We all want to work smarter, not harder … and that doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your teaching practice or a brand new innovative workflow.
Small changes in daily habits and mindset shifts can add up to big results, and I’ve invited 4 teachers to share what’s made the difference for them.
These teachers cut back on the amount of time they spend working WITHOUT sacrificing their instructional quality or shortchanging students and families. They’re proof that it’s possible to do a great job for kids without working endlessly on nights and weekends.
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The MVP principle and timer when lesson planning (LB Blackwell)
Here’s what teacher LB Blackwell did differently that trimmed hours off his workweek — it’s related to lesson planning, which had previously been very time-consuming.
For me, from the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, the concept of a minimum viable product (or MVP as Angela calls it) has been very helpful in reducing the amount of time I spend planning lessons. That combined with setting a timer when I plan has been a game-changer this year. I‘m a 3rd-year high school English teacher, and both of those — the timer and the concept of the minimum viable product — help combat my perfectionism.
The timer sort of helps me laser focus in on the most essential things I need to get into my lesson. The minimum viable product reminds me that I just need what is essential to do the lesson — to teach the material.
Most of what I’m teaching this year are texts or skills that I have not taught before, so I am starting from scratch in a lot of cases. And I just don’t have time to create flashy or extra kinds of tasks or lessons that I might imagine I could create. I just don’t have the time for it.
So those two tools have really helped me get an adequate lesson together that I can present without spending an inordinate amount of time.
You heard LB mention the concept of the MVP, or minimum viable product, which refers in this context to creating just the basics of a lesson plan — a workable version of it — and then iterating on it over time based on what your students need.
This is opposed to trying to come up with the “perfect” lesson upfront. Instead, you’re bringing the kids into the process of reflecting on what’s working and what’s not and using their input and feedback to help you improve future lessons and develop them more quickly.
Using a turn-in sheet for student work to speed up grading (Christina Rudd)
Christina found that the small change that created the biggest results for her centered around releasing control, particularly with grading and assessment:
The biggest game-changer in my career was something so simple, it’s almost laughable. I adopted the use of the turn and cover sheet. Students are responsible for turning in their work and checking their names off themselves. If a name isn’t checked off, I can code for absent late or online submittal — it even works well with online work.
This has eliminated hunting down late work, missing work, and absent work. I also use the sheets to record scores or feedback that I can then give verbally. It has solved so many problems and saved hours of time each week.
The second biggest game-changer was shifting my mindset to accept lowering my standards. The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek helped me realize how I was allowing my perfectionist tendencies to hold me back, paralyze me, and prevent my students from getting the most out of my teaching. I can ask myself now what’s really important here. Then I can act on what’s enough and focus on the needs of my students too.
So for Christina, breaking free from perfectionistic tendencies became possible once she zeroed in on what really made a difference for her students. She learned to identify things that only she cared about, things that really didn’t help her kids, and things that were just for appearances or tradition’s sake, and relax her standards on those things. That way she has more time and energy for the things that DO matter.
The Turn-In cover sheet she’s referring to is a page that can be an actual paper or a digital form that lists students’ names and they check off when the assignment is submitted. This gave her students ownership over work submission so that she was no longer spending hours tracking down late, missing, and absent work.
We spend an entire month of the 40 Hour program focusing on this aspect of teaching, and this is just one idea that stuck out to Christina and made a big difference for her.
Want to hear these educators in their own voices? Use the audio player below, or subscribe to Truth for Teachers in your podcast app!
Simplifying and automating email with parents (Christie Manners)
Christie found that her biggest small change centered around email and communication with families and caregivers.
I’m from Austin, Texas, and I just wanted to talk for a few moments about how I have trimmed off many, many hours from my weekly outside of contract hours contributions. I took some time and really thought about what I was doing that had a direct impact on the children in front of me. And I realized I was spending way too much time carefully crafting parent update emails.
And what I also noticed is that every time I sent out a parent update — a friendly, warm, welcoming parent update email — I would receive a lot of instant replies back with questions from parents that could have been answered by the students if they had asked their child at home or had been actually answered in the email that I had just written. And I decided that I would try out not writing parent update emails and see how that flew.
And I was really shocked and amazed at how much time I saved by not having to carefully craft and recraft and recraft those parent update emails to try to make sure that it was a warm, friendly, welcoming tone, but also deliver important information.
What I found was after not submitting these monthly parent update emails is that not only did I not spend time not doing them, but I also didn’t get nearly as many what I call “Howler” emails from parents writing angry emails about, “Why are we studying this and don’t teach my child that,” or getting emails about information that the students actually had that they could have given to their parents.
