As the optimism of the new term fades, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything going on – but that’s exactly why taking time to stop can be highly valuable, says this leader
Why schools should start considering a ‘Stop Week’
As a teacher of almost 30 years, I still find it striking that each academic year starts with a bang of enthusiasm, energy and momentum, which quickly drains away as the workload of the term ramps up. Before you know it, we’re all limping towards the holiday periods, living only for the weekends.
That’s all normal of course and, in the realm of teaching and school life, I wouldn’t suggest that we can prevent the inevitable end-of-term tiredness from creeping in completely.
However, with careful consideration, perhaps leadership teams could help staff maintain or renew that sense of refreshed energy, positivity and “newness” that they experience on return to school each year throughout the term.
With a focus on staff wellbeing being prevalent across many schools, one solution to allow for that optimism and positivity to maintain is the introduction of “stop weeks”.
What is a stop week?
A stop week does not mean closing the school. The concept is to carefully consider the things that we could stop for just one week while also ensuring that nothing in terms of provision for children is lost or impacted.
Stop weeks help provide us with time to reflect and pause.
They also provide us with time to revisit our intended actions and projects. Stop weeks could also prove useful in allowing time to finish tasks and focus on our core business – children and teaching.
When do you have a stop week?
The first step is to plan a time to stop. This is often an alien idea to school staff, but it is vital to help staff maintain energy levels.
Before a holiday or in the middle of a long term seem to be opportune moments, but equally stop weeks might be welcomed before or after a heavy workload period where productions, parent-teacher meetings and report-writing all descend at once.
There’s no right or wrong answer. Instead, it’s about spotting a time that makes the most sense to do this.
What do we stop and what do we maintain?
Put simply, this decision is up to school leaders as they understand what would work for their school, but anything in terms of provision for students and responding to their needs should remain.
However, the “big rocks” that you could jettison for the stop week would be the things that absorb staff time and energy: weekly regular meetings, briefings, parent workshops, assemblies, performances and trips.
Another area you can ”stop” is perhaps the biggest one: emails.
Emails between parents/students and teachers are sent and responded to of course, but if staff need to communicate with a colleague they would do so verbally over the phone or in person.
This includes all staff: teachers, leaders, and business and admin staff. A standard automated reply could be added to everyone’s email (“This week is our termly stop week – please call the main line if your message is urgent”) would also ensure nothing important was missed and staff did not feel as if they had to check emails each day.
Just imagine the social capital that could be gained by a return to face-to-face conversations.
Alternatively, there could just be an agreement that everyone would find time to check emails once a day but only urgent ones, or ones involving students and parents, would be sent or replied to.
What would staff do with the ‘gained’ time?
All this may sound tough to enact but, as a busy school leader, I’ve experienced first hand the impact on my own wellbeing of having a meeting-free day.
It rarely happens but when it does, I am able to interact informally more with staff and the quality of my conversations (without the feeling I need to be keeping to strict timings) is significantly improved.
I generally experience a feeling of unfamiliar calmness from the freedom that an unscheduled day brings.
Without the multitude of meetings to attend and only parental and urgent emails to respond to, both teachers and school leaders would find an extraordinary amount of time available to simply be more present in classrooms and with each other.
Non-contact time could be used for its primary intention: thinking, reflecting and clearing large paperwork tasks.
Teachers could just teach with no other demands on their time and this might even mean less work to take home or complete after school hours – perhaps even an early finish with some self-care activities.
The keys to success for introducing stop weeks:
- Ensure staff understand the “why” behind the initiative and have an opportunity to suggest the things you “stop”.
- Carefully select, agree and communicate expectations for what will stop in these weeks temporarily.
- Timing. It might be part of the consultation with staff to let them decide when a week of this nature is most needed and would be appreciated.
- If you don’t want to call them stop weeks but like the idea, reframe them as “pull-back weeks” or “prep weeks”.
- If you like the idea but don’t think your school community is ready for it, perhaps start small with a stop day each half term.
- Not sure if stop weeks would work in your school? Pose the idea and let your staff community decide. There is no set rule – it’s about making stop weeks work for you and your community.
Our staff is our most expensive asset and most impactful resource. If we want the best outcomes for students, we need to maintain a positive ethos across the school, with planned opportunities for rest, revitalisation and reflection.
If leaders look out for their staff, remembering the great attitudes, behaviours and levels of determination they demonstrate at the beginning of each academic year, we remain solution-focused and authentic in living our staff wellbeing commitment.