Surviving and Thriving: How to make the best use of your time as an NQT

Fitting everything in is tough, and that goes for everyone, whether you’re new to a job or you’ve been in it for years. But what if we thought harder about our time management and took a deliberate approach to the waking day, not just the working day? What would the impact be on our practice and on ourselves?

These are questions that all of us in the faculty at the Institute for Teaching spend our time thinking about. We were keen to develop our understanding of the research into these questions so that we could, in turn, help teachers to be more strategic when it comes to planning for both work time and downtime. We found that the following three approaches can really help us to use our time more effectively.


Marie leads programme design at Ambition School Leadership, and the IfT (of which she is co-founder). She is a former teacher, school leader, National Curriculum Leader for Teach First and Head of Ark Teacher Training.

Marie Hamer

Executive Director of Learning Design & Teaching

1. Get to grips with the fundamentals of the science of learning

Really understanding how learning happens can help you to have the impact you want in the classroom. Being clear about how memory works, and how people actually learn, makes it much easier to plan worthwhile activities – but the science of learning and memory is not routinely part of initial teacher training or CPD.

For example, in the early stages of a teaching career, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in building practical resources, or to plough hours of hard work into lesson planning, but if you’re not building in strategies for learning retention alongside that, much of your effort can be wasted. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve (Murre and Dros, 2015) see Figure 1, illustrates the importance of understanding the science and limitations of human memory. Ebbinghaus’ curve shows that retention of newly learnt knowledge decreases hugely with time – falling below 60% even within 20 minutes of learning.

Without understanding this to be the case, it is all too easy to devote your precious time and energy to teaching exercises that don’t elicit good results. Doing what works, and only what works, will allow you to reduce your workload and focus on the most impactful areas.

This is just one example of how understanding research into learning and memory can help us in our teaching; it’s worth taking some time to explore a summary of the evidence in this area and how else it can help you. You could start with The Science of Learning  (Deans for Impact, 2015) or keep your eyes peeled for IfT’s own upcoming paper – Learning: What is it, and how might we catalyse it.

2. Set yourself manageable weekly development targets

Once again, it is all too easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of improvements to your practice that you might want to make.

Aiming to ‘work on managing student behaviour’ might feel like a mountain to climb, but by breaking that down into small, bite-sized targets, we can quickly start to see a real impact. We use this principle every day in our classrooms, but it’s important to think about how we can use it to transform our own work. Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration at Harvard, and Steven Kramer explore the positive effect that small, regular achievements can have on our motivation and creativity at work in their paper The Power of Small Wins (Amabile and Kramer, 2011).

So instead of aiming to tackle student behaviour as a whole, you might set yourself a smaller target for the first week – such as establishing clear entry and exit routines for lessons.

Focus only on this element of your teaching – planning your approach thoroughly, working on it deliberately and repetitively throughout the week, and embedding new techniques into your practice – before moving on to the following week’s target, for example, to focus on managing the transitions between lesson components. In this way, small and achievable changes can start to have an impact on a scale that initially seemed overwhelming.

This is exactly the approach we take on our courses at the IfT: aiming to first identify ‘high leverage’ areas in which changes will make the biggest difference to pupil learning in the following week.

So, set yourself tiny markers for improvement – just one small thing every week rather than focusing on the big picture issues. Try to pick the things that you think will have the biggest impact and, once you have mastered them, repeat them!

3. Build in time for yourself

Allocating time to completely switch off might seem like a luxury, but research shows that you will be a better teacher for it, and less likely to burn out or become disengaged from your work (Trépanier et al., 2014).

In our day-to-day work as teachers, we experience significant demands on both our psychological and physical resources. Emotional and cognitive resources are needed throughout the day, as well as physical resources that we need to stay on our feet all day. Psychology shows us that we need to give ourselves plenty of opportunities to replenish these stores, and the best way to do that is by not deploying the resources we use at work in our downtime.

