Sunday, September 6, 2015

Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder This School Year

Main Graphic LaborlessHello everyone!


It is FINALLY here!
Today I am linking with Laura from Where the Magic Happens, Krista from Teaching Momster, and Lisa from PAWsitively Teaching! I have joined forces once again with my bloggy friends to bring you the best, most amazing giveaway on this Labor Day weekend!
All of us have been thinking about  good ways in which to treat our readers and followers for Labor Day. We thought hard, and I mean it! Really, really hard… and decided that we can treat you to our best ideas to work smarter rather than harder… at school and home!

I know what it takes to be a great teacher, the stress, the time, the energy… I could go on and on! I also know that we crave time to ourselves and our families and our families crave time with us. So this blog hop will be all about giving you ways to work smarter instead of harder – both at school and at home.

So here we go!

One of the smartest things I ever did in my classroom was to STOP grading every single paper. Plan ahead for which assignments will be graded, and focus on those. Everything else can be quickly checked over, graded by students or filed away as a “learning activity”. For me, the big projects, big tests and big essays get my undivided attention. I grade them, leave written feedback and conference with my kids about how they did. However, math textbook pages, vocabulary packets, reading response journals, and other daily tasks fall into one of two categories:


Category #1 – There is an answer key at the answer key station. Take a red pen and check yourself. (No pencils allowed at the answer key station.) If you don’t understand why you got a certain problem wrong, come see me and we’ll conference.Grade Fewer Papers by having an answer key station


Category #2 – Let’s look at this quick check rubric together. Did you meet all of the requirements we talked about? What can you do better next week? This takes about 2 minutes for your average student, can be done during independent work time, gives the kids real time feedback and means that you have less papers to grade later. (For a blog post on how I do independent work time that gives me time to conference with individual students check out this blog post – Why I Don’t Do Center Rotations.)Grade Fewer Papers by using quick rubric checks

Now just because I don’t grade every single paper doesn’t mean I don’t regularly look at my student’s work and make mental notes, or add to my Evernote files on each child. (See this blog post on How to Use Evernote for Your Gradebook.) I know where my kids are without having a huge list of scores for each and every paper. In fact the notes I make help me understand where I can help my students a lot better than a bunch of number scores. And when I go home, I take much less paperwork, which leads me to our next topic -

At one time, I was that teacher who brought home a stack of papers every night. I began calling this stack my “guilt stack” because no matter what I did I felt guilty. If I went home and sat down to grade that stack of papers, I felt guilty for not spending more time with my kids. If I went home and never touched the stack of papers I felt guilty for not finishing my work. About the same time I stopped grading every piece of paper I decided not to take home any papers if I could help it. Now report card time sometimes found me bringing home a stack or two, but 90% of the time I left that stack of papers on my desk to be worked on during planning. This actually made me more aware of how I was spending my planning time, and helped lead to my decision to NOT GRADE EVERY PAPER.

Tips to achieving teacher life and home life balance

Now at home without a guilt stack I found myself able to spend quality time with my kids, to make healthier dinners and to exercise. We even started to do fun stuff in the evenings like going for walks and bike rides. Time with your family should not be an afterthought. Teaching is one of those jobs that can encompass every element of your life, unless you make a dedicated decision to have balance. Having balance is hard, but balance is something that we teach our students (and our personal children) by modeling it. And having balance is what keeps us sane so we can continue to be good teachers and good people for a long time. So leave your guilt stack at home at least 75% of the time and spend some time with family and friends.

Reading Journal In section one I talked about using quick check rubrics to give your students feedback. Many of my resources have those quick check rubrics built into them. One of the best examples is my favorite is the Weekly Reading Response Journal. This journal gives students a new reading response prompt each week that can be used with pretty much an fiction book at almost any level. At the bottom of the prompt is your quick check rubric that can be used to help students stay on track. I always print and bind the journals at the beginning of the year and have a ready made reading comprehension independent work station for the entire year. Saves time and sanity in so many ways!








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Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources