Time. There’s never enough. Teaching is so complex an endeavour that were it given all the time in the world, teachers would still find ways to fill that time and more trying to perfect plans for illuminating lessons. Time management is the single most challenging aspect of this profession. Too bad there wasn’t a class on it in university. There ought to have been. There ought to be one now.
Angela Watson offers professional development to satisfy this need. She calls it the “40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.” (I’d have joined the club at the beginning of January if my Christmas expenditures didn’t leave me feeling strapped. It’s not that expensive – at $119USD for a year-long PD. I think I’ll join during the club’s next intake in July.)
At the beginning of January Angela offered a free webinar called “Trim an hour (or more) off your workweek now.” It was full of great and simple tips to reduce your workload, increase your efficiency, and manage your time more effectively. She challenged her audience to choose one strategy – and if you’re more ambitious one of each of the three listed categories – to try out in order to save at least an hour each week. I’m trying to be ambitious, so here’re my three: allow students to self-assess, practice creating minimally viable products, and aim for small blocks of highly-focussed work time.
To reduce my workload, I will allow students to self-assess. I’ve been starting to incorporate this in our math workshop already; though the strategy came about not from a need to save time, but from a need for students to receive more immediate feedback. When assigning a follow-up page of questions that connect to a math group lesson, say on left-to-right multi-digit addition, I provide the answer key on the reverse. As students work through problems independently, they are charged with self-assessing their work as they go. They receive quick feedback to let them know if they’re on the right track or making errors. It’s worked quite effectively. Since I don’t take these assignments in for marks, and since we discuss the purpose of self-assessments as helping one’s learning, the students use the answer key to assess their work (and not to copy answers). Interestingly, shortly after implementing this approach, I observed a new learning opportunity. students would only check the final answer, and then give themselves a check or “x” – but if the answer was incorrect, they wouldn’t dig deeper to check their work before the final answer. They weren’t debugging. (We’ve been learning about this in tech class.) So, that’s what our next math focus lessons featured; we worked as a class to debug some problems that I incorrectly solved. It’s helped a little, but the skill of debugging is still a work in progress. Angela’s webinar prompted me to consider extending these sorts of self-assessments to other subjects and times of the school day.
To increase my efficiency, I will practice creating minimally viable products (or MVPs). For the perfectionistic aspect of the teacher persona, this can be a challenge. The minimally viable product recognizes the importance of prototyping, reinforcing the notion that teaching is never a one-sized solution nor a final product. Angela offered the example of creating a slideshow to teach a concept. She suggests allotting yourself a specific amount of prep time to create the slides – say 15 minutes. The MVP would be the text on the slides. If you still have time, search out some images and animations to reinforce the concepts. And if you still have time (within your allotted 15 minutes), modify those fonts. So, a slideshow that might eat away more than an hour of your evening prep time now takes only 15 minutes. And this reminds us of what’s important: the impact on student learning. Because in this prototyping process the modifications you make to the slideshow for future uses (again, within 15-ish minute time limits) are made based on the experience and feedback that you receive while using it with students. No longer is the goal to make perfect all resources before using them with students. How, indeed, could resources be perfect when each student and group of students come with unique learning needs and styles?
To manage my time more effectively, I will aim for small blocks of highly-focussed work time. I remember fondly the times before I parenthood when I could block off large chunks of the day to dedicate to working at home. Those glory days are over. Now I need to make better use of my brief blocks of work time: 15 minutes after the students are dismissed, the class is tidied, and before I have to pick up Zefram from childcare; 20 minutes while students are out at recess; 60 minutes while Zef naps on Saturday afternoon; or 60 minutes after he goes to sleep in the evening. These blocks of time are rarely consistent, sometimes unexpected, and always brief. If I embrace these brief blocks and use them with a prioritized to-do list to create minimally viable outcomes, I think there might just be enough time. (As I’m typing this, I realize the odd sensation of those two words: “enough time.” It might just be. Possible.)