Creative teachers are not immune to the time struggles that all teachers face. When you want to engage students at the highest levels, there are a lot of extra items to fit into your day. Writing a quick lesson plan, a basic project handout, or a slapdash series of bellringers is not going to cut it for you.
No, I know you are the kind of teacher who orders expensive books by innovators like Kelly Gallagher and John Spencer with your own money and then reads them in your free time. The kind who finds time to listen to teacher podcasts and share ideas in teacher Facebook groups. The kind who wakes up in the night wondering how to reach that one class that just isn’t getting it.
Well, my friend, I am excited to share today’s podcast with you. I believe it is possible to adjust your mindset and find happiness in the teaching profession despite the incredible time pressures that sometimes seem unsolvable. And I believe Angela Watson, today’s guest, can help. She devotes her days to helping teachers find a path that truly works for them, and she has so much insight on this subject. I found myself constantly nodding along and frantically jotting notes as we spoke, because not only does she understand the pressures teacher face, but she has simple, doable solutions that you can try out right away.
I love that about her.
Angela Watson: The Lightning Version
Angela Watson is one of the great teacher blog pioneers. She runs the website The Cornerstone for Teachers, is the author of four books for teachers, the podcaster behind Truth for Teachers, a well-known speaker and consultant, and the founder of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, along with many other online courses. She is serious about helping teachers with their motivation, mindset, routines, happiness, and balance.
In case you’re not in the mood to listen, I’ve outlined Angela’s main points below. In a nutshell, this episode is about small tweaks you can make in your mindset, routines, summer planning, and grading to make your life feel more whole and balanced. Dive in below for more details.
“The most impactful thing you can do is to really get real with yourself about how many hours you are working.” -AW
Angela says if you’re looking for change and more balance, see how you are using your time. How many hours are you really spending at work? Have you honestly faced up to the number? Try tallying your hours in any given work week with the free software called Toggl, then figure out a realistic goal for reducing them that you are going to work toward.
Let’s say you are working seventy hours a week and you feel sixty would be much healthier. What can you cut out? What can you group differently to save time? What specific changes can and must you make to create a schedule that is more healthy for you?
Decide where you are going to distribute your work. Batching really helps, says Angela. Consider theming your days with specific activities and goals and setting more boundaries around your work. Plan out what days you will do what and try to make firm decisions about not letting that work push into every other day (and night) as well.
Dealing with Grading
“Getting yourself in the right mindset is really really important. You have to give yourself permission not to grade everything your students are doing.” -AW
Almost every teacher I know is buried under a pile of grading. But I don’t hear much conversation about really addressing and changing that fact. It seems like an accepted (though onerous) part of the job.
That’s why I love what Angela has to say about grading. You have to let go of the guilt you feel about grading less and actually take her advice to heart if you want to lift some of the load from your shoulders.
According to Angela (and I agree!), “Kids should be writing way more than you could ever grade.”
Consider grading just two assignments per week that are a really accurate and real measure of what students are capable of.
For the rest, Angela recommends options like grading stations where students can check what they have done against a key with colorful markers, allowing them see what they still need to work on. Also, give students more ownership over assessment by involving them seriously in self-assessment and peer editing.
Then find new ways to give feedback, like writing conferences one-on-one or in groups. “You can say a lot more in two minutes than you can write in two minutes,” says Angela. Another option is to leave audio comments within students’ Google Documents. Students respond to this form of feedback more AND it takes less time.
Morning Routines for Teachers
Everyone’s got a recommendation for what you “have” to do to start your day right. But if you are not on board the “mediate for an hour then drink a green smoothie then run ten miles then eat chia seed pumpkin pie overnight oats” train (and really, who is?) then Angela’s simple advice is one small way you can take back your day by starting it just a little differently.
Consider, suggests Angela, simply setting your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than you usually do. This one small change can make a huge difference in your day. Give yourself the gift of not feeling rushed from the get-go. Think through your day, get to the classroom a few minutes earlier to greet students, set yourself up for success.
No two teachers will use these fifteen minutes exactly alike, and that’s OK. Just give yourself a little space to start the day in a way that actually feels spacious and honors some of your own needs.
Fighting Back Against the Slog
“Rest is the catalyst for creativity.” -AW
I think every teacher has been up against a giant pile of work feeling totally burnt out and unmotivated.
