I would not be exaggerating if I said EVERYWHERE that I go educators are complaining about not having enough TIME. Here’s what it sounds like…
From the principal: I would LOOOOOVE to get into the classrooms more often, but I have so many behavioral issues that take up my time!
From the coach: I would LOOOOOVE to get in a debrief within 24 hours but I have to finish up paperwork and go to so many trainings that I often end up giving feedback to teachers a week later!
From teachers and teams: We would LOOOOOVE to spend more time prepping for those lessons, but all of the other stuff that we have to do take so much time that the preparation and planning is my last step each week and I’m exhausted by the time I get there!
What’s the common denominator? They all would LOOOOOVE to do something!
Well, here’s the deal: I LOOOOOVE to go get my nails done. In fact I did it yesterday! I love taking my book that has nothing to do with work. I love that they don’t allow cell phones so there are no rings or pings or interruptions. I love to come out of the nail salon all shiny and new. I love the choices of colors. I just love it. (I know some of you are reading this and thinking…is she REALLY going to talk manicures? Yes, she REALLY is, but she’ll get to a bigger point, so hang in there…)
And because I love it, I make sure I don’t miss my appointment.
Let’s take for example yesterday. I had an appointment at 5:00 p.m. It takes 15 minutes to drive to this particular nail place and sometimes parking is a challenge, so I knew I needed to leave at 4:30 from my house to get there in plenty of time.
So I backtracked my tasks so that I was done at 4:30 on the dot.
Because my nail appointment was important to me and I didn’t want to miss it and have it overwhelmed by everything else.
I put my phone calls on my calendar at SPECIFIC times – not just on a to-do list.
I put my email answering at a SPECIFIC time – not just on a to-do list.
I put my writing projects at SPECIFIC times – not just on a to-do list.
I even put in a couple of 15 minute breaks at SPECIFIC TIMES – not just on a to-do list.
The thing is, I LOOOOOOVE a good to-do list, but I find that when I don’t schedule my tasks out, the list gets a few things crossed off, but most of them remain at the bottom…especially the ones I don’t want to do!
So what does this have to do with putting out fires and manicures and all this mess?
If most educators site TIME as a #1 or #2 inhibitor of getting things done that they know they should get done AND we know that we aren’t going to just magically create more time, then the answer to being frenzied and out of time all the time is managing our time differently.
Managing our time, I’ve found and seen in excellent and productive educators, is the difference between running around and putting out fires and PURPOSEFUL work in our schools. Let me give you an example:
Say that you’ve SCHEDULED your prep time for 7:00 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. (of course I know you need more time than this, but this is one chunk of time you’ve scheduled). You’ve actually WRITTEN IT INTO your calendar – so it’s a date! And along comes Suzy Q and she LOOOOVES to talk…and talk…and talk. Typically you shoot the breeze with Suzy Q and when you’re done, you think, “Ugh! I just wasted all of that time and I got nothing done!”. (Does this sound at all familiar?)
You are now behind – and in “putting out fires” mode…you’re in reactionary mode because now you feel under the gun.
(On a side note: “putting out fires” and “under the gun” – -neither SOUND real fun, do they?)
So let’s rewrite this scenario:
You have scheduled time from 7:00 – 7:45 a.m. to prep for your upcoming lessons tomorrow and Wednesday. Suzy Q comes in and says, “Hey girl/guy! What’s up?” and settles in for a nice, long chat…about NOTHING!
You can now say, “Hey Suz! Whew – I’m really busy! I’ve scheduled myself for some prep right now…go grab your books and come prep with me!” or “Hey Suz! You know, my schedule is really hounding me right now…I’ve got my prep time for tomorrow and Wednesday right now – let’s sit together at lunch and get all caught up!”
It’s these kinds of conversations that not only allow US to stay on track, but put other time-wasters (people and tasks) on notice that we aren’t messing around anymore!
When we’re under the gun and pushing the envelope, we are REACTING. And oftentimes our most important tasks get pushed to the bottom of the list. And both of these things make us feel like we’re being managed, not managing.
And I don’t know about you, but I want to be THE MANAGER, not THE MANAGED!
So…what is this all about?
- It’s about taking control of the time you have and getting down to business on the things that are important to our delivery of excellent instruction
- It’s about not being in reactionary, “putting out fires” mode – because that mode means we’re not doing our best work
- It’s about organizing our environment so that we are optimized for doing our best, being our best and producing our best WITH THE TIME WE’RE GIVEN
- It’s about having a life where the bag of grading doesn’t come home with you every single night because you’ve managed time poorly
The cool thing? Time management is also contagious for your kids! They need to see it too!
