Ten Tips for How To Get Teaching Time Back
Educators have so many responsibilities each day. The work does not end when the school day does (nor over the weekend). Daily teaching schedules can become so filled with all of the tasks that teachers have that it leaves very little time for anything else.
We can lose a lot of time trying to balance all of the tasks. On top of that we also still need to make time for continued learning and growing as educators. It is important that we find methods to help us to be more balanced—at least as balanced as we possibly can during the year—while also setting aside time for professional learning.
Especially during the past couple of years, as we have all experienced so many changes, it has been challenging to keep up at times. With so much to balance, it is not surprising that we often lose focus on self-care or can feel like we just are not accomplishing enough.
Something that has worked well for me and that may be helpful for others is having a list of ideas that can save time, reduce stress and lead to greater efficiency. Having shortcuts or even hacks for doing the things that tend to take up the most time makes a big difference.
Here are ten tips for getting teaching time back:
1. Find a focus:
Think about ideas you want to try and make a list. Then, break that list into priorities and set up a schedule. By choosing a focus for each day, week or even month, it will help us follow through with plans and feel more efficient and effective.
For a start, think about topics that you read about over the summer or even ideas that you hoped to try last year but ran out of time. Make a list or create a scoreboard and hold yourself to it, and even consider creating a plan with a colleague. It can definitely help to have a friend to collaborate with you and you can keep each other accountable.
2. Finding time saving hacks
One secret that I have shared the most, that some have called a ‘game-changer’ is that I use the voice-to-text feature of email and documents to do most of my writing. I’ve done this for years and it has saved so much time that I can then devote to family and personal interests. Emails, parent forms, review materials, blogs and even books have been generated by simply speaking into the phone and then editing as needed.
3. Have backup plans
Keep a list of ideas to use just in case of schedule changes, a technical difficulty, or something else comes up. Having some backup plans will save you from losing time when trying to find a solution. Take note of ideas you came up with but decided not to use at the time. That way you’ll have a bank of backup plans to choose from and won’t have to start from scratch trying to remember all the other ideas you deferred.
4. Leverage technology
How can you bring in digital tools that will save you time which can then be used for working with students and colleagues? Save time on coordinating meetings in person or with challenging schedules by using digital tools that help you connect with students and families from afar. Rely on the messaging apps or video conferencing tools your school uses and keep an open mind for new technology that can help you organize your day.
Consider incorporating technology like Pikmykid that cuts down on the number of analog updates about dismissal between the front office and your classroom. By using technology that allows for instant updates for communications made between parents and teachers, you’ll be less likely to spend time correcting miscommunications that arose.
5. Chunk similar tasks together
What are some of the tasks that you have on a regular basis? Group them to make a better workflow. Create assessments or lesson plans on the same day/same time. Pick a day to make phone calls home or schedule meetings. Make sure copies for the following week are ready to go and placed in a cart in your classroom with the label Mon-Fri so you know you have everything you will need in there.
6. Schedule emails
There is nothing wrong with creating a document or using your email provided to create canned responses. Do you often write similar emails or have a common response? Create a canned response that saves you time later. Also, schedule emails to send at a certain day and time so that you reduce the influx of email that can happen.
If you know you need to focus on grading papers for an hour, make sure not to send out an email requesting a response until finishing that task. That way you won’t be distracted with an influx of email messages that peak your interest as they come in. You can also put your email notifications on do not disturb for a chunk of time as well.
7. Make daily to-do lists
Use a calendar to create a daily to-do list and have tasks that become part of a consistent routine. Block out portions of time for varying tasks such as grading, copying, and parent phone calls. Plan out the week and then cross off the tasks you complete. Make sure you’re able to open up space in your calendar before adding more tasks to the list.
Pick one task that aligns with your major focus for the week and make sure you get this task done before the others. Break big goals into smaller tasks that feel more manageable to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed and unable to finish them.
8. Involve your students and parents
By engaging students to help each other learn and to keep the classroom clean, you’ll both save time and help students grow along the way as well. Give students the chance to clean up around the classroom and their work stations while waiting for dismissal. Have a timer for rotations. Then when the timer is up, students will know to rotate without you having to say anything.
Create a “student material” station that has everything from pencils, to highlighters, erasers, etc. where they can go get what they need for themselves rather than from the teacher. Invite students to take turns as class helpers who pass things out, help monitor lines, write things on the board, and collect papers and materials at the end of the day.
When students finish work early, invite them to help the students having a more challenging time with the material. They can learn from each other and practice patience as well.
You can also send out requests for parents to come in as guest readers or to lead craft sessions. This can be especially helpful around the end of the marking periods so you can get caught up on grading/planning
9. Choose versatile tools
Don’t overwhelm yourself, students or families by choosing a lot of different tools. Find a few that offer many possibilities for use in the classroom. Some tools may be used for multiple purposes or integrate well with ones you already use. When thinking of families, consider which tools they may already be familiar with and try to find similar types of tools that will have less of a learning curve for them.
10. Do your classroom set up
At the end of each day, take care of your materials before leaving school so you are ready the next day. Make any copies, set out papers, write notes on the board so that you can be better organized ahead of time.
Review your calendar and curriculum to anticipate any unexpected meetings, assemblies, or special events.