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!
The reading wars are over (thank goodness for sound research!), but we still are at risk as we teach, model, practice and apply the skills necessary to develop phonemic awareness and phonics in our kids.
And here’s why: We are focusing on “Do they have the skill?” rather than “How automatically do they have that skill?”. And the success of our students, particularly in phonemic awareness and phonics, depends on our response to the second question. Automatically pulling up the skills to support “bigger”, more complex skills like comprehension and using context to determine meaning of unknown words is what is going to make or break the success of your kids.
Now, some of you might be thinking: OF COURSE we teach phonemic awareness and phonics! In fact, we do it EVERY DAY for at least 30 minutes a day!
While that is likely true in nearly all (hopefully ALL!) of the K-2 classrooms and intervention classrooms, our work isn’t done when the kids just “get” the skill. They need to master the skill and then become automatic…and maintain it across time.
One of the things that has risen to the top of my “be concerned about” list is that when schools are using DIBELS and AIMSweb to benchmark and progress monitor kids, the phoneme segmentation fluency, letter naming fluency, nonsense word fluency and other phonemic awareness/phonics-based tasks just fall off. Whether kids have benchmarked or not!
For example, just last week I ran into a group of second grade strategic oral reading fluency students as we did our data review. When I asked if the students had “passed” the nonsense word reading fluency assessment in 1st grade, what we found is that they hadn’t – but because the text was no longer expected to be given in 2nd grade, we never flagged those kids as needing additional phonics support well into 2nd grade.
So, what were they getting? Hours of fluency practice each week.
Hmmm…strike you as a little off base? It sure did to me!
So we fixed the problem right away by getting kids into daily, timed review of letter sounds and sound spellings and then practice in blending words the “whole word blending” way – without having to sound out each sound and then recode the word. In other words – we trained them (in a plan that is lasting 6 weeks!) to look for the spelling patterns in words and quickly read those words.
The interesting conversation came after we did some progress monitoring on the nonsense word reading fluency: the teachers said, “But they’re reading those decodable books at 70-80%+ accuracy, so no wonder I didn’t think they needed additional phonics instruction!”
The point is – without fluency of skill, then the skill mastery may not be sufficient. AND that lack of fluency may not show up until later grades…so we have to be proactive. Actually, I would change our definition of “mastery” to include the element of fluency. Without it, we’re fooling ourselves.
So, here’s where I encourage you to start in analyzing how your students are doing on ANY skill. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they slow but accurate on the skill?
- Are they fast but inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they slow and inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they meeting the fluency rate on the skill?
Kids will fall into one of those four categories! And once we have sorted kids by skill into those categories, we now have information on how to provide additional support during small group instruction. If you have a slow but accurate student, then timed practice is key. If you have a fast but inaccurate student on a skill then you know your practice will be slowing them down in order to later speed them up. If they’re both slow and inaccurate, then some direct teaching on the skill (even though it’s been previously taught) is the right fit.
I guess my desire for all of us is that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of skill mastery for all of our kids. Fluency of skill IS going to make or break their reading independence now and in the future…especially when they encounter tougher text with lots of unknown words.
I encourage you to start by going back to your strategic and intensive kids and see if they “passed” those critical-to-pass assessments before the particular tests were no longer required in that grade level. Once you sort your kids according to the four types above, then you can more accurately point your interventions to what is really going to make a difference in their skill independence!
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.