Recovery time can be anything from a long summer holiday to tiny micro-breaks during the school day. However, good strategies for daily recovery protect people against burnout in a way that waiting for weekends and holidays just doesn’t. It’s vital for our wellbeing that we think about the little rituals we go through on a daily basis, and how we can use them them to build in recovery – whether they are moments in the working day or activities that we engage in outside of school.

Which activities are best for supporting recovery?

  • Sport – Research shows that sport is a great way of supporting the recovery of the resources we use at work (Sylvester et al., 2016) – no surprises there.
  • Relaxation – Activities that promote relaxation, such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation, are also shown to be powerful. The ‘Headspace’ app is a popular and accessible tool that can aid deep relaxation. If you’re interested in finding out a little more, organisations such as the ‘Mindfulness In Schools Project’ run courses for teachers in this area.
  • Getting out and about – According to recent research from Finland, engaging in physical activity in natural environments is among the most effective ways of rebuilding your reserves. A short walk at lunchtime or in the evening not only restores the resources you’ve been using up at work, but can also help you to enjoy your work even more (Kinnunen et al., 2011)(Pasanen et al., 2014).

Of course, it’s not the same for everyone; for some, an evening with friends can really help to support their all-important recovery. For others, it depends on what they talk about, who they’re with or how energising or draining they find social interaction.

We might think that low-energy activities such as watching TV in the evening would help. In fact, in the field of recovery time, they are much less effective than more engaging activities like meditation, doing something creative or listening to music.

Whatever your chosen downtime, it’s just as important to plan the time into your day for this as it is for your work!

We think that following these three examples of small but deliberate changes to your approach to your work and free time can have a big impact – not only on your effectiveness as a teacher, but also on your sense of purpose, achievement and wellbeing.

We can’t promise that you’ll suddenly have more time on your hands, and teaching is always going to be full-on, but we hope that by carefully considering how you divide your time, and how you can approach your work most effectively, you’ll be able to thrive, despite challenges, to enjoy a rewarding career as a teacher – the best job in the world!

Key takeaways:

  • Explore a summary of evidence in the science of learning.
  • Set yourself one small thing to improve each week.
  • Factor in time for daily recovery.

This article originally appeared in The Profession, the Chartered College of Teaching’s new annual publication for early career teachers.

The Institute for Teaching & Ambition School Leadership respond to DfE’s statement of intent on diversity in the school workforce

In response to the DfE's statement of intent on diversity in the school workforce, Melanie Renowden, Deputy CEO, said:

“We welcome the Department’s announcement today, highlighting its commitment to increasing the diversity of the school workforce.

“As we prepare to launch the new organisation bringing together Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching, we are taking the opportunity to address some of the structural barriers to equality in the school workforce.

"We will have a single purpose: to help all educators to keep getting better – whatever their background and however they identify themselves.

"At Ambition School Leadership, we are proud of our track record in supporting diversity in school leadership:

  • 55% of all leaders we have supported to headship are women.
  • In March 2018 we launched the first cohort of the women-only Headship programme to support more women to become headteachers.

Our programmes attract, retain and support educators who identify as BAME to progress their careers:

  • 14% of the leaders we have supported to headship are BAME (nationally, just 3% of headteachers identify as BAME).
  • In 2017, 6% of the senior leaders on our Future Leaders programme were BAME (nationally, 5% of teachers are in senior leadership roles).
  • In 2017, 21% of middle leaders on our Teaching Leaders programme were BAME (nationally, 8% of BAME teachers are in middle leadership roles).

“But we know there is more to be done. That is why we have launched ‘Under Construction’, a campaign to empower more high-potential teachers and leaders – from all backgrounds and walks of life – to take the next step in their career.

“We will be working with our network of leaders and our partners in the business, education and government sectors to achieve this goal.

“I am excited by the potential of this campaign to support the DfE’s commitment to nurture a more diverse school workforce.”



Notes to editors

Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching legally became one organisation on 3rd September 2018. The new organisation will launch publicly in early 2019.

