Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Balance, Part 5

Today is the last day of our book study on  Mike Anderson's The Well-Balanced Teacher. (Sniff. . .)  The last two chapters focus on Fun: The Importance of Positive Engagement and Balance: The Importance of Planning our Time and Energy.
Anderson is not talking about fun as in people commenting when they find out you're a teacher, "Oh how fun! Kids are so cute." Huh? Fun would not be the first word I'd choose when thinking about teaching! Deeply satisfying: yes, joyful: yes. But "fun" as in playing with kids all day. . . NO! Since I've focused on fun & joy in other posts (you can read about them here), I've decided to delve into that all-elusive BALANCE!
Handling the Time Crunch
Stop trying to do it all! There. I used to stay up well past midnight trying to grade papers, lesson plan, update my class website, answer parent emails, etc. because I didn't start any of that until I put my kids to bed. Now I just stop when I'm tired or it's time for bed, regardless if I'm done with "my list" or not.  (I'm trying REALLY hard to get 7 hours of sleep a night since I've read so many studies on the effects of lack of sleep! Not always successful since my hubby & I are both night owls, but I get to bed before 11 at least a few nights per week now!)

Carve out Time for Nonnegotiables
What are the most important things in your personal life? What are your priorities at school? Make a list of the true nonnegotiables. Prioritize!

Figure Out What to Eliminate

Anderson reminds, "As you look at your schedule and lists of responsibilities, remember to consider which ones are helping you meet your needs for belonging, significance, positive engagement, and competence." Then focus on these activities!

Learn to Say No
If you're an efficient staff member, it is pretty likely that people ask you to take on more and more responsibilities.  Don't worry that you will hurt someone's feelings or disappoint someone by saying no. Realistically evaluate your schedule; do you have time to take on something else? Remember that we need to take care of ourselves first in order to take care of others!

Work More Efficiently
We need to spend our time as well as possible. (FINALLY!! This is what I was waiting to read about!!) Here are some tips to consider:
  • Capitalize on YOUR optimal time of day
When are you most productive? My friend, Nancy is a MORNING person. She is up ridiculously early but gets more done before most people have had their first cup of coffee. By early evening, however, she is shutting down. I, on the other hand, am totally nocturnal and start coming to life after 8:00 PM!! So while my intentions are good to finish up work in the morning, I slam my snooze button off multiple times. (I even set my alarm clock across the room so I have to get out of bed, but then I just leap back under the covers & can return to sleep!) Determine your best time of day and focus on work then.
  • Balance assignments
I love writing assignments and problem solving because I get to read and see how well my students can explain their thinking. However, this takes a lot of time to grade because I like to give in-depth written feedback. I remember scoffing at teachers who only gave scantron "bubble in" tests because they must not be teaching to a higher level. One day my teenager, while watching me being buried alive under piles of papers, said, "Mom, why do you assign so much writing? You just have to correct it. Give a multiple choice test like everyone else." I was indignant, but. . .she had a point. From the mouths of babes! I now don't feel guilty if I occasionally give a multiple choice test, rather than short answer or essays.  I also value my ongoing observations and anecdotal notes as valid forms of assessment.

My colleague, Olivia, whom I admire & respect so much, and I have discussed (a lot) this time factor vs. quality assignments! She teaches middle school students, so she is often drowning with literally hundreds of papers to read. She had the brilliant idea of having a numbered list of the most common, yet specific revision comments. Rather than write all over their papers, she can (relatively) quickly scan their writing, then staples the list to their paper and circles the number that applies. Students then go back and have to revise to the specific circled comment(s). They have to be self-aware and find the areas that need refining. Love this idea! Another time-saver is deciding what comments you use the most on a particular assignment, then printing labels with the comments. As I read, I quickly decide which comment applies and stick the label on!
  • Minimize interruptions
This is where I'm the most guilty! If you know you get distracted easily, be aware! For me, when I'm working on my computer, I'll have a random thought or question and decide to look it up. Or I wonder how a friend is doing by checking Facebook, then end up browsing there for hours! Or I think of something I need, a new book to read, or basically anything, then I end up shopping on Amazon! I try to close all other tabs in my window so I don't start web surfing. I can't check email while I'm supposed to be focused working because I become like that mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie! While at school, you may need to close your classroom door. I'm more than happy to stop what I'm doing to chat with a colleague, then I have to check my teacher mailbox in the office, then I have to use the restroom. . . and on & on! Determine your interruptions and anticipate how you will remain focused.
Stick to a Strict Schedule
Once you have identified your priorities, then make a schedule and try to stick to it. Is having a daily Quiet Time important? Going to the gym? Reading? Gardening? Walking? If we know ahead what to expect each day, then we are more apt to keep our routine.

A note to perfectionists: RELAX a little! It's okay if you don't get everything done. It's okay if you don't please everyone. It's okay if your classroom does not look like it came out of Pinterest. It's okay if your house is not perfectly picked up and tidy. (I justify the house part to myself and out loud to my  husband. . . but I've spent quality time talking to and reading with our daughter!)

If you missed the beginning of our Book Study, you can catch up here:
Have I found that balance yet? Not so sure, but I have a lot to think about on what & how to incorporate on working smarter and staying sane! Thanks for joining me! Here's to working smarter and staying sane inside the classroom and out! Good luck!

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