Finding the Time to Teach Well

Uncategorized / June 16, 2018

Social-Emotional Support  (SES)

Teachers need social-emotional support too. FLGI surveys suggest that one of the biggest barriers to teachers migrating from traditional passive instruction to active learning strategies may be tied to the need for social-emotional support. Many teachers are simply not getting their deepest social and emotional needs met and are often teaching on an empty emotional tank.

This section is focused on providing the social-emotional support we all need before we even can consider Flipped Learning. This project was developed to be the missing link in the unsuccessful efforts to move more teachers from passive to active learning.

In this section of the magazine, you can either read the transcripts or listen to the episodes of a podcast called Teachers’ Aid, with Jon Harper and Mandy Frohlich. Every topic takes on one of the biggest social-emotional challenges teachers face in search of real answers. We affectionately call this project the FLGI pyramid scheme: Maslow’s pyramid first, Bloom’s pyramid second. Enjoy the transcript below or listen to the entire show at the bottom of the transcript.

Teachers’ Aid

Jon Harper:  There are 24 hours in a day. You’re supposed to get eight hours of sleep each night. Teachers are at school eight hours each day. Not. But that’s what people think. Teachers don’t work on weekends. Yeah, right. When I do the math, that leaves 72 hours for teachers to get stuff done and live their lives. Time always seems to be an issue. What gives? There has to be a better way for teachers to get a hold of their time, to go to bed each night feeling as if the next day is going to be okay.

Mandy Froehlich: I’ve actually thought of that. There has to be a way to be able to leave work on Friday and not feel as if the weekend needs to be spent just playing catch up. Today, we’re going to be talking with Angela Watson, who has spent a lot of time showing teachers how they can use their time and feel more accomplished. More importantly, she has some ideas and suggestions for us that will help teachers feel as if they can actually get their life back and have time for other stuff. So don’t go anywhere. We’re just getting warmed up.

Jon Harper: Angela, thanks so much for coming on. Time is something that we can’t make more of. We all know that. Teachers know it. We feel it. And I rarely if ever meet teachers that feel as if they have enough time. Why do you think time is such an issue?

Angela Watson:  I think teaching is a very complex job, and it’s a job that’s never really done, and it’s one where you feel like you’ve never really done enough. I also think that the stakes are really high. Teachers don’t want to shortchange kids. They don’t want to let people down. I think that education is changing really quickly. There’s a lot of new and sometimes contradictory initiatives that teachers have to try to keep up with. There’s new tech tools, new curriculum, new standards. A lot of times, teachers don’t have the opportunity to master one thing really well before they’re being told now you have to learn how to do things a completely different way.

So when we’re talking about teachers having enough time, I think the first thing that’s really important to understand is that this is not teachers’ fault. If you’re stressed out, if you’re overwhelmed, it’s not because you are a bad manager of your time. There’s nothing wrong with you. There are things you can do to relieve that stress and that overwhelm, but the fundamental problem is not you. It’s that the job of teaching is just extraordinarily demanding.

Jon Harper:  I have a feeling a lot of teachers are going to like hearing that. That’s true.

Mandy Froehlich: Definitely true. I think that we’re often told or advised to use our time wisely as teachers. I think we tell this to kids too, right? Use your time wisely. But we never really teach them what that looks like. So what does that actually look like?

Angela Watson: I think that it’s important to take a step back and reflect on this for a little bit because it’s going to be different for each person. You have to figure out what is the best and highest use of your time? What are the things that you’re doing which are having the biggest impact on kids’ learning? And what are some things that you’re doing that aren’t moving the needle, that aren’t really getting you many results? Once you’ve examined that, then you can figure out how to do less of the latter to create space for more of the former. I think it’s important to know your priorities outside of school too, to have this clear vision for what you want your life to look like because I think many times teachers just don’t have the mental bandwidth to do that big picture work, to take that step back. But it’s really important because you have to see the value of doing stuff. If you don’t yet realize the power in figuring out what you want your life to look like and then how to make your daily choices align with that vision, it’s easy to say I don’t have time for that.

But when we’re saying we don’t have time, what we really mean is it’s just not a priority because we make time for the things that we care about. So we have to first figure out what is it that we care about, what is important to keep our lives in balance? What is important in our teaching and then create time for those things first.

Jon Harper:    Can you go back to that one term, mental bandwidth? What did you mean by that?

Angela Watson: I think that there’s just no time to stop and think for a lot of people, not just teachers, but I just think our society, in general, is like that. It’s just go, go, go all the time. Got to keep busy. Got to get things done. And you just don’t have that space in your schedule or in your mind to really analyze what you’re doing, what’s working and what’s not working. But taking that step back is really critical. For me, it’s usually going for a walk. I try to just go for like a 15, 20-minute walk every single day. Get outside in nature. Clear my head. I can do my best big-picture thinking. But if you don’t intentionally make space for that, if you don’t have time to just have some silence in your life, it’s really hard to create that mental bandwidth.

