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5 Powerful Ways to Save Time as a Teacher

Time-Saving-Pin

 

Lack of time is a huge problem for teachers everywhere. There’s just never enough time for teachers to do their work well AND have a healthy, balanced life outside the classroom. For as long as I have been working to serve teachers and help you do your work better, time was always the one problem I couldn’t solve. I could share powerful teaching strategies, classroom management tips, game-changing tech tools, but when it came to really nailing the time shortage, I came up empty-handed.

Until now.

Now there is something that I truly believe is going to change teachers’ lives and give you back the time you so sorely need. It’s called the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club, developed by my friend, Angela Watson, an outstanding education blogger and consultant who can be found at The Cornerstone for Teachers. She has created a systematic approach to help teachers shave hours off of their work week and get a whole lot more balance in their lives.

The program, a year-long membership that delivers weekly e-mail tips and downloadable resources, aims to help teachers get a clearer sense of how many hours they are actually devoting to school-related tasks, then target a smaller, more reasonable number to shoot for. For some, this may actually be 40 hours, but for many others, it will simply be something significantly lower than what you’re already spending on school. Once this target number is set, club members apply new strategies each week to get them closer to their target, supporting each other through a private Facebook group.

I’m so excited about the program and how well it’s working for teachers that I invited Angela to come onto the podcast and share some of the best tips she shares with club members, five really powerful ways you can save time as a teacher.

A Sneak Peek: 5 Time-Savers for Teachers

These tips are Angela Watson’s “Big Five,” the principles for teacher productivity that form club members’ foundation for the rest of the year.

1) Eliminate unintentional breaks.
So often when we think we are working, we are actually off-task: checking social media, letting our attention drift to a T.V., visiting with a co-worker who just stopped by for a minute. If we can become aware of these unintentional breaks and cut way back on them—focusing on working when we are working—we will find ourselves with a lot more actual free time.

2) Figure out The Main Thing and do it first.
It’s easy to cross the little things off our to-do lists: grade a class set of quizzes, reply to a parent e-mail about an assignment, update the class newsletter. But most people have that one task that hangs over them—it may be something difficult, time-consuming, boring, or so important we just want to avoid it. Angela advises teachers to decide every day what this task is, to think of it as the Main Thing—your biggest priority for the day, the thing you have been putting off—and get it done first, before ticking off all those smaller, easier tasks. By doing this, you give yourself a sense of satisfaction that can’t be gained from accomplishing the easy stuff.

3) Work ahead by batching and avoid multi-tasking unless the work is mindless.
Many items on our to-do lists happen in fits and starts throughout the day and the week, mixed in with other obligations in these inefficient lumps of “multi-tasking.” Instead of completing tasks one by one—like going to the photocopier every day on an as-needed basis or checking e-mails eight to ten times a day—start doing tasks in larger, less-frequent batches. Get all your photocopying for the week done in one trip. Only check and respond to emails twice a day—but respond to ALL of them in that time. By doing more of the same thing all at once, we actually free up more time for ourselves later.

4) Look for innovative ways to relax any standards that create unnecessary work.
Perfectionism seems to be a common trait for many teachers, and it is the thing that keeps us working hours longer than we need to, looking for that perfect resource, adjusting a document until it’s just right, and doing tasks our students could do almost as well…but not quite. To start shaving time off your work week, take a good hard look for places where you can relax your standards, shoot for “good enough,” and finish those tasks more quickly. Save that time for the tasks that truly deserve extra attention.

5) Use scheduling to create boundaries around your time.
Teaching really can expand to fill up as much time as you let it. So schedule blocks of work right into your calendar the same way you’d schedule appointments. Then, as best as you can, stick to that schedule. If you’ve decided to set aside two hours to plan lessons for the upcoming week, work for two hours, then stop. Just knowing you have only blocked off a set period of time can help you work more quickly and efficiently, and it can help raise your awareness of exactly how long each task takes. If you find that tasks regularly take longer than the allotted time, you may need to adjust your schedule…or go back to item #4…or item #1.

Interview with Angela Watson

In this podcast episode, Angela and I talk in more detail about each of these five strategies. Listen now:

 

Read Full Transcript

Learn More about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

I have seen the resources in this club and read the testimonies from the first wave of club members, and the results are impressive. Teachers are saying they no longer take work home on the weekends, that they leave school at a reasonable hour, and that they are—for the first time in their teaching careers—finding time to give attention to their families, their health, their sleep, their friendships.

On top of that, they are actually enjoying teaching more.

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Currently, the club not accepting new members. It will be open for enrollment again in late December. To be notified when you can join, please provide your email address below and I’ll send you an email as soon as the club opens!

 

 

 

Keep in touch.
Join the Cult of Pedagogy mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration — in quick, bite-sized packages — all geared toward making your teaching more effective and fun. To thank you, you’ll get a free copy of the  e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half, which has helped thousands of teachers spend less time grading!

 

 

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Jennifer Gonzalez

Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy
Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

Jennifer Gonzalez

Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

22 Comments

  1. Here are two more, slightly underhand but they work:
    1: If you have to do annual, or monthly reports figure out if they get read or just filed. My colleague used to send an old one for the second category.
    2. For most request emails do not answer the first. If you don’t get a reminder then you don’t have to do anything.

    • Howard, your suggestions both have merit; sometimes doing nothing (or doing the bare minimum) is the best course of action. I think some of us drive ourselves crazy trying to keep up with things that don’t necessarily require immediate action. In other cases, we don’t have to give tasks our very best. Taking that approach can conserve our time and energy for tasks where excellence really matters.

  2. My teaching partner and I make all the copies we need for units, so when (not if) the copier breaks we won’t be scrambling. We pick one day a week to stay after school to plan all lessons for the next week. Before we leave for the day we set up the room for the next morning. We rarely stay after school now, and we never come in on weekends anymore. It has been so nice!

  3. These are all good and useful,bug they don’t address the root of the problem for middle and high school teachers. We should be teaching fewer classes.

    • Claire, I agree. Teachers in most countries are being asked to do way too much with far too little time. I think addressing that is a separate issue, one that requires political action in many cases. I’m grateful that there are people who devote their time to fighting for more reasonable working conditions for teachers. In the meantime, strategies like these can help to keep good people in the classroom.

  4. I noticed when looking into the 40 Hour Club that Angela is a K-8 instructional coach. Are the resources/strategies tailored to that group or would they equally be applicable to those of us who teach at the secondary level?

    • Hi Kristin! Angela actually does have quite a few middle and secondary members, and the nice thing about the club is that in the private Facebook group, members can help each other work out how to apply principles to their unique situations. The group is wonderfully supportive and offers all kinds of suggestions and resources that even go beyond what Angela herself provides.

    • Hi, Kristin! I’d say around 35-40% of our members are secondary teachers. All the content is adapted for both elementary and secondary contexts. I’ve done a lot of conferencing with secondary teachers as I built out the program to make sure I fully understand the unique needs of middle and high school teachers. I hope that’s helpful to you in making your decision.

    • Yes, it’s a year-long subscription, kind of like joining Weight Watchers or a similar type of club that provides resources and support for a significant life change. You can learn more about the payment options if you click on the links to the program above (clicking over doesn’t commit you to any kind of purchase!).

  5. I think the intention is good, and new tips are great, but I think the 5 tips, especially #1, minimize the job. As a Special Education teacher, I would love to cut back on conversations with coworkers, but its essential to my job and my students’ success.

    • Hi Amanda. I think “unintentional breaks” can be defined by each teacher differently. If you see it as essential to your job, then it’s not really a break. Even for non-special ed teachers, it’s important to build relationships with colleagues for student success, better collaboration, and a general feeling of wellness. The point is to be aware of when you’re doing it and what your intention is: If a teacher leaves work at 6:00 every day, but spends about an hour after school shooting the breeze with colleagues, it may not be valid for that person to say they can’t leave work until 6 — they need to recognize that some of that “work” time isn’t really work. In your case, you’re doing a lot more than shooting the breeze, so that wouldn’t be an unintentional break. For you it may be more worthwhile to look at things like personal email, checking social media, or other non-work related distractions that may be stealing time without you realizing it.

  6. Hello, I´m Vanesa and I work as a elementary teacher in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I read the article and I found it very original caus in my country teachers work a lot outside the schools. I bring work to my home every day and some weekends also. Im doing a second career on the university so that extra work at home is consuming a lot of my studyng time. So I would like to know if there is some kind of “international club” with teathers around the globe or if you know about some similar clubs in South America.

    • Hello Vanessa,
      Right now, the club is based on the U.S. school system. I’m sure many of the productivity strategies would be applicable to teachers everywhere, but there’s no guarantee of that. After this next round of subscribers works through the program, there may be more testimonials from international teachers who have joined. I’m not aware of a different club that serves international teachers, but if you learn of something, come back and tell us here!

  7. While I won’t be joining the club, it is definitely something to strive towards. It is a conversation to have with others, in order to use our time wisely and assist each other if possible. Since I’m single with no children, I actually enjoy staying late or coming to campus on non- working days in order to prep for as long as I need. For parents, first year BTSA teachers, grad school professionals, and married colleagues, this could help; however, all teachers are capable of effectively multitasking. Thanks for the dialogue!

  8. I’m totally with you on really looking at what we do with our time at school. Every minute is precious and my whole personal motto is to “live life first, then teach.”

    I can’t do that if I’m mixing the two, like staying at the school chatting with friends at the copy machine but not really getting any work done and then going home and sort of being with my family but still grading papers in the other room…

    As much as possible, we have to try to leave work at work because guess what! It’ll still be there the next day!

    • I can so relate to what you’re saying, Laura, “sort of being with my family but still grading papers in the other room…” I do so much of that kind of multitasking, and it’s horribly unsatisfying, not to mention unproductive. Building more awareness of this and setting clear boundaries around our time can really help.

  9. I’d love to participate in this but it starts during our holidays in Australia. Would that matter?

    • The club is set up for a U.S. school calendar, with topics that line up with what teachers on those calendars are doing at certain times of year. For example, summer content focuses on setting up classrooms for an efficient school year. Australian teachers can still get a lot out of club content, but you may have to change when you apply the strategies, and put some things off until later in the year. Angela has considered making an Australian version of the club, but she’s just not quite there yet. I think you’ll still see significant changes, but you may be frustrated at some points.

  10. Great article – teachers are overworked for sure, but we bring a lot of it on ourselves. A method that I find invaluable in my doctorate studies, which can be applied to our planning time or whatever, is the Pomodoro method. Basically, work for 25 minutes nonstop, take a short break, repeat as needed. Really cuts down the temptation to hop on Facebook at random times.

  11. Great post!
    Teachers can save so much time by creating lesson plans and evaluations that don’t put a huge burden on them (you talk about this a little bit in point #4). For example, does an easily-graded multiple-choice quiz evaluate students with about the same efficiency as something more creative, but more complicated? We teachers love to overthink things and try out new stuff, but that leads to lots of long hours.
    I actually wrote about this same topic on my own blog and brought up many of the same points: http://tinyurl.com/hjusddr

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