Protect the quality of your teaching by harnessing the power of NO

Saying no to something is never popular. People won’t praise you for it, they won’t thank you for it – however, it could be one of the most important words of your professional career.

As teachers, we are great at doing lots of things, we’ve always got things on the go – but, I think (and I write about this a lot) we have to be absolutely focused on the progress of our students. Nothing more, that’s it.

But, schools are busy places, and this focus can often get lost. I spoke with a friend recently who had been asked to cover three lessons in one week, to the detriment of their classes and home life. Keep saying yes and before long you’ll run out of time, your students will suffer, so will your work-life balance and your health won’t be far behind.

Sometimes you need to say “no”


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Here are a few easy, polite and positive ways to do it. Next time someone asks you to do something, give them a try – see if you can take back some time for your students and yourself.


Don’t say yes immediately

“I’ll need to check my availability and get back to you tomorrow.”

When someone asks you to do something, they want an immediate yes. To them, at that moment the thing they’re asking you seems really important – they just want it off their to-do list.

Say you’ll need to check your diary, or you’ll see them tomorrow to discuss it. Just giving your response some time will allow you to decide if you need to do it, allow that person to think about whether they’d be better asking someone else, or doing it themselves.


Explain that you’ve got too much on at the moment to do a good job

“I’d love for that to happen, I’ll support it in any way I can, but unfortunately I won’t have time to do it myself.”

If you’re being asked to do something, that person wants a good job done – being honest about the fact you won’t be able to do that is actually doing them a favour. No one can resent the fact you don’t have enough time to do it, and they’ll appreciate that you want it to be done properly.


The time just isn’t right

“Yes, let’s talk about that when our exam classes go on study leave – then we will have time to do it properly.”

Again, the focus here is doing the job properly, not rushing it and (importantly) not losing focus on the students. No one will resent you those ambitions.


Illustrate the priorities you’re working with

“I’m happy to help you with this – which one of these other things would you like me to stop doing in order to be able to do it properly?”

Priority shouldn’t really be a plural, it means one top thing. Not two, or three. You can only totally focus on one thing, and so should you. If a senior teacher wants you to pick something else up, then make it clear that will, unfortunately, mean putting something else down as you only have so many hours in the day. They may make the decision to take something off your plate, or they’ll ask someone else.

The students are the one, the main, only the priority

“Are you sure you want me to do this when it is keeping me from making my greatest contribution to our students?”

That may seem rude, and perhaps reading it in the cold light of day it is – but it’s honest. If you’re being asked to do something that will stop you making your greatest contribution to students, then it’s your responsibility to report that, as you would any other systemic failing.

Next time you’re asked to do something extra that you don’t feel you should do – try one of these. Get some time back to focus on why you became a teacher in the first place.


Has your teaching ever been improved by saying no to something?

How do you remain focused on your students in the frantic school day?



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Interested in education, writing and creativity? Join my mailing list here.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

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