So…where will you start? Leave a comment below and inspire someone else to get started NOW!
Okay, so I’m obsessed. (Not an unusual thing, but we’ll get to that later…much much later…)
I heard Michael Kamil speak at a conference last year and what he said was “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things”.
I can’t stop thinking about this and the impact that it has on what we do in the classrooms everyday – especially with those kids who struggle to read.
It’s been about 9 months since I wrote “We get kids to do difficult things by getting them to do difficult things” in my notes. I keep referring back to what this means for us – and for our kids.
Here’s what I’ve got rolling around in my brain about this:
- As teachers, we cannot shy away from giving kids tasks that they struggle with – – – I mean after all, if they knew everything from the get-go, wouldn’t that eliminate the need for school?
- As teachers, we need to teach persistence and stick-to-it-ive-ness (which is a HUGE life skill!). How do we do it? By giving kids the tools and support and encouragement that they need when they encounter tough skills. When they fail or struggle with a task, we stand alongside them and SHOW them how to take another step.
- As teachers of reading, we need to not immediately solve a decoding or comprehension struggle by giving kids lower-leveled text. When we quickly default to the below-level text, that’s what we get kids used to: below-level text. It’s actually a set-up for future struggle, I believe!
- As teachers of reading, we need not always pair kids with an “able” counter-part – – – this is enabling for a lot of kids and we KNOW that many on-level kids have little to no patience for supporting a struggling partner and they end up doing most of the work anyway.
- As teachers of reading, we need to focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing tough spots with kids who struggle or who give up easily. I have found that rehearsing answers or responses is a great intervention actually! It’s worth checking into.
But the bottom line of it all? As teachers, we need to switch our perspective from “Oh no! They’re not getting it! I must be a bad teacher! I better simplify this task…STAT!”
“Yes! They’re struggling a bit with this – what a great opportunity for me to provide on-the-ground guided support for my kids AND build their stick-to-it-ive-ness at the same time!”
The confidence-building of learners is in the doing of difficult things…and living to tell the tale!
Walking to read is the process of grouping kids in skill-alike groups for a small portion of the day.
Typically teachers in a grade level will "specialize" in a particular skill level grouping during Walk to Read and the students will "walk" to that group for targeted instruction.
In its best form, walking to read allows for more targeted, more efficient, more streamlined planning, instruction and assessment monitoring. It’s a GREAT option for a highly functional staff.
Notice that I said "Highly functional"…more to come on this…
For those who know me and hear me speak, you know that I am neither a supporter of the Walk to Read (WTR) model nor am I a naysayer.
And here’s why:
Walking to read IN THEORY is a great way to streamline the planning AND the delivery of targeted small group instruction students at all levels. If there are problems with WTR, it’s usually in the execution of the model, not in the theory of the model.
So it’s important to be HONEST, be FORTHRIGHT, and DEMAND COLLABORATION when you’re launching into or re-establishing a walk to read model in any grade level and school.
Here are a few examples of why walking to read can fail:
- There are trust issues within the grade level and teachers don’t want to "give up" their kids to "that teacher" – these are essentially trust issues amongst professionals
- There is an illusion of high differentiated instruction during small groups just because we have kids of like skill level grouped together
- There is an in-the-dark feeling about kids because there are not functions for collaboration and close monitoring between homeroom and WTR teachers
- There is lost time for instruction because traveling from one spot to another is poorly executed
- There are increased behavior problems because teachers have varied behavioral expectations
BUT DO NOT FEAR!!!
YOU CAN USE THE WALK TO READ MODEL SUCCESSFULLY!!!! I’VE SEEN IT WORK FOR THOSE WILLING TO PUT THE WORK IN!
Here’s how it CAN work:
SOLUTION 1: Discuss trust issues head-on – get real about concerns! If there is a worry that your teaching partner might not put in enough time for prepping killer lessons, then set up a time to plan together. If your teaching partners are too "lax" on their management of the kids, then suggest that you come up with common expectations across groups that you jointly teach the kids!
SOLUTION 2: Share weekly plans for kids – in other words: POST YOUR PLANS, PERUSE YOUR PLANS AND DISCUSS YOUR PLANS! If they look too much alike (and are not, therefore, differentiating instruction), then work together to suggest ways that you can change-up lessons and challenge kids more than they are currently challenged. Create a check-list together for each lesson so that you ensure that true differentiated instruction is really happening.
SOLUTION 3: Set bi-monthly data meetings where you get together FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF TALKING THROUGH THE WALK TO READ DATA and nothing else! Go student-by-student and discuss what’s going well, what’s a struggle, what growth the data is showing and then set targets for each group. This builds in camaraderie AND trust!
