Time. Some teachers never feel like there are enough minutes in the day to teach, and yet some countries, such as Finland, require students spend less time in school while still managing to acquire outstanding results.
What can we learn from those schools to help us to maximize face-to-face time without overloading teachers after hours? While professionals in other areas, such as lawyers and doctors, can justify time spent with the rates they charge, teachers do not have this luxury. This means that time is seldom factored in when new demands are placed on educators. Expectations rise, but the hours in a day remain the same. This is a systemic problem in many districts all over the world, but there are reasonable and realistic actions that can be taken to eliminate activities that do not honor the value of a teacher’s time.
What the System Could Do
01. Change the Staff Development Model
Just as a “one-size-fits-all” policy does not work for our students, it is incredibly inefficient when training teachers. Veterans of 25 years, new teachers, and educators of unrelated age groups or subjects often find themselves lumped together at large staff developments that last for hours and have little application to their specific needs. Staff development should be differentiated so that teachers have training only on what they need instead of having to sit through repetitive sessions each year or ones that don’t apply to their particular field. Instead of requiring all teachers to attend trainings on the same few days a year, districts can offer options throughout the year that appeal to its diverse group of educators and allow them to earn credits. Untraditional methods should be acceptable, as well, such as edcamps and Twitter chats. Online learning is another great opportunity teachers should be given so that they can not only choose what they learn, but when.
02. Reduce Meeting Times and Frequency
By utilizing technology, administrators can significantly scale down the number and length of staff meetings. Email will work for most communication, while digital posters like Smore can highlight more important messages. Another method that is gaining popularity with educators is to use Google Classrooms, allowing for all important announcements, resources, and calendar dates to be easily accessed in one place. Meetings should be reserved for topics that merit two-way communication about complex issues that can’t be resolved satisfactorily on a computer screen.
03. Hire More People to do the Technology Troubleshooting
When presenting at educational technology conferences, speakers can usually count on a convention staff member (often stationed at the back of the room) to troubleshoot technology issues in a timely fashion. Schools could save teachers a lot of time and frustration by providing this kind of service on campus. Whether it one adult employee who fills this position or a team of students who have been trained to for the role, schools might find the benefits far outweigh the costs. As technology continues to evolve, teachers are often pressured to integrate it into their classrooms, but given little support to do so. Allowing teachers to spend their time planning and working with students instead of wasting time puzzling out why a website that worked for the last three periods suddenly has an error message, would result in less stressed, but more productive, teachers.
What Teachers Can Do
04. Get Rid of Busywork
Here’s the thing: when you assign independent work to students with the hope that you can enter grades into the computer while they diligently and silently tackle this boring chore, you are continuing a cycle of assign/grade, assign/grade, etc… that will never end. Not only that, but the students will know that it’s busy work and that you aren’t giving them your full attention, and will most likely find unproductive ways to distract you so that nothing but frustration will be achieved during the period. Make the most of your limited time with your students by giving them meaningful assignments, assessments, and feedback. This will help all of you to achieve more in less time.
05. Assess More Often and More Efficiently
With an increasing number of students having access to personal devices, it only makes sense to utilize those phones, tablets, and laptops to help give you instant information about the learning that is or isn’t happening in your classroom. You can use student response apps like QuizSocket or Verso for formative assessments instead of worksheets that you will spend valuable time grading later. Using digital apps to monitor student understanding allows you to get instant data and react to it in real time. You can adjust your lesson to account for those who need more help and for those who are ready to move on.
06. Don’t Talk So Much
Make any lectures short with key facts emphasized. If possible, project instructions and important information on the board. “Flipping the classroom” has both its proponents and detractors, but it should certainly be an option if you feel that a lot of information needs to be delivered at once. Videos of lessons have the advantages of being accessible at any time and allowing students to take in information at their own pace. If students can spend their own time taking in the facts, then they will have more time with the teacher to ask clarify, ask questions, and put what they have learned into practice. For resources on flipping the classroom, click here.
07. Give Students More Time to Move
This may seem counterintuitive, but more breaks can energize your students and motivate them to accomplish even more. According to this article, Finnish students receive an average of 75 minutes of recess a day, and are encouraged to play outside even during freezing weather. Some teachers in the United States are participating in a study to learn the benefits of extra recess, and will tell you that it has actually increased their instructional time. But movement shouldn’t just be restricted to recess time. More and more educators are finding that moving during class is also highly beneficial. For example, this class learned a dance to help them with subtraction with regrouping.
08. Be Organized
It’s reasonable to expect that the less time teachers spend looking for student work, supplies, contact numbers, and various other minutiae, that they will have more time to give to their students. But we all have the tendency to take “shortcuts” when we are in the heat of the moment that end up taking us longer to sort out later on. For example, a student who is absent may take up the teacher’s time when the student returns as the teacher looks for make up work and explains it, but making a file for missed work and assigning a student to explain, will save the teacher this valuable time. One of my favorite apps that has helped to organize and save time has been Dropbox. By setting up folders for each class ahead of time and training my students to use the app, any pictures or documents that need to be turned in on digital devices in my room quickly get sorted to the right place so I don’t have to search for them later. Here are 8 more apps that might help you get organized.
09. Make Connections
Relationships take time to build, so it’s essential to begin as soon as students cross your classroom threshold. If you wait until behavior issues begin to appear, your job will be much more difficult. Just as teachers want to feel valued, so do students. They want to know that you care about them and about their time. Use websites like Thrively to learn more about your students’ interests so that you can plan lessons that they will find relevant and intriguing. Whenever possible, give students choice in classroom decisions so they will know that you care about their concerns and feelings.
What Parents Can Do
10. Make Appointments Instead of “Drive-By’s”
Eating lunch with your child at school? Invited to read to the class? These are great ways to get involved, but they aren’t the time to conference with your child’s teacher. If you have something serious to discuss, make arrangements ahead of time to talk with the teacher so you can have a conversation that isn’t interrupted and you can give each other your full attention. Sometimes you may need to meet with several staff members, and a web application like Doodle can help you schedule a time that works for everyone.
11. Get Your Child to School on Time
Teachers spend a lot of time on students who miss instruction. Late students cause a disruption no matter how well-behaved they are. There are always exceptions, of course, but making it a regular habit for your child to arrive late or leave early are ultimately signs of disrespect to the child’s teacher who is responsible for gathering missing work and explaining it all over again. Difficulty getting everyone in the family out of the house on time each morning? Try these 15 tips!
12. Openly Support the Teacher
Children rely on the opinions of their parents. If they hear their parents compliment their teacher and the education they are receiving, children will show more respect toward the teacher. This will ultimately help the teacher when it comes to classroom management and reduce the amount of time necessary to redirect children who may have gotten a negative message about the teacher from their parents. Sometimes teachers make mistakes, and there are the rare ones who don’t have children’s best interests at heart, but those are discussions that should be held in private with the teacher and/or an administrator. Encourage the teacher to communicate with parents using apps like Class Messenger, which allow for two-way messaging between teachers and parents. This helps everyone to keep in touch and on the same page.
Put it All Together by Taking Some Things Away
When all of the stakeholders value a teacher’s time, including the teachers, the most important use of time – educating the students – becomes the largest use of time, instead of decreasing year after year. Teachers get to continue doing the job they envisioned instead of sacrificing it for other distractions that can be overwhelming and dispiriting. Their passion will continue to energize them, and the students will be the greatest benefactors.
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