Saturday, June 11, 2016

Work Smarter, Not Harder {10 Tips for Teachers}

Sometimes people ask me how I get it all done. When they ask this, they are referring to the work that has to be done outside of the actual act of teaching.  The planning, the grading, the prep, and so forth.  The truth is, I make it look easy because I've learned to work smarter, not harder.  

 
Once upon I time, I had a different career.  I had many different tasks to accomplish each day.  I had daily deadlines to adhere to and people counted on me to be knowledgeable, punctual, thorough, and prepared.  The demands of this job required that I work smarter, not harder. Many of the work habits I adopted back then followed me into my teaching career, and along the way, I've added some strategies to my repertoire that are specific to teaching.  

While I'm no expert in efficiency and work productivity, I hope that the tips that follow help you to make better use of your time as a teacher.

Make a list.  Every day. Identify what needs to be done and write it down. Then, prioritize it. 

It doesn't matter what you use to write your list on. Like sticky notes? Great! Prefer a pretty note pad? Super! Don't give two hoots and prefer to use scratch paper or whatever is lying around? Fabulous. Just write it all down!

I like to write my tasks down at the end of each day.  This way, I know exactly what I need to do when I get to school in the morning.  I try to write my tasks in the order they need to be accomplished, but I have also been known to write them down and then number them to the side.  This is just my way of making sure I tackle the most important tasks first.  And, I'm flexible about my tasks. Anything I don't get to one day (because it was low priority) gets bumped to the next day and prioritized with the next day's tasks.


Get it done. Once you've identified the tasks you need to accomplish, and you've prioritized them, do them. Get to work. Quit dilly dallying.  Put your phone down, stop chit chatting with your neighbor and get to work.  Confession: this can be hard, but you'll have time to stalk your phone and chit chat if you get your work done first.  

Think of it this way, if you don't get your work done you run the risk of being unprepared, stressed out, and ineffective as a teacher. And our job is too important to chance that! Force yourself to focus and get things done as quickly as possible. If this is super hard for you and you need some external motivation then reward yourself each day/week that you get stuff done. Before you know it, it will become a natural work habit.


Establish a daily work routine. Yes, there will be interruptions and disruptions, but you can still create a framework for what your work time will look like each day. Decide which tasks you will attend to each morning before school starts and each afternoon when the students are gone. 
Write down your thought bombsYou're a teacher, you probably have 25 random thought bombs a day....when you aren't at school. 

Sometimes I get random ideas or remember small things that need to be done when I'm not at school. To help me remember these things, I carry a small notepad in my purse. And I keep one on my nightstand as well. Sometimes, I email myself from my phone!  This way, I can easily record those little reminders and ideas as they come to me and I won't have to waste time trying to remember my thoughts and ideas when I'm back at school the following day.


Establish an email schedule. What I mean by that is, pick a time of day that you will read your emails. 

I tend to read mine first thing in the morning. We don't have a "desk job" so checking email periodically throughout the day is not always practical (or smart). Maybe you opt to check it first thing and immediately after school. Great! The point is, create a routine that works for you and your situation. 

I also have a policy of responding to emails within 24 hours. Keep in mind that you don't need to respond to every email you get. So many of the emails we get as teachers are FYI type emails. Don't bother with responding to those.
Finally, I also have a policy of never checking my email from home.  You never know what's lurking in that inbox, so I err on the side of caution and refuse to even log into my email from home.  Work emails get read when I'm at work.  End of story.


Collaborate. Whether it's with a like minded individual or your grade level, collaboration can make your job so much easier. 

Keep in mind that collaboration isn't dolling out or splitting up responsibilities. It's discussing and evaluating the material you plan to/are expected to teach your students. 

The point of collaboration is to help you perfect your craft and effectiveness as a teacher. So, make sure you confer with people who will help you achieve this.


Set limits. Leave your work at school. Teaching is demanding. It demands your energy, focus, and your time. 

Time is the biggie. And let's be honest, there isn't that much time in the day. How do some teachers cope with this? They take their work home. Even I have fallen victim to this, but in the past several years, I have set limits on what/when I take work home. See, I'm not just a teacher. I'm also a mom, and a wife, and human being with interests outside of my job. When I'm at work, that is my priority and when I'm at home that is my priority. It has to be. 

