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096: Summer Priorities in the face of Fall Uncertainties, with Angela Watson

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This is a weird time. Let’s call it the summer of unknowns. You are no doubt waiting for leadership and clear direction from your district, your governor, your country… but will it come?

I’m thinking we’ve got to make some choices for ourselves right now about how best to cope and plan. And part of that means getting into a flexible mindset and preparing in ways that work for a lot of different situations.

Today on the podcast, my guest Angela Watson is sharing ways you can prioritize what will make a meaningful impact on the fall right now. We’re talking about how overwhelming the spring was and how to make intentional choices not to let it happen again.

Angela is a leader in the teacher mindset, productivity, and organization space. Her blog at The Cornerstone for Teachers, and her podcast, Truth for Teachers, reach thousands of teachers with inspiration and help for confronting the unique demands of the teaching profession. Her course, The 40 Hour Workweek, which has helped thousands of teachers cut their hours while becoming more effective and productive, is open right now, and we’ll be talking about that too.

Before we jump in, I want to invite you to join me in a challenge. I’ve been learning from Angela for the last three years, through our interviews, her book, and her online materials. In this challenge, I’m bringing you three of my favorite takeaways from all that great time with Angela, and giving you a clear action step for each one. If you join in, we’ll be talking about cutting the grading pile, using summer to backwards plan the life you want during the school year, and how templates and batching can make a big difference in your productivity. I’ll also be sharing more about the 40 Hour Workweek at the end of the challenge, in case you’d like to take the work further with Angela.

Sign up below to join the challenge!

OK, let’s dive in! Tune in below or on your favorite podcast player, or read on for the highlights.

The Problem of Time

Teaching is a job that’s never really done, and it’s easy to feel like you’ve never done enough. When you do something for yourself, you feel like you’re shortchanging your students. When you work on evenings and weekends, you feel like you’re shortchanging your family. It’s so hard. 

After years of teaching and instructional coaching, Angela began to move towards working with teachers on the mindset that makes change possible, then on managing time and streamlining workflow. As she says, you can change the way you think about your work, but you also need to make some decisions to question what you’ve been told and make choices about how you work best. Angela has a chance to examine the issues of teaching from the outside and create systems that help.

Why Teaching can feel All-Consuming

For a lot of folks, teaching IS a calling. It’s more than work, it’s also a hobby. The creative aspects of it are a joy, and that plays into making it feel all-consuming sometimes.

Then there’s this feeling that you have to be giving 110% at all times. Messaging from leaders like “failure is not an option” makes it really hard for teachers to ever take time for themselves. Teachers are always being asked to work harder to compensate for systemic issues. For society, it’s the easy way out to just put all the blame at the feet of the teaching workforce, but you’re not going to be your best as a teacher if you’re exhausted and stressed and at the breaking point all the time.

A First Step toward Change

The first step towards creating a little more separation between work and the rest of your life is to pay attention. You’ve got to do this in an ongoing fashion – checking in with yourself daily.

Notice what’s draining you and what’s giving you energy. What works for you? Is it better for you to stay up late to finish emails or get up early? What happens when you call a parent to deliver difficult news versus composing the right email?

Observe what you need to be at your best spiritually, physically, emotionally. As you get more tuned into what helps you thrive, you can stop saying yes to everything and start communicating your needs effectively. When you reflect and become more intentional, it helps.

There’s not a blanket solution – it’ll be personal to you, to your students and teaching context. But taking the step back to think about the impact of your choices instead of mindlessly going through the day doing what everyone else does will make a big impact.

Focusing on the 20% of Actions that Serve Students Most

It’s so important to really know what moves the needle for your students and focus on those things. There’s a productivity principle that says twenty percent of actions produce eighty percent of results. Focus on the twenty percent!

If you’re doing the things that really make a difference to kids, you’re going to feel better about the time and energy you’re putting in there. Then you’re not wasting all that extra time. Keep checking in and seeing how your students’ needs change throughout the year. What’s most important? What yields obvious impact and results? Keep focusing on those things.

