#eltchat summary: Time Management for Teachers

28 Mar

A long time ago, I suggested “Time Management for Teachers” as the #ELTchat topic – this was largely because I occasionally find it difficult to balance the varying demands of the job and I was keen to find out from everyone else how they felt about their jobs and basically – how everyone copes with it all.

Predicatably, having volunteered to write up the summary, things then got a bit hectic at work and it’s only now, about a month later, that I’ve been able to find the time to get down to it.

Day, n. A period of twenty-four hours, mostly misspent.
Ambrose Bierce

So here it is – thanks to all those who took part, there were some great contributions made.   I’ve not directly attributed the ideas mentioned to the contributors as there were just so many of them…   Possibly because the concept of time management is essentially a personal issue – which is to say we all have different skills, different responsibilities and different issues with time management – there were a large number of threads that ran through the chat.  I’ve tried to weave them together into a coherent whole, but apologies if I’ve missed anything!

TIME MANAGEMENT FOR TEACHERS

Social Media:

The irony of a group of educators getting together to chat for an hour on twitter about how little time they all had, was mentioned early and the amount of time that people spent using social media was definitely an issue for many.  Managing social media use effectively can be difficult – the simplest solutions are usually the best and simply “turning off” twitter or facebook might be one approach, arranging “social media free time”, taking a technology free weekend  – or limiting participation to more quality based interactions, taking advantage of the opportunities that social media afford us, rather than becoming a slave to it.  So, using Twitter more to take part in events like #ELTchat, rather than attempting to spend every waking hour on it.

Ultimately, the key to managing social media use seems to be self-control…

What takes up all our time?

The problem of faffing about, seeking lesson planning inspiration, trying to decide on lesson content, selecting and preparing materials, creating documents and handouts seemed to be one of the biggest “problem” areas.  This isn’t helped by the wealth of information and resources that are out there – both on the resource shelves in the teachers’ room or in the list of bookmarks in your web browser – and quite possibly a predilection amongst teachers to always want to try and re-invent the wheel, or to build the better mousetrap.

Another area of concern was with the administration that seems now to have become part and parcel of the teaching trade:  registers, lesson summaries, feedback, assessments, form filling, reports on students, reports on teachers (a DoS issue?), marking and providing written/writing  feedback were all mentioned here.

It occurs to me as I write this now that the biggest time consuming area of a teacher’s job seems, on the above evidence, to be the teacher’s job…  I’m not sure what we can do about that!

There are however, things that we can do to help streamline the tasks we encounter in our working lives:

Prioritization:

Most people felt that, by and large, the important stuff got done and that the problem was therefore in deciding what was important and what was not.  What was qualified as important included the planning and preparation, marking and assessment and teacher development.  What was given as not important was “the other stuff”.  Importance probably therefore depends on your role and your context, but people suggested a number of prioritization techniques that might be useful:

  • Dividing tasks into (1) Immediate  (2)  Next Week  (3)  Life goals
  • Categorising things into “Necessary”, “Should” and “Might be nice” and then deleting everything in the third column.
  • Using a piece of A4 paper quartered into: Urgent Action,  Ongoing Projects,  As & When, Talk to /delegate
  • Daily Planning – start the day by setting out what you hope to achieve in it.
  • Sticky notes and reminders
  • Diaries
  • Google Docs / Charts / Calendars
  • Smart Phone Calendars & reminders
  • The urgency / importance matrix (see below) – categorise your tasks according to their urgency and their importance.  Anything in the top left box should be done immediately, anything in the bottom right can safely be ignored or left for the time being!

Preparation:

In terms of attempting to cut down on the amount of time that we spend in the lesson planning and preparation stages, as well as the marking and feedback processes – there were again a number of suggestions and techniques people shared:

Less is More – don’t try to over control things.  Try planning with a pen and a bit of paper, away from the technology and you might find things go a lot quicker.

The 50% rule – don’t spend more time planning the class than you do teaching it.  If your class lasts for 60 minutes then you should only be spending 30 minutes in the planning and preparation.  This rule was also interpreted as “only plan half the class” and let the rest of the lesson emerge naturally.

Course Planning – by sketching out a rough plan of what you hope to be doing with the class over the duration of a course, you remove a lot of the “what am I going to do with them today” element – it’s already there in the course plan.  This can be quite useful if you’re working with a course book with more lesson content than you have lessons!

