So often I am asked just how I manage to make it all look so effortless! Getting my reports in on time, my planning, my lessons and classroom as they are and keep up a home life, volunteering and finding some “me time!”. Well I refer to my mantra – Fake it til you make it!
So many times I’m like a duck on top of the water, the seemingly effortless majestic gliding on top of the water without seeing the frantic feet propelling under the surface. After over a decade of teaching I am far more equipped with my toolbox of strategies to help me get through my day than when I was a fresh new grad that makes it look like I’ve got it all together. When in reality – I work smarter these days and not harder.
Pretend that you’re Santa
“He’s making a list and checking it twice…” My first strategy in making it are checklists. I use checklists for everything! From homemade ones, to those on subscription websites and even those on Connect Communities. Checklists for me enable to me cross reference curriculum requirements, grading, anecdotal record keeping and keep me on track to ensure I get it all done and on time.
During my most recent round of report writing, I was able to back up my grading using a basic checklist of lesson attendance. I’m a primary teacher, so you would think that a students attendance at school would be enough to support you if you are able to write a report for a specialist subject or not. It turns out that this particular student was absent mostly Mondays and Fridays. My specialist lesson check list enabled me to show that the student had missed the majority of my HASS lessons and supported my decision to not grade them for it. My record keeping is something I am proud of and has the data to back me. It also helps to keep lesson attendance checklists for when you have interruptions to lessons.
Checklists for me include a whole scope of hieroglyphics, symbols and marks. Recently, I saw a post on Instagram from one of my best friends who uses a checklist for her students attitudes, behaviours and efforts. A simple triangle in a box next to a students name showed the data she needed to produce the reports. One side of the triangle equated to one time demonstrating one of the listed ABE qualities. All three sides equated to three times demonstrated. What a bloody brilliant way to record something that can often be blurred by personal judgements or prejudices.
When I use a checklist, I often use paper and coloured pens. I have a marks book, that I have bought from a Perth based business, that I carry with me everywhere. Having a paper copy for me mean that I can open it at any time or place and refer to it without having to have a device on me. I use colour codes and symbols to show term achievements and can easily see what I have taught and when. A strategy that I use when recording is having the achievement outcomes written and record the days that I teach that outcome and what other curriculum links it might have. Such as a Maths lesson that has a HASS link. This all helps me when it comes to the dreaded reporting time.
Work smarter not harder – set yourself up at the beginning of the term or reporting period with your checklists and it’s a matter of simply having them on hand to mark them off as you grade, assess and observe.
Checking in with all my socials!
One strategy that has helped me immensely living and working in regional and remote Western Australia with keeping my head above water is the growth and development of social media in society. Social media can be a double edged sword – it can help you or hinder you! You see all these amazing Pintrest perfect classrooms all set up and looking flawless! I will admit yes I use to get intimidated by them, but now I learn from them. If it wasn’t for social media, I wouldn’t have been exposed to a massive world of ideas and strategies that have helped me in my classroom.
From Facebook groups that have been set up to moderate and assess writing in the junior years, to support groups that focus on programs such as Talk4Writing and integration of digital technologies in the classroom, these groups have enabled me to feel connected and part of the bigger picture.
Instagram profiles with their “5k Follower Giveaways” and “Business Ambassadors” can make a small little country teacher’s IG journey feel a little bit insignificant at times. Don’t let that stop you from starting your own. I have connected with a wide range of educators from around the world that inspire and motivate me. I post things that I am proud of in my classroom and what I enjoy about education. The interaction between educators on IG is one strategy to help you stay afloat. Just don’t let it overwhelm you – do you and do you well! Take others posts as a grain of salt when needed and empower yourself to know when enough social media is enough for the day.
Speaking of social media, I’m going to include paid and subscription websites. I used to be the teacher who would make her own worksheets every single time. I still do for a large majority of the time. Knowing that what’s on the worksheet will directly support the learning intention of the lesson helps my assessment and planning. However, in todays world there are some brilliant subscription websites that have saved me so much time and energy (Work smarter, not harder!). Many of these websites also now have the magical checklists and trackers I was talking about that are all directly linked to the curriculum.
