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Top tips for tackling information overload

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As the crazy, unstructured rush of adrenaline that was week one subsides, we all settle in for the long haul. Our new situation is probably here for a while and we need to start to understand how we will move from simply surviving to effectively functioning (we’ll get to succeeding eventually, but now’s not the time to be piling the pressure on).

Having spent some time reflecting myself, one of the biggest potential barriers to us functioning effectively in this strange new world, is information overload. Here’s a few thoughts on how I think both teachers and leaders can overcome this.

Manage the lines of communication

Leaders: There are so many people fighting for your attention right now, so being clear on which ones really matter is key. Focus in on statutory bodies such as DfE and your Local Authority. They are doing a very good job of giving you the information you really need.

Consider: Becoming the disseminator (stop being a control freak). Although this sounds like a superhero name, becoming a disseminator in these times of information overload is essential. Choose trusted people in your organisation to filter key message from incoming emails. For example; leaders should keep the DfE emails, but ‘free online software’ can be looked at by someone else. Have another member of staff dealing with the Free school meals voucher information and have someone else controlling communication from local schools.

Filter with purpose

Teachers: Be ready to be an information filter. Take on a task of receiving and filtering information about a key area from your SLT. There is too much information coming in at the same time for a few senior leaders to understand and act upon. They need your help.

Consider: Don’t just forward on a good email – this isn’t filtering. Read the information, pull out the pertinent points and then send off to the staff team. Otherwise, you’re just pushing the job of finding important information all down the organisation and key messages will be lost.

Take control

Teachers: It has long been a benefit of modern technology that your emails can be viewed on any device and can demand your attention with a ping. With information constantly flowing from multiple sources and all of the time, there is a possibility of no down time, no break. And let’s be honest, most teachers and leaders are also at home with their own children too. If you’re not careful, all the devices in your home will be beckoning you to give them attention.

Consider: Maybe choose that your mobile device doesn’t have work email notifications switched on whilst working from home. You should be able to switch off throughout the day to gather some headspace or to spend time with your children. If your emails ping in your pocket, you will not get this time. Make the decision to only respond to emails on your computer – when you decide you have the time.

Chill the chat

Teachers: Working from home has also seen the popularity of the school family WhatsApp group and the video conference staff get together. Whilst a wonderful way to stay connected to the school community and keep in touch with your friends, you must also be mindful that these conversations will dip in and out of school talk too, again never letting you switch off.

Consider: Don’t be afraid to mute a conversation on WhatsApp or miss a ‘Zoom’ staff chat. You have to build time for yourself and disconnect from the online school day (which now doesn’t have an obvious start and end time).

Look ahead

Leaders: Soon will come the time where leadership structures and decisions will need to be resurrected in our digital online working day. Things such as performance management, SEF writing, Improvement Planning and even recruitment for September will have to be actioned.

Consider: Start to think about the bigger picture (but don’t act yet, people aren’t ready). The second week is still too soon to float these ideas with your staff, but leaders should now be thinking about which processes must be completed and by whom. You also need to consider how you will bring people together digitally to discuss these things in order to begin to ‘act’ rather than just ‘react’ in this situation we find ourselves in.

In week two and moving forward, we’ve got to pay attention to the right things and build in structures that will allow us to not only survive, but function effectively. Spend as much time as is necessary to make sure you are happy with the information you are receiving and the online communications circles you are in. Now is the time to take control and start getting our house in order.

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