New strategic collaboration will build capacity across the sector

We’re pleased to announce a new strategic partnership between the newly merged Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching, and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST).

CST is the national voice of school trusts in England, and advocates for, connects and supports executive and governance leaders. Our organisations are both committed to building an excellent education system in England, and we believe that having great leaders and teachers in every school is the best way to make sure every pupil gets a great education – regardless of their background.

By working in partnership rather than competition we can ensure that what we do is complementary and has the greatest possible impact. Together, we want to build a coherent institutional architecture for schools and trusts in England – one that builds the sector’s capacity, speaks for the sector and develops teachers and leaders through exceptional programmes and qualifications. As James Toop, Chief Executive of Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching, said:

“Through this partnership we look forward to deepening the impact of our joint work across the sector and to challenging the thinking about the way we educate our educators.”

Our newly merged organisation and CST are already working together to deliver our Governance Leadership Programme, which is supported by the Department for Education and focuses on developing trust leadership and governance skills. Reflecting on our increasing collaboration ahead of CST’s official launch at the British Library on 11 October, Chief Executive Leora Cruddas said:

“I’m very proud of the work we’re already doing together through our governance leadership programme. Our new partnership builds on and consolidates this relationship. I am confident that we will be able to do some very powerful work together.”

Former National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter – who recently announced his role as Executive Director of System Leadership in our newly merged organisation – will be closely involved in the partnership. He said:

“I'm very excited about our new alliance with CST and I believe it will support local, regional and national networks to share learning and build sustainable collaborations that lead to better educational experiences for children. System coherence is as big a priority now as I ever, and our partnership will contribute to this and build greater capacity for schools and trusts to lead the school system.”

To find out more about the work of CST, visit their website.

Join a global discussion on teacher development

The Global Teacher Development Forum was held on Monday 22nd October 2018. We’ll be sharing more information on what we got up to at the conference soon.

The Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership are excited to be collaborating with The Varkey Foundation to host the Global Teacher Development Forum – a ground-breaking event to share knowledge and expertise in teaching and leadership development from across the world.

The Global Teacher Development Forum is a free event, and will be held at Chobham Academy in Stratford on Monday 22 October. To ensure delegates get the most out of the Forum, we’ve split all sessions, including interactive workshops, keynotes speeches and panel discussions into three ‘pathways’ – each of which is designed to address an endemic challenge faced by anyone working to improve teaching and leadership development.

The three pathways are Culture – the conditions required for teachers to grow, Curriculum – the content of teacher development programmes, and Craft – how teachers can be helped to improve. We’ll be asking questions like: how can I create a culture of continuous improvement? What should I be teaching my teachers? And, how can we use deliberate practice to develop teaching expertise?

On registration we invite you to select the pathway of your choice, so that the sessions you attend can be specifically tailored to your interests.

As well some well-known names in the UK education sector – including Rebecca Allen (Director of the Centre for Education Improvement Science at UCL’s Institute of Education), and David Weston (CEO of the Teacher Development Trust) – we’re excited to have the opportunity to hear from experts in teaching and leadership development from further afield. Speakers joining us from abroad include Jari Salminen of the University of Helsinki, Florencia Mezzadra, of Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies, Bailey Thomson Blake of SPARK Schools (South Africa).

Also contributing to the Forum, alongside fellow members of our team, will be Sir David Carter (former National Schools Commissioner) who recently announced his position in the newly merged Ambition School Leadership and Institute for Teaching. Emphasising the unique opportunities presented by the Global Teacher Development Forum, Sir David said:

“I am looking forward to being part of this ground-breaking day. Teacher development is a huge issue for the sector and to see so many experts coming together under one roof for a world-leading debate on this important topic is not only exciting but a chance for us all to think about not just the what, when and how of teaching educators, but also the conditions in which we teach them.”