The cool thing is, the more you talk, the more you collaborate.
And the more you collaborate, the more you trust.
And the more you trust your teaching comrades, the more you focus on the kids.
And the more you focus on the kids, the more they learn.
And the more they learn…
Need I go on?
Have you ever googled “How to engage students?” out of desperation or curiosity?
I have….and what I found was a lot of quick tips and how-tos. The problem is, I think that looking at engaging students comes from a deeper well than just trying some new techniques. Let’s be real – – if it were about a simple technique, wouldn’t we ALL be doing it and reaping the benefits right now?
While I don’t have the silver, magic bullet for you (Sorry!), I do know what you need to do to engage your students – or engage them in a bigger way this school year.
The secret? It’s all about you. I know it, you wanted me to make it about the students, but it’s really not.
Here are 7-Quick-Steps for you to implement RIGHT NOW to engage students in a way that you haven’t before:
- Realize that engagement starts with expectation. Treat students like they already ARE engaged…and they usually follow!
- Know that increasing student engagement is a habit. Don’t give up – if you expect it and then reinforce, reinforce and reinforce, you WILL see improvement in engagement. Don’t give up!
- When you see low levels of engagement or general apathy to the lesson, check yourself first. It might be that your energy isn’t very high or that you’re “phoning it in” without even knowing it! There is POWER in “acting as if”…as if you are pumped! As if you are ecstatic about the content! Put your acting game face on!
- Engagement isn’t natural – If you are using a new engagement technique, realize that you must teach it, model it and tell students when they’re going to use it – and then practice, practice, practice before you expect it to be done. Set kids up for success!
- Student engagement is built simultaneously on habitual use of engagement techniques AND keeping things interesting! Find a balance between using techniques that students are confident in, but switching it up periodically so they don’t become stale and “phoned in”. If you tune into your kids, you’ll know the exact point that you need to switch it up.
- Plan ahead for engagement. While you might catch a break periodically with some bird-walking or “teachable moments”, 95% of your engagement should be planned for. Ask yourself “Where do I need my kids to be super charged and into the content?” And then work to teach them what it looks like to be engaged.
- Don’t assume that students know what engagement looks like and feels like. I see that a lot of kids are struggling to engage because they don’t know what it is to be engaged! If you’d unlock the secret for them, I bet they’d be raring to go.
Here’s what I know for sure: If you invite students to be engaged or more engaged, there’s a possibility that they won’t choose to join you! BUT, if you structure your lessons so that they’re required to engage, you’re MUCH MORE LIKELY to see a big leap in engagement level. It’s up to you!
You know all of those school improvement plans that you have to fill out and turn in on time and make fit in the allotted number of pages…you know those ones you hurry to finish and rarely look at again until you make revisions and go through the whole rigamarole again?
Yeah, those plans.
Well, they’re WORTHLESS.
Yep, total junk – not even worth the paper they’re printed on.
And here’s why…
Because we don’t take them seriously enough to make smart decisions on HOW we’re going to use the information contained in the plans to leverage for real results.
What are real results?
- They’re outcome driven (meaning kids are showing that they know how to do things on the test)
- They’re built on actual numbers – not gut reactions or stories that make us feel better when a student doesn’t perform like they should be
- They stick – they’re not built on a perfect circumstance or a certain test administrator and they certainly don’t change over the weekend!
- They have partners – they’re not alone – the results make sense in light of other assessment results
I know you want REAL RESULTS, dontcha?
So, how do we get real results AND have our school improvement plans accepted by the powers that be at the same time?
- We leverage school improvement plans by focusing on the instructional core: Put into action things that bring up the overall level of instructional quality throughout the block
- We leverage school improvement plans by kicking out proven-to-NOT-work actions and activities from the past – if you gave it a good try and it didn’t work, then dump the practice and move on
- We leverage school improvement plans by choosing simple-to-regularly-implement-tasks – – – avoid activities that are too convoluted or hard to follow
- We leverage school improvement plans by building in review – focusing on something once or for one year doesn’t mean that we’ll remember it! So, build in review and cycle-back to re-commit to the practices from your plan that you’ve already taken care of!
- We leverage school improvement plans by taking them seriously – don’t slough it off as “another plan” – see it as an opportunity to refine, redefine and reflect on practice – these are VERY important in the life of an organization!
So where should you start? Start by pulling out your old school improvement plans, dust ’em off and start looking at what you’ve done, what you haven’t and what you don’t remember. Start there. And go slowly. And think smartly. And focus on the return on the school improvement plan investment.