Now, as I said, there are times when I bring work home, such as when I am *seriously* behind on grading (it happens, friends) or need to work on report cards. This is something I need to do free of distractions (and on a computer that works more efficiently than my ancient desktop at school). I can bust out more report cards at home, once my little one has gone to bed, than I ever could at work. Other than that, my work pretty much stays at school. 

It all boils down to prioritizing your workload at school and sticking to a routine. When you find what works for you, you won't feel the need to regularly bring work home and when you do bring it home on occasion, you won't feel as guilty. 


Grade like a boss. Say what?  What I mean by that is, know what you're going to grade. Mark it in your lesson plans, or put a sticky note on those materials to remind you so that when you give that assignment you know you're planning to use it for a grade.  Then, set aside a day or two each week to enter grades. This way, you are able to enter them without spending huge chunks of time doing so (and parents knocking on your door pestering you as to why you haven't entered grades in the past month). 

Remember, you don't have to grade everything. If you've completed an assignment together in class, don't even collect it from students. Send it home! If you want to look over class work (and you probably should), you could spot check certain assignments, depending upon what it is. Or, you could go over it in class so your students are able to see how they did right there on the spot, saving you time in the long run.


Take a break. Or two. During the school day.  No, I'm not suggesting you run out into the hall and hide from your students, but just like your students, you need a brain break here and there too! 

Last year, our second graders endured an extremely long afternoon in the classroom. Most of that three hour chunk of time was core curriculum. It was a challenge for all of us, but thank goodness for brain breaks! On most days it was obvious that the kids needed a break, and some days, so did I.  Go Noodle to the rescue!  After our brain breaks, we were ready to refocus. The brain clutter was gone and the students were able to move onto the next set of learning tasks with a fresh mind. More importantly, I was able to tackle the next lesson with a fresh, decluttered state of mind.
NOTE: While Go Noodle is a super easy way to facilitate brain breaks, I know that some people have extremely hard core firewalls and can't access this site. No worries.  Play a game of Simon Says, or lead your students in some stretching exercises.  You could even line up your class and walk a few laps around the school.  If anyone asks, tell them you're practicing your hallway procedures.  ;)

The point is, it's OK to take a break, it's natural! Doctors, police officers, and everyone in between take them. And, it's a well known fact that breaks refuel and recharge the the body and mind, and teachers shouldn't think that breaks are off limits.  You're the professional, use your judgement to facilitate breaks as needed in your classroom because you will all benefit in the long run.
Make time for you. Find time in your day to focus on YOU! Focus on something other than teaching. 

Yes, we love what we do, and yes, we are passionate about it, but it isn't healthy to focus on teaching all.of.the.time. Read a book, find a hobby, get your nails done, binge watch Netflix. Whatever! Just make sure you carve some time out for you to focus on other things. Otherwise, you fail to take care of yourself and run the risk of burnout and/or unnecessary stress.  Plus, you're worth it. ;)
Do you have any favorite "word smarter, not harder" tips to share?  Comment below!
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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Summer Reading List 2016

Where are my readers at?  I don't know about you, but summer is the season when I get into my reading groove.  There's nothing better than sitting around on a hot, lazy day with a book in my hands and an iced tea by my side.


I'm joining my sweet friend, Molly, from Lucky to be in First to bring you my 2016 summer reading list.  Read on for some great recommendations as well as a list of books I look forward to reading!

Let's start with my recommendations.  These are books that you should definitely read!  I've read them, and I loved each and every one of them (otherwise, I wouldn't be recommending them-hehe).


Shopaholic to the Rescue (I'm a sucker for these books. They are so entertaining. I just finished this one and I am basically telling everyone I meet that they should read it.).
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  (She's funny, honest, and down to earth...what's not to love?)
Goodnight Nobody  (part mystery, part chick lit...need I say more?)
Apple Turnover Murder- A Hannah Swensen Mystery (I've been working my way through this series for years.  Each book is an easy read, yet entertaining and filled with tasty, interesting recipes.)
Mindsets in the Classroom (my class last year really responded to our mindset conversations)
The Reading Strategies Book (I finally got my hands on this book mid-year and found it to be a very useful resource! In other words, you'll read it more than once.)