We’ll end the day with a keynote speech from David Berliner (Former President of the American Educational Research Association), who’ll be asking ‘What’s the point of Teacher Development?’, and calling on the Forum to use the knowledge that we’ve shared and the connections we’ve made to effect positive change in our practice and in our workplaces.

We hope to see you at the Global Teacher Development Forum, for what is sure to be an informative, inspiring and enjoyable event.

Former National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter to join the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership

The Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership are pleased to announce that former National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, is to join the newly merged organisation as Executive Director of System Leadership.

Sir David will be leading our suite of Executive Programmes, which support executive heads, CEOs and governors to keep getting better so that all children can thrive, no matter what their background. He will also be working with key partners in the sector to understand how we can further support and develop educators at all levels.

Improving teaching and school leadership is the best way to make sure every pupil gets a great education. Through our merger we’re sharing expertise in teaching and leadership development to increase the reach and impact of our evidence-informed programme offer. We pride ourselves on the outstanding quality of these programmes, the expertise and experience of the people who deliver them and our relationships across the sector – including with our network of 10,000 teachers and leaders.

We are pleased to welcome Sir David to the team, and we look forward to working with him to achieve our shared vision. Discussing his appointment, Sir David said:

"I am very excited about my new role as Executive Director of System Leadership with the new organisation and the opportunities that this brings for me to continue to play a role in improving educational outcomes for children in England.”

To find out more about David Carter's appointment to the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership, read the tes article (subscription required).

Sir David Carter joined senior colleagues from the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership at the Global Teacher Development Forum, which we co-hosted on 22nd October 2018 in collaboration with the Varkey Foundation.

We brought some of the greatest minds in education together from across the world to discuss how we can improve teacher development across the world. Speakers included David Berliner of Arizona State University, Mayme Hostetter of Relay Graduate School of Education, and Professor Low Ee Ling of The Sigapore National Institute of Education.

To find out more about some of the programmes that Sir David will be leading, follow the links below:

Executive Educators: leading several schools (with NPQEL)

Executive Educators: building and leading a sustainable MAT

Governance Leadership

Wellbeing series: 2. What is Emotion Regulation anyway?

Introducing our Emotion Regulation blog series…

As an organisation, we prioritise the needs of teachers and we want to be able to offer insights and practical strategies to support teachers physically and emotionally both in and out of work. In partnership with Big Change, we’ve created a Wellbeing Programme specifically for Teachers, and have spent the last few months developing it with the help of our learnings from psychology research. In this series we’ll look at sharing some of what we’ve discovered, particularly about emotion regulation – an area of increasing interest to psychologists, both in the field of teaching and in psychology more broadly.

If you haven’t read the first blog of our emotion regulation series, you can find it here

2: What is emotion regulation anyway?

As part of our work on the Wellbeing programme we’re hoping share what we’ve learnt about the psychology of emotion regulation, and how it might be used as by teachers, both in and out of the classroom, as a tool to support their wellbeing. It’s a complex process, but in this blog, we’d like to introduce you the processes that make it up.  

What is an emotion? 

Emotions are just our reactions to cues in our day-to-day experience. They have three facets; experiential, physiological and emotional, which These three facets are what distinguish emotions from feelings. A classic example of this is the fight or flight reaction. At the cue of potential threat, we experience a physiological response, maybe quickened heart rate or breathing, as well a feeling of fear or anxiety. Our response is also determined by interpretation of the cue based on prior experience or understanding.  

So, emotions come in response to a cue that has some meaning for us; often, this means that our emotional responses relate to our goals. A teacher might experience the emotion of joy when a student successfully answers a tricky question. This response is linked to their ultimate goal of seeing their students succeed. Negative emotions can also be linked to goals though – for a teacher, disruptive behaviour in the classroom might cause frustration or anger, as it acts as a potential barrier to achieving the ultimate goal of student success.  

What is emotion regulation?  

Emotion regulation is the process we go through when interpreting and responding to cues, sometimes intentionally, but often automatically. Researchers, largely informed by the work of the psychologist James Gross, see this process unfolding along a timeline with clear stages.  

