I hear from teachers about not having prep periods, PD requirements that are out of date or irrelevant, and endless meetings that should have been an email. And of course, if you are one teacher with 30+ students, you are working into the night and on weekends to grade and plan. These aren't easy things to fix and changes for any one of them would have ripple effects but in a moment of crisis for the profession, it is worth exploring new approaches. Near-term interventions to reduce workload should be part of a set of strategies to increase teacher retention, satisfaction, and performance.

Activating communities as learning hubs

A more "out-there" idea for reducing teacher workload is distributing real responsibility for child development across the community. Teachers are trying to do everything- academics, SEL, social work, family engagement. Why not activate local industry- non-profit, government, and business- to support students in academics, social & emotional skills, professional exposure and civic education? Of course, this IS happening across the country. I've worked at several youth development organizations that were part of these very partnerships.  Schools with the resources, capacity, and/or ambitious leadership are creating meaningful partnerships in their communities to support their students. But what if those partners became equally responsible for student outcomes? What if there were universal (but flexible) standards + competency metrics that helped guide partners in creating meaningful experiences that students could use to demonstrate mastery? What if students had "global learning portfolios" that they could build upon with authorized "community educators"?

Obviously these ideas bring up a ton of questions and challenges but it's worth imagining a system that could activate a whole community as a learning environment.  And then maybe when unpredictable shocks happen (like a pandemic), we have a distributed network of people who feel responsibility for supporting students.

That's all to say, we should support teachers now with real and meaningful ways to reduce workload AND we should continue to imagine what the future of education could look like (with educators + students at the center of that conversation).