Do you feel that your workload expands out of control? Do you often feel like you’re “behind” or “trying to catch up” while the mountain of papers grows taller every day? You’re not alone. Try out these tips and tricks to save hours every week and finally get your weekends back!
STREAMLINE THE BASICS (1.5 h)
Clear Your Desktop
One survey discovered that over half of us spend 30 minutes a week searching for stuff we can’t find on our computers. Organize your files and claim back that wasted time. Create a work folder and commit to a system that makes sense to you. You can organize your files by topic, theme or time of year. Make sure that everything has a separate folder and there are no loose files floating around.
Jessica from What I’ve Learned Teaching came up with her own system to keep her digital files organized:
“In my main Second Grade folder (on the left), I have folders for each subject area and a few others that aren’t subjects, but definitely a need. Within each subject, I have a folder for each strand. I’ve tried to number them in the order of appearance in the standards. Within each strand folder, I have each standard. Within each standard folder are resources that go with that standard. So, it goes like this: Second Grade > Subject > Strand >Standard > Resources.”
You can learn more about Jessica’s approach to organising on her blog.
Teaching is one of the professions that tends to expand to fill up as much time as you allow it to. The solution is to schedule blocks of work into your calendar, the same way you’d schedule appointments. Knowing you have only blocked off two hours for lesson planning can help you work more quickly and efficiently. Over time, you will get a better idea of how much time certain activities take up and you’ll schedule more efficiently. Sometimes just seeing how full your calendar already is will make it easier to stop yourself and let something go when you’re approaching overwork. If you’d like to become a master of your calendar and learn advanced calendar-based time management techniques, the video below is a must-see.
Keep your classroom tidy
A 2004 Public Agenda study reported that 3 our of 4 teachers felt they lost time precious teaching time because of disruptive behavior. Did you know that an organized classroom can actually help with disruptive behaviors? Creating clear systems and minimizing distractions can contribute to limiting unruly behavior, and Pinterest is full of ideas for classroom organization.
PARENT ENGAGEMENT & COMMUNICATION (1 h)
Communicate involvement opportunities well ahead
When planning classroom activities for the next term (or the entire year), map out the amount and the kind of volunteers you’ll need. What items will you need parents to bring? Do you need a driver for a field trip? Scheduling ahead and communicating your needs well ahead of time means it’s more likely you’ll receive the support you need and will save yourself time on last-minute calls and pleading.
Create handy templates
Create standard message templates for common issues that you frequently share with parents – then cut, paste and customize as needed. Much quicker while still much more personal that the dreaded “robocalls”!
Automate essential communications
This is one of the biggest time-saving opportunities and one that not enough teachers take advantage of! Instead of spending hours on paper notes, automate your essential communications. With ClassTag, you only need to set up your newsletter once and parents will receive a summary of upcoming classroom activities every week.
LESSON PLANNING (0.5 h)
Sharing is caring
Share resources school-wide. If you’ve created a method of organizing or lesson plans that can help others, there’s no point to be precious about it. Pass it on and your colleagues will do the same, saving time for all of you as a result.
Done is better than perfect
Experienced teachers say that as s a rule of thumb, materials should take no more than half the time to create that they’ll be used for. If you’re taking longer, you’re probably a little bit of a perfectionist!
Re-use, not lose
After the lesson is finished, save the materials in a folder that easy to identify or put away in a clearly mark folder. You can also add notes about what worked and what to improve. This way, you can improve the learning outcomes every year rather than act out the same lesson again and again.
BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT (0.5 h)
Inspire with the positive
If there’s a particular student who’s repeatedly causing trouble, change the narrative by praising them in front of the class. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in improving behavior and relationships.
Don’t turn up the volume
If your class in being noisy, you might naturally raise your voice, but that might stop children from paying attention and communicates that it’s ok to shout. Some teachers found that talking quietly makes the students keep quiet, too. They will listen not wanting to miss something interesting, and you’ll save time by not having to repeat yourself.
Make learning an adventure
Another way to promote good behavior without threathening and pleading is to simply make learning more interesting. If you’re ready to try something a little different, you might like Classcraft. This free app gamifies learning, rewarding students for good behavior and collaboration. Students can become better learners as they level up, work in teams, and earn privileges to help them succeed.
CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT (1 h)
Don’t underestimate your little helpers
Let students help! If you’re doing something for students that they can be helping you with, put them in charge and they will enjoy the responsibility. Kids love to organize and even younger students can be helpful with filing things away and organizing lesson materials.
Count it down
Set a timer to motivate students. Some simple tasks like cleaning up seem to stretch for much longer than they should. Set an alarm with a funny sound and challenge students to complete the task before the timer goes off
When in the classroom, you want to be present with your students, but… when you know that students will be doing independent work, plan ahead for simple task you could complete during that time, such as filing papers.
HOMEWORK (0.5 h)
Not everything needs grading
Assign homework that doesn’t require checking, such as a family activity or reading at home. You can get started with these alternatives to homework that get parents involved in student learning.
Check it together
Check homework in class together instead of taking it home for marking. Also, think ahead and never set homework that will be laborious to mark.
.. or just skip it
Experiment with reducing or resigning from homework altogether!
GRADING (1 h)
Have students to work in pairs or small groups and evaluate each other’s work. You can use this method for assignments as well as for grading homework. Do you worry students will get something really wrong? Ask students to fill out a form covering specific aspects of the assessment so that you can quickly review the peer grades and catch any glaring mistakes.
Simplify grading with rubrics
More often than not, grading will involve evaluating punctuation, spelling, or formatting issues. Creating rubrics takes time, but investing some time at the beginning of the school year will turn into time saving… in no time! Try Rubistar or Teachnology to create your rubrics for the more straightforward assessment elements.
If you’re already tech-savvy, you might find that using the comment function in tools such as Google Drive is much faster than adding comments by hand. Reducing the number of papers floating around is always a welcomed bonus of this solution.
Hand it back!
One teacher proposed to simply stop reading after a certain type of mistake has been made too many times (you can decide on the number). Rather than keep on correcting the same mistake repeatedly throughout the paper, hand it back to the student to fix. You might just teach them to pay more attention and have fewer errors to fix in the future.
Build grading time into your schedule
Sometimes you need to set time aside for additional grading – trying fit it in between other activities just causes papers to pile up. Instead, choose a set time each week at the same time. Setting aside a specific time can keep the piles from getting too overwhelming and reduces the anxiety about getting behind.
A final reminder? A perfectly prepared, amazingly organized teacher whose stressed and worn out from overwork is not a teacher that will inspire students. Do your best, but don’t sacrifice your personal life trying to be perfect. Nobody can, and sometimes the best way to set an example for your students is to allow a little spontaneity or even chaos into your classroom.