This timeline starts when a situation arises, we then attend to it, appraise it and formulate a response. For example, in the situation where a student successfully answers a tricky question, their answer acts as the cue; we attend to this cue and consider what it means to us. Our interpretation informs our response (joy!). 

Along the emotion regulation timeline, our responses and decisions can determine the course of our experience in some way. There are 5 different categories of behaviour along this timeline. They are: 


  1. Situation selection 
  2. Situation modification 
  3. Attentional deployment 
  4. Cognitive change 
  5. Response modulation 



What do these behaviour categories mean? 

Situation selection (1) is pre-emptive and refers to the choices we make about situations. For example, if we predict that a situation will result in us feeling negative emotions, we might choose to avoid that situation altogether (and not ask tricky questions!). Conversely, if we expect that a situation will result in us feeling positive emotions, we might intentionally put ourselves into that situaion! This is the first step in the emotion regulation process and illustrates the fact that emotion regulation begins in advance of an event or an experience.  

Situation modification (2) has parallels with situation selection. It’s the process of making alterations to a situation as it occurs. In a teaching context, teachers will select specific strategies to respond to cues in the classroom or make decisions like prompting a student if they don’t at first know the answer to a question we’ve posed. 

Attentional deployment (3) refers to the focus in a moment and how and where we choose to place our attention. In a classroom context, this might be focusing on the student we’re quizzing and giving them our full attention in that moment. 

Cognitive change (4) is about how we choose to interpret a situation. For example, when a student fails to answer a question, or gives an ‘silly’ answer we may interpret this negatively – assuming that they haven’t learned what we have taught them or that they’re being deliberately disruptive. Alternatively, we could choose to re-evaluate this and consider other possible reasons for their lack of a correct response – perhaps we just haven’t explained it well enough, or maybe they are too nervous or shy to answer in front of the class. So, the way we choose to interpret or appraise a situation impacts on our experience of emotion in this moment.    

Response modulation (5) is the final stage along the emotion timeline and it can take place in the moment, or even afterwards. For example, if you were frustrated with a student giving a ‘silly answer’, at the time you might just take a moment to stop yourself from snapping at the student. After the lesson you could still modulate your experience of that situation by venting to a colleague. All of these things are examples of response modulation, actions we take intentionally or not to deal with an emotion as it presents itself. 

What’s next? 

The better able we are to reflect on how we respond to cues in our day-to-day life, the better we can consider how we can alter our responses to them and we hope that understanding this process can help with this. In the next blog post, we’ll look at how psychologists believe our wellbeing is affected by our actions at different stages of the emotion regulation process.

You can find Jacynth Bennett, Associate Dean and course lead for the Wellbeing Programme, on twitter using the handle @BennettJacynth


Jacynth leads our Teacher Wellbeing Programme (Free - thanks to Big Change!). Drawing on psychological expertise from a number of different fields, and teaming it with the psychology of habit building, we work with early years teachers around London to help them develop their own practical and evidence-informed ‘toolbox’ to support teacher wellbeing.

Jacynth Bennett

Associate Dean, Institute for Teaching
Find out more about our Wellbeing Programme...

Wellbeing series: 1. Why might emotion regulation be interesting to teachers?

Introducing our Emotion Regulation blog series…

As an organisation, we prioritise the needs of teachers and we want to be able to offer insights and practical strategies to support teachers physically and emotionally both in and out of work. In partnership with Big Change, we’ve created a Wellbeing Programme specifically for Teachers, and have spent the last few months developing it with the help of our learnings from psychology research. In this series we’ll look at sharing some of what we’ve discovered, particularly about emotion regulation – an area of increasing interest to psychologists, both in the field of teaching and in psychology more broadly.

