Ideas for making teaching in 2020 (a little) more sustainable

I happened to come across a blog post Matt Miller shared way back in 2014 today that totally applies to our current situation as educators in 2020. Basically, Matt says you can’t do it all. You have to pick priorities and set boundaries so you can still enjoy your family, live your faith, and take care of yourself. This is harder than EVER in our current situation in 2020 in hybrid classrooms – where teachers are teaching BOTH face-to-face students and online learners simultaneously. I’ve heard a lot of educators saying that what we are currently doing is not sustainable. They are right! We can’t continue to tip the scales of our lives toward work day after day and not even that out by tipping the other way toward family, faith, and self-care.

I DO NOT claim to have all the answers. Even today, I find myself checking and returning work emails and making preparations for our new live youtube announcements and zoom meetings and other new parts of the job that take more time – all on a Sunday afternoon – even as I’m advising you to set boundaries for yourself. I think that is why this is so hard – because most of us are not brand new educators – we already set priorities and boundaries early on in our career – but after we were good at our job. Now – it’s a new job – a harder job – a job that takes more time – and we’re having to pick and choose differently than before.

Here are my humble suggestions for making strides toward tipping the scales and finding a little more balance:

Divide the work

Work with your teammates to work smarter and not harder. Figure out what different teammates like to do and what their strengths are and use those to the advantage of the entire team. Someone naturally good at turning a paper/pencil activity digital? Let that be their job on the team. Or – divide by days and make each teammate responsible for the resources for one day. Then SHARE – share EVERYTHING so that no one is doing double work.

Schedule your time

Planning Time or Conference Periods for teachers never feels long enough. As an administrator, sometimes from the moment I walk in the door to the moment I leave I find myself working to help solve problems and put out fires and I never get to my to-do list. For me, literally planning out how I will use my time is helpful for getting more done. I have to tell myself NOT to check my email until certain times of the day – because that can eat a whole hour of my time in a heartbeat, and instead, I must purposefully plan out when to write my newsletter, plan my A-team agenda, complete our Campus Improvement Plan… etc.. I literally set appointments for myself to work on a specific task during this certain hour. Now… does it always happen as planned… no. We all know that sometimes things come up and we have to deal them right away – but most of the time, this is when I am most efficient.

So, instead of just a long to-do list, try scheduling your time such as:

  • During Monday’s planning – work on Schoology online resources for next week
  • For 1 hour after school on Thursday – work on parent newsletter
  • For 30 minutes before school – work ahead on a few days of morning message slides
  • For 10 minutes toward the end of planning – catch up on as many emails as possible

Creating specific goals and times to achieve them helps me be more efficient, stay on track, and get more accomplished with my time.

Set boundaries

My most important recommendation for all of us – you and me — is to set boundaries and stick with them. Set go-home times and family times and time for yourself and then hold yourself accountable (most days) to honoring them. There may be more time devoted to work than in the past – I know that is true for me (and I acknowledge my workload as a principal is not as intense as many teachers I see out there) but although I am working longer hours and working more at home than I used to, I am also working to ensure that I spend time with my family and exercise (sometimes) and get the sleep I need. Easier said than done, but I am praying we all get better and we can hold each other accountable. 

Set realistic expectations for yourself

  • You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.
  • Give your best and be proud of your effort.
  • Work to be a little better everyday.
  • Give YOURSELF grace.

Know and believe that NO ONE is expecting perfection in your classroom. Give your best for kids with the time you have. Typically, the best educators think through all the details and plan for every second – and then, just in case things go wrong, they have back-up plans for how they’ll re-teach on the spot. When you are trying to do this for two DIFFERENT forms of instruction – face-to-face and virtual – this will take TWICE as LONG to plan and TWICE as LONG to deliver. YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL. Set some top priorities for lessons. Make sure those things are done. Then stop. And go home. Give your students your best while you are at school while still going home and taking time for yourself and your family each day. We all know the age-old saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” and I whole-heartedly believe it is true. Do not try to achieve perfection everyday. Just try to be better today in some way than you were yesterday. Be proud of the effort you put in and the work you did for the students and families you serve.

An amazing Rennell teacher that I work with, Kelsey French, told me on Friday that she read that it takes 4 weeks to get used to a change in your life. She went on to explain that this doesn’t mean it will be easier or we will like it, but maybe after week 4, we will be more used to this way of doing things. I am hopeful if our brains are used to it, that means we’ll be able to start to improve and think of ways to be more efficient at the new ways we are doing our jobs as educators.

In the meantime, remember to:

  • Divide the work.
  • Schedule your time.
  • Set boundaries.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself.
  • You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.
  • Give your best and be proud of your effort.
  • Work to be a little better everyday.
  • Give YOURSELF grace.

One thought on “Ideas for making teaching in 2020 (a little) more sustainable

  1. Bartram, Jill L. says:

    I needed to hear this so much! I am working 60 hours weeks trying to balance this new educational world. It’s so awful for everyone. Thanks for the great advice.

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    Liked by 1 person

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