I have a stack of books that I'm ready to read this summer. These are all books that I want to read because, well, I've already bought them and they are just waiting for me crack them open. Curious as to what's on my summer reading list?


Beach Town (because I love all things Mary Kay Andrews)
The Weekenders (again, because I love all things Mary Kay Andrews)
The Singles Game (It sounds like the perfect chick lit read...NOTE: it isn't available until July 12, but I've already pre-ordered my copy.)

Up until last year, I had a strict "no PD books during the summer" policy.  But, that is no longer the case.  During the summer I have time to read, so I read it all!  Here are a few PD books you might want to read (if you haven't already done so). 
Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading (This one is next in line on my nightstand.  I'm always looking for ways to be more effective and this book came highly recommended by friends.)
Dr. Jean's Reading Recipes (I got this book a while back and it's sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read.  I know she's more K-1, but her ideas are amazing and there are always enough of them that I can use with my second graders.)

You can check out more great summer reading recommendations HERE.


Do you have a great summer reading recommendation of your own?  Leave the title in a comment below and I'll be sure to check it out!

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ice Cream Themed Parent Volunteer Gift

Parent volunteers are such a blessing, am I right?  They come in week after week, with a smile on their face, and willingly tackle any task you send their way.  At the end of the school year, I like to give my parent volunteers a little something to let them know how grateful I am for all their help.  This year, being excited about the hot summer days ahead, I went with an ice cream themed gift.


This gift looks impressive, but was super easy (and fun) to put together.  It includes just about everything BUT the ice cream. ;)

The idea behind this gift is to give the recipient some fun things they can use to create some tasty ice cream desserts at home.  Most people usually buy ice cream, but, they don't typically buy all the fixin's, so I thought it would be kind of fun to give them a little kit that they could use to take their ice cream to the next level. 

I collected a few treats that I thought would appeal to a wide variety of individuals (and would taste good on ice cream), packaged them up, and placed them in a box.  Easy peasy!

I started by collecting the following items:

I found some cute ice cream cups at Marshall's one day and snatched them up without any hesitation. They were just too cute to leave behind.  The wooden spoons are from Michaels, and the food treats are from the local grocery store.

The great thing about this gift idea is that you can include ANY ice cream related treats that you want.  Can't find any cups?  Then, use cones.  Can't find wooden spoons? Then, get some fun colored plastic ones from the party section.  Here are a few ideas for other items that you could include in your gift box:
  • ice cream cones
  • waffle cones
  • colored plastic spoons
  • maraschino cherries
  • caramel sauce
  • chocolate syrup
  • any variety of sprinkles you can find
  • Reese's Pieces
  • Heath Bars
  • chocolate chips
  • marshmallows
  • seriously, anything you can think of that you think the recipient might like 

Back to my picks.  I really didn't want to just stuff my gift boxes with the items in their original packaging. They were just, uhhhhhh, well, not cute.  So, I decided to repackage the candies.  I placed the contents into small pop favor bags (Michaels).


After filling the little bags with the candies, I folded the top over (making sure to squeeze out all the air), and stapled them in place. Then, I added a piece of patterned scrapbook paper as a bag topper.  I just cut them to fit the width of the baggie (about 4.25 in. by 2.5 in.), folded them in half, and stapled them to the baggies.


Next, I prepared the gift box.  I used one of the photo memory boxes from the craft store and stuffed it with tissue paper. 


I placed all of the goodies in the box and added a little note reminding them to add some ice cream.


After placing the lid on the box, I tied it with some pink twine purchased from Michaels and added this fun little card.  I have yet to write my personalized message in the blank space.



The memory box is a super easy way to package everything up because you just stuff the box and then put the lid on it.  It will be so easy to transport it to school without worrying that stuff will fall out and get damaged.

You can grab the FREE card and the "Just Add Ice Cream" label shown in the photos above by clicking HERE.  

As I put together my parent volunteer gifts, it dawned  on me that it might make a fun end of year treat for my daughter's teacher as well. So, I added a card to the free download that would allow you to use it for a teacher gift as well.

I am excited to present these gifts to my volunteers at our parent volunteer breakfast this week.  I hope they love it, and I hope that you can use the idea!

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