In the first blog of this series, we’ll explore why the psychology of emotion regulation is relevant to teachers, before sharing a key model of emotion regulation and its implications for wellbeing in parts 2 and 3.  Finally, in the final blog of the series, we’ll share some thoughts on how we might use this psychology in a practical way to support the wellbeing of teachers – and especially those in the early stages of their careers!

1: Why might emotion regulation be interesting for teachers?

There’s no doubt that teaching is an emotionally and psychologically demanding profession. It’s one of the things that makes it both extremely rewarding and enormously challenging. Nevertheless, when we look at teacher wellbeing, teacher training and the support currently available to teachers, the psychological demands of the job aren’t being widely discussed. There is, however, an increasing body of research that aims to understand more about the emotional experience of teachers and the impact this has on their day-to-day life. At a time when teaching seems to be becoming ever more demanding, and teacher wellbeing a growing cause for concern this is particularly pertinent.

Clearly teacher wellbeing is complex. The research has identified key external factors that need to be considered and addressed if we are to begin to tackle the challenges of supporting teacher wellbeing – such as poor behaviour, workload, and leadership decisions. However, while these external factors are increasingly understood, there are some internal factors that are also worthy of exploration. There are learnings from psychology that may help teachers navigate the tricky day-to-day pressures of their jobs, whilst the system is changing to account for bigger-picture challenges.

Just as on our Masters in Expert Teaching we look beyond teacher to understand expertise, our interest in emotion regulation also comes from outside education the education sphere. It’s something psychologists have been exploring as a way to understand negative emotions, i.e. how they manifest themselves; how to manage them and, more recently, how regulating them can increase the impact of positive emotions on our wellbeing.

In education, researchers have used these frameworks to understand what it is that teachers experience and studies have drawn clear links between emotion regulation and burnout. They suggest that the more skilled a teacher is at regulating their emotions, the less likely they are to experience burnout. What’s more, they are also more likely to be satisfied by their work! Given the impact it can have on wellbeing and work satisfaction, researchers recommend teachers be taught about the process of emotion regulation so they might use it as a tool to help them manage their day-to-day work.

Researchers in the field of emotion regulation often conclude their work with a call to share knowledge. It’s widely felt that supporting individuals to understand their emotions, and how humans typically deal with them, can help us to begin to reflect on how we deal with challenges each day, and to interrupt and adapt the emotion regulation cycle to alter our experiences of events.

What’s more, understanding doesn’t only serve as a tool for dealing with negative emotions but can also be employed to maximise the benefit of positive emotions, of which there are many in the life of a teacher!

As part of our work on teacher wellbeing, we’ve sought to understand what research in this field can tell us about our day-to-day experience, and how we can make this knowledge accessible for busy teachers. We’ve worked with teachers to develop practical ways to apply this knowledge, and created a forum to share and develop our understanding of emotion regulation, in the hope that it can provide tools to help teachers pursuit of wellbeing. If you’re interested in being involved in our free 2018-19 Teacher Wellbeing Programme, you can find out more here (applications close at the end of September 2018!).

It’s important to note that research in this field is relatively new, and psychology is notoriously hard to prove and understand. Nevertheless, we feel there’s real value for teachers in having a theoretical understanding of (and practical strategies based on) elements of psychology which can support wellbeing.

In the next blog of this series, we’ll provide an overview of our current understanding of emotion regulation. To find out more about the research that has influenced these blogs, and our Teacher Wellbeing Programme, keep an eye out for the paper which forms the basis of this series – we’ll be releasing it in full to end the series.

You can find Jacynth Bennett, Associate Dean and course lead for the Wellbeing Programme, on twitter using the handle @BennettJacynth


Jacynth leads our Teacher Wellbeing Programme (Free - thanks to Big Change!). Drawing on psychological expertise from a number of different fields, and teaming it with the psychology of habit building, we work with early years teachers around London to help them develop their own practical and evidence-informed ‘toolbox’ to support teacher wellbeing.

Jacynth Bennett

Associate Dean, Institute for Teaching
Find out more about our Wellbeing Programme...