Mandy Froehlich:  I really like what you said about the priorities. Recently, I was reading something that said if you replace the words “I don’t have time for” with “it’s not a priority for me” then finish whatever the sentence was, how does that sound in your ears? Is it truly not a priority? Do you truly not have time for it? And if you truly don’t have time, it’s probably not a priority. So I really like what you said there.

Jon Harper: That’s a good point. I never thought of it that way. I think there’s a lot of stuff that we do that doesn’t really matter. I mean, there are times where things just don’t get done, and then the funny thing is you find out nothing happened. It didn’t really matter that you didn’t get it done. So obviously, that’s probably something we should take off our lists, especially if it’s not that important to us. So I guess I’m wondering, are we asking the wrong question? In other words, we’re always thinking about I don’t have enough time. Let’s find more time. We’re trying to get teachers extra planning periods. We pay them to collaborate after school. The thing is, while this does give teachers more time, does it actually make things better? Is a teacher’s life better when they have more time to do these things? What do you think, Angela?

Angela Watson:  I think that more time for working on school stuff isn’t necessarily a solution, no, because teaching is a job that will sort of expand to fill whatever time is allowed. So if I normally have 45 minutes to plan a lesson and on this particular day, I have a double prep. I get 90 minutes. I don’t necessarily get twice as much done. Chances are that that lesson planning is just going to expand. It will just take twice as long. I’ll stop to check text messages. I’ll go down a rabbit hole looking for ideas online and all sorts of things. I don’t think any teacher would mind having more planning time. It’s certainly a great idea. But if the workload itself isn’t being decreased, if we’re not taking things off of teachers’ plates first, then having more time isn’t going to really have a real and lasting impact because we’re still trying to fit 60 plus hours worth of tasks into a 40-hour contractual week.

So your point about whether teacher’s life is better when they have more time, I’d say it’s more about how that time is being used because some people can get more done in an eight hour day than others can get done in a 12 hour day. I think focusing on that impact is really important.

Mandy Froehlich:  Okay. If you had to give us quick tips for helping teachers better manage their time, what would they be? Just the top three things.

Angela Watson:  One thing that I think is important is to plan and then execute. Most people try to do both at the same time. They try to figure out what needs to be done and do it all at the same time. So as soon as they think of something that needs to be done, they just launch right into action mode. But planning and execution really are two separate brain functions, and you can’t do both of them well at the same time. So take a couple minutes, plan it out first. Write down exactly what needs to be done. List out those steps. And then when it’s time to execute, all you have to do is take action. So that’s going to make sure you have the big picture in mind. You can see the full scope of your tasks before you begin, and you don’t have to redo things later because you didn’t think them out before you started. So that five minutes to plan first can really save you hours of time when you’re ready to execute. So that’s one thing.

Angela Watson:  Another quick tip is to never write off a block of time as being too small to get things done. So sometimes people say I only have 10 minutes and they’ll just scroll through Facebook instead. Or oh, there’s only 15 minutes here. I can’t really get into this stack of grading, so I’ll go chat with a coworker or something. But I find that if I only have 15 minutes sometimes, I can get more done than if I have a half-hour because I know I can’t waste time. So I have this list of things for the week that just call easy stuff. And it’s things that I can just knock out in a couple of minutes. So when I find myself waiting for a doctor’s appointment or waiting for dinner to finish cooking or something like that, I can pick something from that list and not have to expend mental energy trying to figure out what needs to be done. Those are two really big things that I think teachers can do.

Jon Harper:  What advice do you often hear given to teachers that you know is just plain wrong?

Angela Watson:  There are a lot of resources out there on time management. Not a lot of it is adjusted specifically for teachers, and that’s what makes what I do with the 40-hour teacher workweek club so unique because teachers’ workload is really just a completely different animal than what a lot of people are dealing with in their jobs. When I hear teachers talking about time management and making the best of their time, I tend to hear two conflicting pieces of advice. I think both of them are actually wrong.

Sometimes people will say time management as a teacher is impossible. You can’t have work-life balance. If you want to be a good teacher, long hours are just part of the job, so suck it up. I tell teachers don’t accept that conventional wisdom around time. Don’t settle for the status quo. This idea that you’re not going to get to spend time with your family for 10 months because you’re a teacher, it’s ridiculous. We don’t have to settle for that. So that’s the first piece.

The other piece of advice I hear sometimes given to teachers is that time management is easy. If you want more time, just go home at 3:00. Just leave it there. Just don’t do it. It’s all still going to be there in the morning. But that’s not how teaching works, right? You can’t just leave at the end of your contractual time and walk back in the next day with no lessons prepared, stacks of ungraded papers. You can’t do that. So yes, you can and you should set boundaries around your time. You should decide in advance how many hours you’re going to work and how you’re going to allocate those hours throughout the week. But you have to make sure that you’re working on the right things during that time. You’re working on the things that really move the needle. You can’t just continue with inefficient routines and then decide okay, time’s up. I’m going home.

