15 Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder This School Year
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
According to my payroll voucher, I work 31.65 hours a week. If that’s the case, my husband must wonder what I’m doing at school the other 18 hours. We all know teachers work well beyond the school day, which often takes away from time spent with our families, friends, or even on ourselves.
Several years ago, in my building we adopted the mantra, Work Smarter, Not Harder. We tried to develop ways to maximize our time during the school day. Our Professional Learning Community committees divided up work; we shared students and tasks. The amount of work and student growth accomplished by doing this was phenomenal. Even with the best intentions, however, we discovered there were times we were actually creating more work for ourselves, and spending even more hours at school. We are starting this school year committed to working smarter, and helping others do the same. This week, many of the wonderfully dedicated teachers in my building were happy to take time away from setting up their classrooms to share their tips for making the most of their time each day so you, too, can work smarter, not harder.
15 Ways We Work Smarter
1. Lesson Plan Archive: Many people create a lesson plan template on the computer, but Nancy Haboush takes it a step further. She archives her plans each year so they can easily be modified the following year.
2. Day of the Week Baskets: Haboush puts all the copies, books, and manipulatives she might need for the week in baskets labeled with the days of the week. Her teacher editions are right next to them, organized by subject, and easy to grab.
3. Use Parent Volunteers: Lauren Welch schedules volunteers to come in twice a week to make copies, put up bulletin boards, and work with small groups. Many hands make light work!
4. Paint Your Bulletin Boards: Many teachers in our building have painted their bulletin boards so they do not need to put up new backings. Lisa Carruthers shares that this has saved her a great deal of prep time.
5. Easy Bulletin Boards: I use plastic tablecloths on my bulletin boards that don't fade and last a long time. I use borders that are brightly colored with generic patterns so when I want to change my board, all I have to do is switch out what’s on top, not underneath.
6. Quick and Easy Daily Assessment: Carruthers chooses morning bell work for her students that helps her assess certain skills. After attendance is taken she walks among her students with a grading sheet and is able to do a quick check on how her students are doing.
7. Planning Time "To-Do" List: We all plan our daily lessons, but I also plan out my release time. I list four must-do items each day and don’t move onto anything else until they are finished.
Download and print this weekly to-do list
8. Planning Time “To-Don’t” List: I post a reminder next to my computer of what I should not be doing to eat into my time. The number one item is: Don’t respond to emails needing more than a one-sentence reply during the school day.
9. Jobs-to-Go: Our kindergarten teachers, Angela Gadlage and Jennifer Marinkovski, keep stacking trays right by their door that they fill with papers to copy, items to laminate, or work that needs to be prepped for a lesson. They can easily grab the baskets during their planning time, and if a parent drops in and says they have a few minutes to help, the work is ready to go.
10. Just Say "No": No matter how much you like to help and be there for people, sometimes enough is enough. Nadeen Brown is active on several committees and groups both in and out of school. She volunteers at church and has founded the Troy African-American Parent Network that promotes social and academic excellence. And she has five kids. She loves to volunteer and shares the importance of saying "no," which she credits friends, colleagues, and her family for helping her understand.
11. Student Helpers: Having classroom helpers keeps our room tidy and running smoothly. My third graders empty the pencil sharpener, put trash cans in the hall at the end of the day, sort and organize papers, erase boards, and more.
12. Clean As You Go: A place for everything and everything in its place is the advice Amy Wallace shares. Her room is tidy and spotless at the beginning of the day, the end of the day and all points in-between.
13. Put Students in Charge of Your Class Library: I put students in charge of one or two baskets in our library for the whole year. Read more about how this work in my post, "Simple Solutions for an Organized Classroom Library."
14. Consistent Back-to-School Theme: Gadlage and Marinkovski decided they would stop changing their back-to-school theme each year and stay with a consistent jungle theme that introduces their kinders to our school mascot, the Leonard Leopard. The theme is brand new to each group of kindergarten students and they are saving lots of time prepping new theme related materials each year. A fifth grader designed the mural below that was painted in the kindergarten hallway.
15. Take Care of Yourself: One of the easiest things to skip when you are short on time is taking time for yourself. Dedicate some time each day for exercise, meditation, or simply drinking a cup of tea and reading a book — whatever you enjoy. Taking care of your body and mind just may help you accomplish your tasks faster, with new focus and less stress.
These ideas are just a start to the conversation. In the comment section below, please share your ideas to help all teachers work smarter, not harder, this school year.
Check out these resources from Scholastic's Teacher Store to help you work smarter this year.