I am pretty convinced teachers are magicians. Somehow, teachers have this amazing ability to squeeze 80+ hours of work into a 40 hour work week. Teachers are always being asked to take on more. To squeeze more into their already overly-scheduled schedules and multi-task more efficiently than it has ever been done before.
So, the first time my principal asked me to head up our school’s writing committee, I said “Yes”. Did I really have the option to turn it down? I guess so, but what would be the consequences of that decision? Since we had just jumped into a new writing curriculum without any teacher training, I knew that someone had to take on this leadership role. I was a new mom (of twins!) and only working part-time as a way to balance things while still holding down a career. So to say that I was already busy would be an understatement. But, I also knew that I was one of only two teachers in my district who had been formally trained in implementing this curriculum. My colleagues needed me and whatever guidance I could provide. After a conversation with my principal, I agreed to do it.
As we always tell our students – we learn from our mistakes. It was from the mistakes I made during this process that I learned what to do the next time I was asked to take on more. Most importantly, I learned how to make the most out of the time I chose to dedicate to those tasks that extended beyond my classroom walls.
Ask the Right Questions
When I said “yes”, I had no idea what this position entailed. I didn’t ask the right questions to elicit the right answers. Looking back, asking questions like, “How many hours of my work week will I need to set aside to focus on this position?” and “What are the specific expectations of this new role?” would have provided some clarity.
And one topic we haven’t even discussed yet: Compensation. As teachers, we are incredibly selfless. We give away our time without even thinking we could potentially get paid for it. So, why not ask! I was not compensated for the time I gave, but learned a few years later that several others in similar roles were. What had they done differently? They asked. It doesn’t hurt to try, and in the end, asking emphasizes the fact that your time is valuable.
If you are already feeling overwhelmed by your workload, can you mentally afford to add more? I was finding myself at work into the late hours of the night on several occasions. At that point in my career, given my busy home life, I should’ve been honest with myself and my administrator about my concerns before I agreed to do it.
And, let’s be honest (since we are on the topic), teachers are always busy! It is always a good idea to remind your administrators of other obligations you have. The more transparent you can be, the better off all will be in the end.
Stick to a Schedule, No More and No Less
Once you are able to identify the amount of time this new endeavor requires, set aside specific days and times that you will devote solely to this task. It sounds simple, but with a million things already on your calendar, it can prove to be quite difficult to stick to this protocol. I used to set a timer in my classroom and once that timer went off, I stopped that specific task and moved onto the next. This helped me focus solely on the task at hand while also getting me home to my family at a reasonable time.
Set Realistic Expectations
One thing that I learned right away was to set goals for myself and others that were clear and attainable. To say that I would get every teacher on board with this new curriculum and motivate them to change their old ways (I really did think I could do this!) would make even the most optimistic people hesitate a bit. I realized that in order to be both effective and efficient, I had to BE REAL. Both with myself as well as those I was working with. I will go into this further in a future blog, so for now, let’s keep it simple:
- Bend, Don’t Break
- Encourage the Work
- Reflect on the Process
- Engage with Purpose
- Advocate when necessary
As teachers, we want nothing more than to meet the needs of our students, our school, and our teaching community. We understand that this sometimes means committing to more than just the work we do in our classrooms. Since we don’t have a magic wand to make this happen, if we can ask the right questions, be honest, stick to a schedule, and set realistic expectations, we will continue to make magic happen through our teaching and leadership each and every day — and hopefully, enjoy the process along the way!