3 Actions to Becoming a More Efficient Teacher

Yesterday, Teacher A walked into the school office with a bundle of Spring Pictures that were due back to the office the day before.  “Can I give these to you now?” she asks the secretary.

“No,” answers the secretary.  “Those have already been boxed up and shipped out.”

<Awkward pause>  “Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time!” Teacher A replies defensively.

Later that night at a fundraising event for the school, Teacher B says to me, “Ugh.  5:00 was too early to be here.  I wasn’t ready to leave school by 5!”

photo: Drew Coffman (CC)

photo: Drew Coffman (CC)

I’m not sure if it’s a badge of honor, an excuse for being inefficient, or just their mantra, but “I don’t have time” has certainly won the title of Most Overused Phrase in education by now.  I get it.  Teaching is all about everything all up in your face at all times of the day, without much breathing room.  The number of decisions that have to be made in the course of an hour of teaching can be staggering.  The amount of paperwork never gets diminished – only increases with new mandates initiated by someone at a different pay grade.  I even formed the habit of not drinking anything between my coffee in the morning and my water during supper so that I wouldn’t have to visit the bathroom more than once.

But there comes a time when we have to realize that teaching is like that.  It’s fast.  It’s flexible.  It’s hard to plan more than two days in advance.  If you are a person who cannot move quickly, make confident decisions without worrying overly much, or realize that ‘perfection’ is just an intangible idea, then find a new job.

If, however, you love working with the kiddos and the ambiguity of humanity as your prime commodity, then you understand that time will always be at a premium, and that to complain about its lack of abundance is futile.  “Suck it up, buttercup!” is what I remind myself when I feel mired in ‘have-to’s’ and emails from parents.  As I reflect on my own routines, and watch those of my colleagues, there are three areas that can easily be fixed to reallocate more ‘time’ in your teaching day:

1.  SOCIALIZING – Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time talking to each other.  Last year, during the worst of our budget cuts, many of our teachers had their prep time at the beginning of the day – before kids even arrived.  Needless to say, planning time turned into an extended coffee klatch.  Try jotting down just how much time you actually spend talking to the teacher next door, or to your colleagues in the copy room.  I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how much time could be taken back.

2.  EMAIL – Ah, the buggaboo of modern business – ease of access to everyone can be both a blessing and a curse.  I love being able to email questions and ideas to teachers all over the district with just a couple key taps.  My wife is an administrator in public education and consistently receives more than 100 emails requiring some sort of action each day.  Teachers typically don’t receive that many, but it’s still enough to take up a chunk of a day that we just don’t have, since we are…well…teaching students.  My solution?  A) only look at your emails at set times of the day, perhaps before school, lunch, and after school.  Any parent or colleague who gets upset that you don’t respond within minutes can just stuff it.   A twenty-four hour response time is sufficient.  B) Don’t overdo the responses.  Yes, proofread them, but make them as short as possible.  The added details we so often feel are necessary to bolster our campaign can actually detract from the intended message.  You may even want to keep a document with canned responses that can be copied/pasted into the body of an email to save typing time.  C)  Time spent on proactive communication such as weekly emails or newsletters, social media postings, etc. will reap great benefits in fewer parent emails asking the same old questions.  Letting families understand your teaching and classroom will also prevent emails questioning your methods or motives.  Trust me on this; I learned the hard way.

3.  GRADING – When I started teaching, I spent an unbelievable amount of time grading student work and entering it into the gradebook.  After all, if students took the time to complete my assignments, wasn’t it only fair that I should carefully grade them and provide individual feedback?  No. Let me see if I can change your view on this one.  First, you don’t have to grade everything they do.  Talk with your administrator on how many grades per week he/she thinks is appropriate, and then stick with the minimum.  Let’s say it’s two grades per week per period (for those of us who do junior high/high school).  You can either assign only two assignments per week, or you can collect only two per week.  Second, let the student decide what the second grade will be.  Student Choice is a big buzzword in education these days.  Here’s a great opportunity to incorporate some of that, too!  And most likely, it will be some of their best work, so it shouldn’t be so hard to analyze.  Also, see if you can use technology to do the grading for you, such as Scantrons, Lightning Grader, Google Forms, Socrative or Nearpod App, etc. The new math curriculum for the elementary schools even has e-assessments you can build in the web app, and then it grades them for you. Finally, make your constructive comments in person.  Talking goes so much faster than writing.