Use socials as a tool to help you work smarter, not harder and remember that what is posted on sites such as IG and Pintrest are what the authors want you to see, stay true to yourself but don’t be afraid to interact with your socials. Afterall, I wouldn’t have had any idea about SmileTeachers if not for the IG world!
Start early – Finish Early – Find Good Coffee
One way that I am able to attempt to get it all done is to start early and finish early (while being supported by good coffee!). I start everything early. My reports, my planning and my prep. After a decade of reporting, I am only now realising that I can start my general comments on the students well before the reports are due. A student’s general comment will not change dramatically in the four weeks before reports are due. I start my general comments in the last week of the term before. I write one general comment in every DOTT that I have that week, on a pre prepared proforma that has the students names and columns for each learning area that needs a comment or grade. I normally don’t do any planning or reports on my holidays as a rule, however, I did this year. I did one general report comment a day as per my normal work week DOTT. (Monday nothing due to no DOTT, Tuesday nothing due to no DOTT, Wednesday two comments due to having two DOTT etc). I followed this through to week three of Term Four. I worked smarter and not harder and have for the first time in my career have my report comments done, checked, edited and imputed by the end of Week Five. I also apply the start early / finish early mentality for my daily work. I get to work early and make sure I get everything I need to get done in the morning and leave pretty much on time in the afternoons. I never take work home after week three of Term One and always ensure I put myself and my family time as a priority. When I am super desperate for something to get done and I have to spend the time I make a block of time and I stick to it. I book myself into my diary and I use that appointment time just like booking in a hair dresser or dentist.
One shot wonder
Another way to work smarter not harder tool is getting things done in one shot. This includes things like photocopying, marking, planning and organising. I block out a DOTT period for each of these things. I start with a block of planning. From there I photocopy everything I need for the following week from that previous planning DOTT. From there I use a DOTT to mark (if I haven’t already done so in class) and finally a DOTT to organise it all. It all sounds a little OCD and doesn’t always work out as clockwork as I would like. But having everything blocked out means that I don’t waste precious time on DOTT. I also work better with earphones on a spotify playlist. This is two fold. One is that I enjoy the music that motivates me and gets me in the “zone” the other is that outside distractions don’t happen as often.
Working smarter and not harder also applies to the inevitable left over work packages, work sheets or relief work. Don’t throw ANY doubles or left overs out – EVER! Have a file with plastic sleeves in it, place any left over or unfinished work in these files into learning areas. Teachers, admin and students can then access this work at any time. As independent early finisher work, additional work that is needed at the last minute due to staff absence or illness. It is also a great way to look and see what you have used for what subject and learning area. These files can be used in future years, without having to look for USB or files online to help you re plan for the same year group.
You are number one
When working smarter and not harder, doesn’t mean that you are slack or that you are not professional. Its about making sure you put you first. So many teachers burn out because our workload is hectic. You need to make time for you and your mental and physical health in this education game. Sayings like “You can’t pour from an empty cup” and “There is only one you” are all so very true in education. If you are feeling under pressure, take time for you. A mental health day or even a sick day to ensure you aren’t down and out fully come the weekend.
So many teachers say to themselves that they will just make it to the weekend, or to the holidays and then spend their own time sick and run down. If you have to take a Wednesday off work to recover so that you don’t spend the next 2 days fighting a head cold to be bailed up in bed all weekend then do it. Self care is imperative to the notion of work smarter not harder. I have talked before about booking in time for yourself into your diary, because you are number one. To be the best teacher you can be you have to make sure that you are looked after. Eating well, exercising, joining in activities, volunteering, sleeping!! All of these things have been proven to support positive mental and physical wellbeing.
Top 5 Tips for Working Smarter not harder are:
1. Checklists – make a list, and another and another
2. Have a social (media) life – Take the positives of social media and use them to your advantage! Connect with others and collaborate – but don’t let it intimidate!
3. Start early – Finish early – start the biggest stress periods, like reports, early! Make a plan and stick to it!
4. One shot – One DOTT – Plan your DOTT (release) time into specific areas that you need to get covered. Stick to that plan as best as you can!
5. You are number ONE – Look after you – take a mental health day, self care Sunday, go for a walk – whatever it is just look after you first!
What are your work smarter not harder tips?
Let us know and share with the SmileTeachers community your tips! Share the tools that help you to help others!
Be Happy, Teach Well