So that was a huge time saver for me and a huge stress reducer actually. And honestly, I haven’t had any parents say, “Gosh, I really miss getting an extra email from my teacher every month.” So that’s been a win-win all the way around.
Another piece of the email puzzle that I have committed to this year is really relying on various auto replies. So the emails that I most frequently get are things like, “My child’s going to be absent … where’s the homework?; My child is sick,” and so I created some Canva e-cards and they are just little images that I created that didn’t take too long to create, and I use those to respond to those frequently sent emails and can reuse them over and over.
And I also created some fun ones. So I’ve got one to send home as a kudos for kids who are doing really well in school, who made a significant contribution to class that day. And I can just really quick send a kudos and I always CC the student when I email one of those to their parents.
I can also send a little card home that says your child might need a little extra help at home today, whether they forgot their Chromebook or their charger, or they were distracted in class. So my little Canva message cards just give parents a little quick alert that says, “Hey, your child needs a little support.”
I also did one for lunch detention. So if I have to assign lunch detention, I don’t have to carefully elaborate on every single point that child did in class to earn the lunch detention. But it’s just a really quick email.
Thank you so much for all that you have done for us and your voice of advocacy, both for ourselves and in our districts. And I’ve had a really, really much better year these last five years since I completed the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek.
So during our month-long focus on streamlining communication and documentation in 40 Hour, Christie realized she was creating extra work for herself by assuming parents wanted a newsletter each month about classroom happenings. This is a standard practice at the elementary level with many teachers even sending newsletters weekly. But just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t mean it’s the best way, and Christie discovered not doing it saved her time, back-and-forths with families, and she didn’t get a single complaint about it.
The use of template emails and auto-responders was also a big timesaver for Christie — it’s a strategy we use a lot in 40 Hour, and templates and scripts are provided.
Not having kids turn every assignment in and using less paper (Becky Teater)
Here’s the small change that Becky made:
I used to go to work early and stay late and work on the weekends. But after taking the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek and the graduate course, I’m working only about 5-8 hours over my contract hours each week. As I institute more batch work and automation, I think I can get that down to less than five extra hours per week.
Some of the things that I’ve learned through 40 Hour Teacher Workweek are to not run to the printer every time I hit print or to not have the kids turn in every single paper that we correct together or we go over together. I used to feel like they had to turn it in so that it felt like it was actual work that they should pay attention to.
But now I’ve learned that sometimes we need to correct it together and it needs to just go right into their backpacks. It doesn’t even make it to their take home file — it just goes directly into their backpacks. And that saves me the time to sort through and mark every paper because I feel like they all have to be marked and filed. So that cuts a lot of that time that I had been spending doing just paperwork.
I only have them turn in the things that I’m actually going to record a grade for — something that I’m using as more of an assessment, whether it’s kind of an informal or more formative.
And then just batching my emails — when I look at emails or answer emails. And like I said for printing, I am now only trying to print at certain times of the day and that is limiting my exposure to those unintentional breaks as I go to the color copier to pick up stuff and then have three conversations on the way there and back. If I do that intentionally, it’s cut back on those extra times that I was spending on doing just chit-chatting. And that’s helped quite a bit.
So Becky’s become more intentional about what she prints, what she has students turn in for an assessment, and what she formally grades. Instead of just going through the motions — “Oh, here’s a worksheet I’ve used before, I’ll print it, have the kids complete it and turn it in, then grade it and give it back” — she’s asking herself, “Do they actually need to do this assignment? Do they all need their own individual copies of it? What’s the best way to have them learn from this — do they need my feedback on it and if so, what kind? What’s the value of grading this assignment?”
These are deep questions but Becky found that they became second nature to her the more she practiced them over the course of the program.
I’m often asked, “What exactly do people learn in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program? What are these teachers doing differently that enables them to work just their contractual hours or slightly above it?”
From the experiences of the four teachers featured here, I hope you can see that my goal is to help folks see their work through a new lens that is focused on productivity and intentionality, rather than just doing what’s expected or what’s already been done.
It takes time to develop that kind of mindset shift, which is why 40 Hour is a full-year program: it takes you through the challenges of each season of the school year and helps you identify small changes that add up to big results.
You’ll notice how none of this is brand new revelatory information, where they completely overhauled their entire teaching practice and saw instant results.
Permanent change often comes from small shifts in our daily habits that we make and reinforce over time. It comes from slowly adopting a mindset that helps you focus on what’s most important and simplify the rest.
And, it comes from having a community of like-minded educators who help you prioritize and celebrate your successes in work-life balance.
If you want to join us in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, early bird pricing and enrollment begins June 1st.
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