And yes, there’s a time and a place for drinking some coffee, turning on a little music, and knocking out that pile of work. But there are also times, suggests Angela, when it would be much better to work on your own mood and energy levels.
“Focus on what energizes you and do more of those things instead,” says Angela. When you take the time to recharge and get energized, then your head and heart will actually be in alignment later when you go to tackle the work, and it will go so much faster.
Maximizing your Teacher Summer
“We always overestimate how long it’s going to last and how much we are going to be able to get done.”
It’s easy for summer to slip away in a whirlwind of activity without really getting to the work OR rejuvenation that you hoped for. Angela suggests thinking through what you hope to feel and where you hope to be when summer is over.
She suggests mapping out a clear vision for what you want to have accomplished and experienced. If you focus on achieving those goals that will make the biggest difference on your stress level during the year, then your summer can be truly impactful.
Take a walk to clear your head and think through the big picture – what do you want your life to look like when you go back to school?
Do you wish you worked out more and felt healthier during the year? Summer is a great time to figure out an exercise routine that really works for you. Make it doable and practice it. Maybe you commit to two weekly yoga classes, find a running buddy and start running together a couple of mornings a week, join a barre class and build it into your life so it is nonnegotiable.
Do you wish your house felt more organized and sane? Summer is a time when you could set up some organizational systems, clear out the clutter, figure out a new system for the fridge and closets, etc. Then during the year your house will feel more like a haven.
Do you wish you didn’t ALWAYS have some appointment hovering in the wings? Take three days of summer and set up the full barrage of doctor, dentist, eye doctor and specialists for everyone in your family. Boom. No more of that.
Do you wish you could eat better and tastier during the year? Summer would be a good time to set up a new system for weekly grocery shopping, peruse some fun food blogs for recipes, or even sign up for grocery or food delivery. If you have kids, maybe you could teach them to make one delicious meal the whole family likes and then have them make it every Monday night during the year.
Do you want to have amazing memories of fun and relaxation with your family and on your own when you return to work? Schedule it in. If you don’t actually have the camping trip, day at the beach, hiking adventure, and Netflix binge on the calendar, you may find they get lost in the busy swirl of life. Give yourself permission to prioritize your relaxation and memories, if you want to have those to look back on and to strengthen you as you dive back into school come August.
The 40 Hour Workweek Teacher’s Club
“We all talk about the things that are really important to us, but are we living that way? Are our daily habits and routines aligned with what we say are important?” -AW
Angela has developed a year long program that offers teachers support and resources in figuring out how to be capable and effective teachers that also have boundaries and time for themselves. Because the program goes for a full year, it’s easier to make significant changes and really turn those changes into new habits.
Every teacher in the program chooses a target number of hours that they feel would work for them. It’s not necessarily forty, though Angela points out that forty hours are the number of contractual hours most people are getting paid to work, so if you’re going past that it’s important to make sure the extra hours are really making an impact, not just spinning wheels.
Each week, teachers in the program receive help in the form of ideas and resources for the classroom. Each training is available in audio form (this is one of my favorite aspects of the program!) to make it easier to fit in during a commute, grocery shopping trip, workout, etc.
For each of the twelve months of the year, there is a new focus. For example, in one month you might focus on not feeling overwhelmed by lesson planning. As you work through the trainings and begin to use the resources, Angela provides a Facebook group for members to connect and help support and sustain each other.
Once you join the club, you never lose access to anything. You can continue to review the trainings and resources whenever you need them.
The club is now open, and the July cohort will begin learning together soon. If you do decide to sign up, please let Angela know you found your way to her through me. She offered to make me an affiliate when I invited her onto my podcast, so you can help support my work by letting her know who sent you. Thanks!
Connect with Angela Watson, of The Cornerstone for Teachers
P.S. I made something for you! In case the section on grading in particular sparked your interest, check out my own favorite grading tweak that saves me time. Over the years I found I was writing the exact same comments over and over on my students’ papers, no matter how many times I taught the concepts in class. So I developed a quick guide to the most common errors.
When you share the guide with students, you can start simply labeling errors on their papers with “#1” or “#7” instead of writing out the mistake and the fix. They can then go to the guide and find out how to correct the problem they are struggling with. This great handout will save your flair pens a lot of ink!
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