Don’t let the Extras Get you Down

Committees, paperwork, and reporting can be a big drain on teachers. And yes, it’s worth questioning those things, but also remembering not to let them sap your mental energy. Don’t focus on those things with frustration all day and waste your energy on complaining. There will be some parts of the job that don’t feel valuable, but if you can just stay focused on the stuff that matters and get through the rest as you need to, you’ll be more energized. Wake up in the morning thinking about the things that are really helping, that will help get you the energy you need to do the things you care about.

Keeping things Doable this Fall

One top priority for fall is to create a schedule. Spring was so chaotic that many teachers felt tied to the computer 24/7 as things kept changing and the floor kept falling out. That’s totally understandable – it was a crisis. But now that we know this may be the system again come fall, we can put systems in place.

For example, there’s no reason to train parents to expect emails from you at midnight. They can message you anytime it’s convenient for them, and they can expect a response in certain windows of time (like 8-9 am, 4-6 pm, etc.). You may have to put more time in with messaging at the start of the year, but then be careful to move into a sustainable routine.

Creating routines for working from home is also important. Have a morning routine – don’t just head to your computer from bed. Take a real lunch break (don’t sit there and answer emails). Get outside. EVERYONE needs breaks from the computer, including students. 

If you’re waiting for someone from your district to tell you how to do this or show you how, you might be waiting a long time. You’ve got to take charge and make decisions that work for you. Keep observing and making decisions based on what works well for you.

Summer Priorities in the Face of Fall Uncertainties

If you try to prepare for the new school year before you know if you’re going to be back in the classroom, you might end up doing double work. One of the key priorities right now is to recuperate. One of the best ways to prepare is to get yourself in a good headspace – a good emotional and physical space where you’re feeling healthy. That might sound a bit woo-woo, but you do NOT want to be exhausted during pre-planning week. This cannot be the kind of year where you feel over it by the first thirty minutes of your first meeting in August. This is essential.

This is also a great time to organize your online files. So many free materials came out in the spring and you probably have PDFs all over your desktop. Now’s the time to get rid of what you don’t want and organize what’s left in Dropbox or Google Drive. Name your files clearly. Create folders for each prep or each unit with subfolders inside. Create an intuitive system that works well for you. Now’s the time!

You can also systematize your workflow as soon as you have at least some idea of the fall. If you’re definitely going to be doing at least some remote teaching, you can create some FAQ screencasts or email templates that you can use over and over to explain your systems when students or parents get confused.

It’s also a good time to choose the best tech tools you want to use and really learn to use them well, get the hang of the shortcuts, etc. That will be useful no matter what.

You could also create a set of video lessons for the first unit – maybe collaborate with another teacher in creating them. If you do end up in person, you can still use these (for subs, for confused students, for absent students, for parent resources, etc.).

Think about how you can be proactive now to save yourself time later.

The New 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club

This year’s version is restructured to have core concepts delivered each month, through PDF or audio. When the new materials arrive, you can immediately read or listen and then start putting those into effect to streamline your work for that part of the year. If you want to take it further, each month there are three optional extensions you can dive into if you have time. With this new system, it’s easier to put the essentials into place immediately.

The club is adapting for COVID, planning for multiple scenarios and shifts throughout the year. Angela and her team are going to adapt the club materials the month before they come out throughout the year, so they can specifically align with what’s happening for teachers.


Learn more about Angela’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek

Connect with Angela

“Angela’s mission is to help teachers live a more purposeful and conscious life. Through her mentorship, countless teachers have learned to take charge of their time and energy so they can prevent burnout and stay in the profession they love for years to come.”

Discover Angela’s blog and podcast on her Website

Do you find your inspiration in VISUALS? I love ‘em too. Let’s hang out on Instagram! Click here to get a steady stream of colorful ideas all week long.


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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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