The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

John Dabell

Why lazy teachers are the best

Working hard or hardly working? John Dabell explains why putting the power in pupils' hands is the best way for teachers to look after their own wellbeing.

I'm a lazy teacher – a really lazy teacher. Many of my colleagues are too. We don’t mind admitting it either. In fact, we’re very proud.

You see, being a lazy teacher is really the best way to be. Some of our other colleagues have got it all wrong. They run around like headless chickens and it isn't a pretty sight.

They have that many plates spinning at once, you will often hear the sound of smashing crockery coming from inside their classrooms.

Step inside and you’ll be confronted by a teacher treading water, surviving not thriving. These teachers are on the brink of burnout, on their knees and in need of life support.

Putting it simply, these poor souls have their priorities in the wrong order: ‘pupils first, me second’. That’s a dangerous way to work.

The reason lazy teachers will tell you to ‘get a life’ is not to be vindictive, but because they recognise that wellbeing is a priority, not a luxury. They don’t mark, plan and teach themselves into an early grave. They work smarter, not harder. 

Our Supporting Staff Wellbeing conference takes place on Wednesday 25 March 2020 in Manchester.

This event will equip you with invaluable guidance and easy-to-implement strategies to create a whole-school culture that priorities staff wellbeing.

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It's not fair

Teaching is not fair. It’s a career plagued with injustice and hardship. Unreasonable, unsurmountable pressure takes over our lives like Japanese knotweed, never letting us go. Why anyone would willingly become a teacher these days is bewildering…

Or at least, we’re accustomed to thinking so. But lazy teachers don’t see things this way. Lazy teachers know that the spiky outer shell of the teaching conker contains a soft centre. Despite all the craziness and change, teaching is still the best job in the world.

This isn’t to say that lazy teachers are delusional. They know what workload and wellbeing are all about which is why you’ll find a fair few working in a ‘Fair Workload Charter’ school.

Lazy teachers know that the spiky outer shell of the teaching conker contains a soft centre

These schools help teachers improve physically, mentally and pedagogically. They adopt schemes such as the ‘five-minute lesson plan’, and make sure marking isn’t the be-all and end-all.  

Staff workload is regularly monitored, and all staff have access to an external adjudication process where they believe that the school isn't delivering on its principles.

What is a lazy teacher?

Try not to confuse lazy with being idle. Lazy is far from being work-shy or slothful. X-ray a lazy teacher and you won’t find a single lazy bone.

Lazy teachers are intelligent, astute and proficient in classroom management and time management. They work hard, but get their pupils working harder. Their work-life balance is finely tuned.     

Lazy doesn’t mean hazy, feet-up and getting the kids to work in silence. No, it’s much better than that. It means shifting the workload from teachers to pupils.

Lazy teachers are intelligent, astute and proficient in classroom management and time management

The lazy teacher is in fact the superhero moniker of Jim Smith, headteacher and author of The Really Lazy Teacher’s Handbook – gospel for the economical. I read the book, bought the t-shirt and realised that, although I was lazy, I could be much lazier.

So, like thousands of other lazy teachers, I used Jim’s ideas as the foundation for my own advanced lethargy strategy. I haven't looked back.

Jim defines laziness as ‘masking your work by setting up highly personalised, creative learning experiences that progress students’ learning without them necessarily noticing’.

In other words, lazy teachers teach on the edge. We can occasionally teach from the front, the back and the middle too, but the edge is where you’ll find us most of the time.

Why? Being on the perimeter of teaching and learning means that you aren’t centre-stage, distracting pupils from their learning. Pupils don’t come to school to sit and watch their teachers work. They have to work hard to learn and learn to work hard.


One thing you won’t find lazy teachers doing is getting their lanyards in a twist. Fussing is tiring business, a colossal waste of energy.  

Why spend most of the day micromanaging, wobbling and withering with only caffeine to get you through the day? It’s important to direct and advise, but not every five seconds!

Fussy teachers are like drone teachers that constantly flit, hover and buzz. They are annoying, in-your-face and unable to leave the learning process alone. This hover and bother approach betrays a lack of confidence, an insistence to speak for the pupils and think for them as well.

Why spend most of the day micromanaging, wobbling and withering with only caffeine to get you through the day?

Lazy teachers don’t give pupils answers or too many hints but they do provide opportunities for creative, critical and independent thinking. They flip teaching, learning and assessment on its head by showing pupils that they don’t need as much help as they think. They know when to back off, when to advance and when to shut up.

Be unprepared 

It’s every teacher’s worst nightmare and one of the greatest pedagogical sins: being unprepared. But not having much of a plan can be a great way to teach. 

Project-based learning in a self-organised learning environment (SOLE) is great for requiring very little planning on the teacher’s part. The approach was pioneered by Sugata Mitra, whose research found that in a SOLE, pupils use the internet to answer test questions well ahead of their time, achieve good scores and remember information further down the line.

Not having much of a plan can be a great way to teach

In other words, giving pupils the space to learn at their own pace will result in ‘intellectual amplification’. 

Let the fussers fuss. This is a philosophy I can get behind - and you can too. Pupils learn best when left to their own devices, and teachers teach best from the sidelines. That’s the lazy way!

Demonstrate impact

Looking to demonstrate a commitment to promoting wellbeing as a fundamental part of your school life?

Developed in partnership with the National Children's Bureau, the Wellbeing Award for Schools leads you through a simple process of self-evaluation, action planning and accreditation. 

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