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Notes from interview about productivity for teachers

Interview with Tim Bradburn (Connected Teaching)

1 March 2010


  • Brief background – what are you doing now and what is your past experience in education?
    • Currently employed as Director of E-Learning at The Northumberland Church of England Academy (10-site all-age Academy 3-19 set up at start of this academic year)
    • Sixth year of teaching
    • Previously E-Learning Staff Tutor as well as Teacher of History and ICT at Ridgewood School (High Achieving Specialist School in Doncaster)
    • Started career as Teacher of History in Worksop
    • Currently writing my Ed.D. thesis on the concept of ‘digital literacy’
    • Have a wife (Primary Teacher) and 3 year-old son (hard work – both grandfathers were PE teachers!)


  • Teaching staff always mention lack of time – 12 hour days as standard. Many of them are desperate to know how to work smarter, reduce workload and improve work-life balance. This seems particularly critical in primary. Why do you think this is?
    • 3 main reasons:
      • Immediate results – spending a little more time planning can have real results the next day
      • Hypocrisy of Ofsted – bar being continually raised because of what teachers can achieve over a short inspection (expected all year round)
      • No CPD on productivity/organization – expected to know how to use email effectively, manage time, prioritise, etc.


  • Could you outline your views on productivity being a virtuous circle?
    • Think about the opposite – how do we get into a vicious circle? When what we do negatively affects us so that we cannot perform well, and that then has an impact on the next thing, and so on.
    • For example, some form of ‘coping strategy’ (such as alcohol) or avoidance strategy (such as avoiding marking) leads to a problem building up
    • The opposite of that is a ‘virtuous circle’ – when what you do makes things easier or more manageable
    • For example, coping with stress with exercise rather than cigarettes and alcohol can help with creating a virtuous circle because it increases your energy levels.
    • You can check whether you’re involved in creating a virtuous circle for yourself by asking whether your actions are helping you increase your capacity. 


  • You talk about productivity being a learned behaviour, composed of serenity, reliability, focus. Could you explain that?
    • No-one is ‘born productive’ (all learned). Met a lot of people who’ve had to sink or swim because of a crisis.
      • Serenity = state free from stress and anxiety. People can perform under pressure (e.g. Olympic athletes) but can’t perform under stress and anxiety.
      • Stress and anxiety one of major causes of long-term illness.
      • Can learn to be serene – not by disengaging and not caring (quite the opposite)
      • 3 ways to become serene:
        • Have a system for everything (email, marking, where you put your keys)
        • Deal with stress positively (exercise, write, talk)
        • Talk positively about yourself (don’t say ‘I’m stressed’, ‘I can’t do this’, etc. – reification)


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      • Reliability = being dependable. Seth Godin: this is a feature ‘Linchpins’ (the go-to people). Great for your career.
      • Quickest & easiest way to become reliable & dependable = to show up. In fact, Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying “80% of success is just showing up”.
      • To do this consistently you need a routine. Great believer: innovation = built upon standardization.


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      • Focus = knowing what to concentrate your energy on.
      • Teachers faced with raft of initiatives all the time – need to know which ones to spend time on (can’t do it all!)
      • Write down your educational philosophy. Sounds grand, but really just the reason you came into profession.
      • Back in Sunday school – 3 seives: true, helpful, kind?
      • For teachers – 3 seives: does it fit in with my educational philosophy? does it help the kids in my classes? does it help my career?
      • If yes, spend time on it. If no, give it the attention it deserves.


  • What is the difference between generic productivity systems that lack context versus a personal system with feedback loops?
    • Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher: we become brave by pretending and practising being brave.
    • Likewise, learn to be productive by asking yourself what a productive person would do.
    • Problem with applying other people’s systems is that everyone has a different context.
    • Things like GTD assume that you work in an office and are just doing ‘stuff’. Teachers are doing more important things than that.
    • Feedback loops important as context can change – e.g. different class, new Ofsted system, move house, start a family.
    • Your system needs to be emergent and adaptable.
    • Never say that you do something because it’s always been done (or you’ve always done it) that way. 
    • Question everything.


  • What is the value of “Calling yourself into the office” and sharing commitments?
    • This is a great idea from Dan Pink’s book called ‘Drive’
    • Saw him at The Sage in Gateshead and he was inspiring
    • Idea is that performance reviews don’t happen very often – yearly or 6-monthly usually
    • Need more feedback (imagine if Serena Williams only given feedback that often?!)
    • Do it yourself
    • Set targets/commitments at start of a month or half-term
    • ‘Call yourself into the office’ at end of month/half-term
    • Review.
    • Set more targets/commitments.


  • Can you elaborate on the theory that unproductiveness can be down to:
    • A belief that the longer you spend on something the better it will be.
      • I’m a perfectionist
      • Sounds like a good thing, but it’s not.
      • Many teachers share similar qualities.
      • An asymptote is a line (usually a curve) that approaches, but never actually reaches another line
      • Imagine line = ‘perfection’ – never going to reach it (more effort you put in, the less you’re getting out)
      • Teachers tend to put effort into wrong things – the worksheet, the PowerPoint (instead of transitions and metaphors, for example)
    • An unbalanced lifestyle (for example, not exercising often).
      • We live in a binge culture – especially in the UK
      • I think it’s the Viking influence – fight then drink!
      • Unsustainable – Vikiings didn’t do that all the time…
      • Achieving ‘serenity, reliability and focus’ = sustainable productivity
      • An unbalanced lifestyle makes sustaining a virtuous circle very difficult
      • Not boring because more fulfilling overall – more in control
    • Some form of addiction.
      • Addicts aren’t in full control of their lives.
      • Easy to pick on drug-taking, alcohol, food and smoking, but some are more subtle
      • Perfectionism is a form of addiction – tweaking worksheets and PowerPoints.
      • Can also be addicted to checking email, Twitter and Facebook (BlackBerry/CrackBerry)
      • Ways of thinking can be addictive as well:
        • Negative thinking (e.g. body, health, career)
        • Avoidance (e.g. squeezing planning into tiny window)
        • Whinging (e.g. change, how someone’s treated you)
      • Addiction – in whatever form – means you lose focus.


  • A number of primary teachers have told us that primary has a greater workload than secondary – with substantially more paperwork.  Would you agree?  Is primary more challenging? What advice would you give to primary teachers?
    • My wife’s a Primary teacher.
    • Majority of Primary teachers are female (sure that’s a factor in some way – more conscientious?)
    • Advantage Secondary teachers have over Primary = teaching essentially same lesson more than once in a week.
    • Disadvantage for Secondary teachers = relationship with students.
    • If Primary teachers = productive themselves, can get their class into a productive, virtuous circle.
    • I sometimes wish I taught Primary.
    • R.e. paperwork, Secondary teachers work in depts. so can distribute and share paperwork.
    • Also, focus on that which is important – does this fit with my educational philosophy? will it benefit children? will it benefit my career?
    • Remember perfectionist argument above – be your own person. Focus, be reliable, be serene.
    • Talk to yourself. Big yourself up. Be your own biggest fan.
    • Not arrogance – productivity.

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