Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Giving time to save time

After sharing my thoughts on how changing our assessment practices and eliminating time spent at the copier can provide us more time in our daily lives, let’s explore the biggest time killer in teaching today: how we communicate.

According to many teachers, the sheer amount of email we receive on a daily basis can be overwhelming and almost impossible to sift through. So how can we ease that pain? Here are a few tips: first, we can learn to create and use distribution lists ensuring that emails intended for the right people are only seen by those whom need to see them. By doing this, we also make sure that we get less email ourselves. We can also find ways to make our email more organized and efficient by organizing folders and creating rules.

Secondly, we need to consider the content of our email. Many emails I receive are of the sharing variety. I love these emails. But there are more efficient ways of sharing cool sites or great articles. Using social bookmarking tools such as diigo or delicious not only allow us to curate the web, they also allow us to build upon each others findings. Imagine finding a great article about the best instructional practices in a specific content area. In the past we have emailed it to each other and perhaps written a few responses back and forth. But using diigo and delicious, I can comment directly on the article, highlight what I think is important and share it with anyone (or entire groups of people) for their responses too. The articles or website becomes a living and breathing document in which we are learning alongside one another. Another bonus is that all of these articles and websites are searchable by keyword. No more wasting time going back into my email spending 15 minutes searching for that great link you sent me.

Another huge time waster is how we spend our time when we are face to face. In this post from the beginning of the year, Kristen Swanson shares “must haves” for faculty meetings. These “must haves” should apply to any PLC’s or teacher led meetings we have as well. Does your PLC or team meeting have:

  •  an agreed upon agenda created in the days/weeks prior to the meeting time 
  •  a defined start and end time 
  • agreed upon roles for each member of the group 
  • an agreed upon vision that focuses conversation 

But even beyond these structures, how well do we adhere to them? Does each member of the group commit to adding their ideas or questions prior to meeting time (using a shared Google Doc makes this MUCH easier). Does every member of the group come on time? Do members of the group leave early? How often do we get off topic instead of being focused on the tasks at hand? How often does the conversation devolve into complaints about a myriad of topics that do not lead to solutions to our problems? Teachers are often frustrated with the lack of time they are afforded to truly collaborate. Yet how much of our time is often wasted by any number of the factors above? How much of this do we, ourselves, own? My challenge to each and every one of us is to count the minutes we spend complaining instead of doing this week. Imagine how much more effective we could be if we spent that wasted time on any number of things: reflecting, working with struggling students, performing random acts of kindness for our colleagues, calling a parent to let them know how proud we are of their child, building and learning from our PLN.

Finally, the biggest time waster comes from our lack of willingness to truly collaborate and share. We live in an age where technologies afford us the ability to access and share unlimited content, collaborate in real time not only across the building or district but around the world, and we can expose ourselves to a diversity of opinions and perspectives. Yet we often revert back into a “closed-door and leave me alone to teach” mindset. This mindset prevents us from growing professionally and ultimately hurts our students.

A wise colleague once asked the question (in reference to professional development) “What can we do in a faculty meeting we wouldn’t normally be able to do? What can we do on a non-instructional day we wouldn’t normally be able to do?” We must ask this same question of the face to face collaboration time we are either afforded or create for ourselves. If it can be done a different way, an easier and less time consuming way, it should be. Ultimately though, we cannot complain about how little time we have and yet turn our backs on collaboration with peers. Anything we do together should not only save us time, but be better for our students. How can working together to design meaningful and authentic learning experiences be bad for us or for our students? How can sharing assessment results (ie. data) and developing a diverse and effective instructional tool belt to meet the needs of all of learners not be worth our time?

I realize that the structures of our school day here in America may not afford us the kind of time to collaborate we wish we had. Is this what really gets in the way? Our professional growth (which leads to student learning) is not something we should be waiting for others to provide for us. It’s not a once a month faculty meeting kind of thing. It’s not a four times a year non-instructional day kind of thing. It’s not even a once a week department or team meeting kind of thing. It’s a mindset. It’s a fundamental core belief that we are the architects of our own learning journey. And that in sharing that journey with others, we make the time to be effective and inspiring educators for all of our students. We collaborate because by learning alongside one another, we create opportunities for kids that we could never dream of on our own.

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