I think we need to avoid oversimplifying this topic. We don’t want to make time management this impossible thing, where it’s not even worth trying because you can’t possibly have balance. We know that’s not true.  And we also don’t want to oversimplify where all you do is just go home and stop thinking about work. If you can’t go home and stop thinking about work, then it’s your own fault. There’s something wrong with you that you can’t turn off your teacher’s brain. The truth is somewhere in between. I think it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

Mandy Froehlich:  I’ve actually been having this conversation quite a bit with a group of educators that I connect with on Voxer. Part of our conversation centered around how stressed we all were because we had so many different projects going on in different areas. I finally said we all need to find a way that works for us to really schedule our time and figure out how to make the most of the time that we have and so we started brainstorming. I found that what works for me is to put all of my projects and things to do on a Trello board and then move to-do lists and tasks over to my Google calendar and schedule in that time. That’s what works really well for me, but then there’s a friend of mine, who likes to keep everything in her head and another friend of mine who puts everything on his calendar. And so we had a good discussion about how you really just need to find the tactic that works for you. I’m kind of a checkbox person. It brings me euphoria to be able to check something off. For me, the Trello board works, but maybe not so much for someone else.

Jon Harper:  I can relate. I’ll put like eat lunch, walk downstairs on my list then check off a couple things and  I feel proud of them. Edit a chapter of a book. That doesn’t get checked off, but you know. I get it. You know something else I think it’s okay to allow other people to do little or big things for us. In other words, today’s interview. You and I get ready for these interviews. Today, I happened to do the questions because I know you had a lot of work to do. There’s going to be a time where you’re going to do the questions. There are times where we feel there’s something wrong with asking someone to do something for us, when really, most of us are more than willing to help each other out. I think the sooner we do that and say you know what? Can you help me out with this? Or I’ll do this for you. Next time, you do this for me. I think that’s another way to help out with time. We don’t have to do everything.

Angela Watson: Yeah, that’s such a good point. Once you get used to asking other people for help, then it becomes this more comfortable thing. If you’re saying yes to them, then you feel more comfortable going back and asking for help when you need it. So I think it’s a great idea to initiate that type of relationship with other people so that you feel like you have someone to go to and that you set the precedent for working together instead of just trying to be this teacher martyr, where you’re this one-woman show or this one-man show doing everything by yourself. That’s a really easy trap to fall into, and I find myself falling into that trap all the time.

Mandy Froehlich: I like that, teacher martyr. I like that term. So what is one skill or strategy that you have used yourself that helps you better manage your time?

Angela Watson: I really like that question because balance isn’t something that you just get once and for all like you just figure out a system and then I’m good for the rest of my life. New demands are always cropping up. Strategies that I used to use to manage time and motivate myself to get things done, they worked for a while, and then they stopped working. That’s just sort of human nature. So I’m always experimenting with things. Right now, I’m experimenting with habits because most of our lives are run on autopilot. We’re not consciously aware of the choices that we’re making, what we’re doing with our time. We’re just going about our day in the way we’ve always done it. So if we can make small tweaks to our daily habits, we can make pretty dramatic changes in our work-life balance, in our happiness and our stress levels. I’m experimenting with this right now with late afternoon habits, that slump of time where it’s really hard for me to get things done because I’m just sort of worn out. But it’s also too early in the day at that point to truly relax, so I just kind of don’t know what to do with myself at that point.

So I’m experimenting. How does it feel when I go for those walks during that time period and get fresh air? How does it feel if I nap? I’m not a napper naturally, but I know that the 20-minute power nap is a thing. So will that help me get through the rest of the day with more energy? I think that experimentation is what makes it fun because you don’t have to figure out this ultimate time management strategy that’s always going to work in every situation for every task and every mood. So you can just try things out, see what sticks and just keep iterating over time. Just keep experimenting. I think that’s what makes it sort of fun.

Jon Harper:  It does. And I take longer than 20-minute naps, and I’m wondering what Angela is trying to say about me because I can barely get to sleep in 20 minutes. A good 40, 60-minute nap might happen today. Then, you know, is that wrong? I mean Angela said 20 minutes. I don’t know.

Angela Watson:  Let me tell you. If I could get in an hourlong nap every day, I can only imagine how much better my evenings would go. I need to be able to nap like that. I think that’s great.

Jon Harper: Angela, Mandy, I want to thank you so much for coming on today. This is such an important topic and one that I’m sure we’ll revisit in the future, and I think we got a lot out of this. Thank you.

Angela Watson:   Thanks for having me.


Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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