Keeping hold of your old lesson plans – no class is ever the same, but lesson content frequently is – if you’ve put the time an effort into a really great lesson that’s worked well – keep it!  Then when the language point comes up with another class, you’ve got something ready to go.

Feedback:

Providing feedback to learners on their performance can be very time consuming, particularly when it comes to feeding back on their writing.  Top Tips for making this easier on everyone include:

Involve the learners in the process – as much as possible.  Ask them to provide the corrections on homework tasks and to assess each other’s writing.

Try and avoid distraction – find a quiet room and get down to it.

Colour Coding – differentiate between error types and colour code them.  This puts the onus on the learners to actually do the correction, you’re just guiding their thinking.  This works particularly well with e-documents, for example if your learners email you a word document to correct.

Jing – a video recording screen capture device, this allows you to record you making your corrections to your learners’ work.  Works well with the colour coding idea.

Wikis – the open editing nature of the wiki allows learners to post their content / answers on the wiki and for the whole class to be involved with the correction, as well as the teacher.

Edmodo – a free online networking tool that allows you to create groups with your learners and has an assignment annotating tool / feedback channel as well.

Pre-Planned feedback forms:  by creating a form, for example with the assessment criteria for a writing task, you can jot down quick effective notes on learner performance in specific areas.  Just print them out, fill them in (or the other way round) and hand them back with the assignments.

Tech Tools:

(NB:  These are tools that people suggested during the #eltchat – the descriptions come from the relevant websites.  If anyone has direct experience of using these tools either successfully or unsuccessfully, it would be great if you could share them in the comments section!)

Summify:   Content aggregator that helps you collate all the information coming at you from social media sources, meaning you get to spend more time on the things that matter.

Evernote:  Note-taking and clipping tool that helps you keep track of all the stuff you find interesting on the web and in the real world – also lets you synchronise across devices.

Jing:  video recording screen capture tool – takes screen shotes and records up to five minutes of video.

Edmodo:  educational network provider / online learning platform provider.

Dropbox: online file storage for free, also allows you to share your documents etc with friends.

Doodle: a meetings scheduling tool – useful if you’re trying to set up meetings with participants with differing schedules.

Remember the Milk: task management software / app that has options or versions for a variety of different platforms and has a reminder feature and a share feature.

Toodledo: another task management software / app with versions for different platforms and what looks like a handy “scheduler” task that tells you what to do when you have a free moment.

Twiddla: a sign up based synchronous collaboration tool – multiple users working on one canvas.  Described as “team whiteboarding”.

A more holistic perspective:

Procrastination is indeed the thief of time and most of us would probably get more done if only we’d “just do it”.  Perfection is an impossible target that while we might constantly aim for, we should know our limits and accept that not everything will always be achieved to best effect.

Take some thinking time – or some “fresh air breaks” to go outside and not be in the office, change your location and change your perspective, step back from things for a moment before you once again step forward.

Build time into your day for the unexpected – it’s what we don’t expect that knocks us off track and stresses us out.  Add the Unallocated Necessary Hour to your day, and use that time for whatever emergency crops up that day.

Links & Further Reading:

Cybrary Man’s Lesson Planning Pages: http://cybraryman.com/lessonplans.html

Cybrary Man’s Organisation Pages: http://cybraryman.com/organizingpages.html

Russell Stannard training video on using Jing: http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/jingInReality/index.html

There were a couple of other links, which unfortunately, now seem to be broken.  Apologies.

#eltchat:

#eltchat takes place on twitter every Wednesday at 12 noon and 9.00pm London time.

Simply sign in or sign up to twitter and search for the hashtag #eltchat.

For more information, check out the website.

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2 Responses to “#eltchat summary: Time Management for Teachers”

  1. kierandonaghy Thursday 29 March 2012 at 09:59 #

    A really good summary, David. There’s lots of great advice here which would make our lives a lot easier. Rationing time dedicated to social media is a nice idea, and avoiding procrastination is essential. Here’s a video called Procrastination in which the narrator breaks all the rules of good time management:

    http://film-english.com/2011/12/02/procrastination-and-happiness/

    Thanks again, David.

    All the best,

    Kieran

    • David Petrie Thursday 29 March 2012 at 10:29 #

      Hey Kieran,
      Thanks for stopping by! – That is an excellent video. I’m fairly sure I do most of the things that the guy talks about (except the thing with the pencil…) I suspect that’s one of my lessons for after the Easter break sorted out!
      All the best,
      David

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