While there are many more techniques teachers can use to increase efficiency, try these for now and let me know what works for you.  Any by all means, please don’t let me hear you say “I don’t have time!’ ever again.  It’s counterproductive, and, quite frankly, annoying.


Bold vs. Rogue

courtesy of m4rtin's on Flickr

I received an email today that I wish I hadn’t.

It made me think.  Obsessively.  Nonstop.

Bob Dillon (@ideaguy42), one of the organizers of the upcoming #edcampstl, an unconference on all things educational in February, posed a very interesting question:

This week, we are thinking about being BOLD and being ROGUE. What would a bold school look like? What would happen if your school went ROGUE?

THAT reminded me of a post by Will Richardson (@willrichardson) on his blog where he asked:

What qualities do “Bold Schools” share?

He posited that there are nine different characteristics: learning centered, questioning, authentic, digital, connected, literate, transparent, innovative, and provocative.

But then I got to thinking, “What would happen if we took BOLD a step further into ROGUE?”  The term ‘bold’ implies something that remains in the realm of possibilities, that there are probably even schools with these (maybe not all, but at least one) characteristics already in place.  ‘Rogue’, however, to me implies a truly out-of-the-box mindset – a situation where 99.9% of teachers, parents, and administrators would yell, “Foul!” before the idea even obtained fledgling status.

For example, a boldly collaborative school would engage the parents, the learner, the community-at-large, and a network of national or even global partners in an open environment where authentic learning takes place using real-time data.  A roguishly collaborative school would have ad-hoc learning groups, meeting anywhere anytime they wanted/could, since the learning group would be comprised of people from all over the world – not necessarily the same age, since learning would be by interest and ability.

Using the characteristics outlined in Will Richardson’s blogpost, here’s a quick rubric-style table of how I think BOLD schools would differ from ROGUE schools:

AUTHENTIC Lessons use real-time data in real-life situations.  Writing is in response to current events or current needs. Physically going outside the school to collect data, students would be involved in publishing their own science journals, literary critiques
DIGITAL Everyone has a computer; most work is done digitally.  Still internet filters and limits on some social media Everyone has a computer supplied by school and whatever else they bring in.  Free access to everything, 100% paperless
CONNECTED learners are connected with the outer world with emphasis on US connections. Learners connected with global emphasis.  No set time frames to learning because of globalization
TRANSPARENT Every student has regular correspondence with their own Learning Network. School very open to community. Every student product is available for anyone to see.  Assessment is by a committee of peers and adults.
INNOVATIVE Risk-taking is encouraged As long as no one gets killed in the process, go for it.
PROVOCATIVE leaders advocate for change in local, state, and national venues. students, teachers, and leaders advocate for global change and equality. Projects are results-oriented.
LEARNING CENTERED students and teachers promote emphasis on becoming a learner over becoming learned. Everything is questioned, and a main thread of instruction is how to constructively question and search for new meaning.
COLLABORATIVE Cross-curricular assignments/projects between students, teachers, schools No set subject-area classrooms.  Meeting spaces for ad-hoc groups depending on learning decisions/goals.
REFLECTIVE Students and teachers in regular personal reflection. Students and teachers in regular, published personal reflection with the addition of comments by others.
INCLUSIVE Everyone in the community is included in the learning process. Community members and parents are continually coming in and out of the school as instructors and assessors.

What do YOU think a ROGUE school would look like?