Saturday, March 16, 2019

How to reduce teacher burnout: advice from a Veteran

I have been teaching for almost 20 years so I know how stressful and draining teaching can be.  I see new teachers trying to do it all.   Coming in early, staying late, having students in their classroom at lunch and then going home and working a few more hours.  By the time winter break hits they are tired, sick, and thinking of changing careers.   If you are one of those teachers or have a colleague that feels that way, here are a few tips I have learned to help with teacher burnout.

10 Strategies to help eliminate teacher burnout

1. Stop opening your doors every day in the morning, lunch, and after school

I know you want to help your students and give them the extra support they need.  I get that.  However, you also need time for yourself.   I offer two days a week in the morning, two days a week in the afternoon, and two days a week during lunch for students to come in for extra help.  The students that really want to improve and do something about their grades and missing assignments will come in during those times.   If a student can't make those days then I will occasionally come in at a different time if they talk to me ahead of time with a reason for why they can't make the set times I have.   By having set days and times you allow time for yourself to work on lessons, recharge, grade, and get things done.

2. Do not take work home on the weekends

It is so important to not take home any work on the weekends.   Weekends are your time.   It is a time to get away, rejuvenate and forget about work.   It might be difficult at first to not take work home.  You might feel that you are behind in your grading and your planning.  Or you might feel that the students will get upset if you don't give them their assignments back within one day.   Understand that the world will not come to an end if the students have to wait two or three days for their grades.  They will survive.  Students will understand that you do have around 180 papers to grade and that grading that amount takes time.  One thing I like to do is to have my lesson for Monday ready to go on my desk and then whatever grading I didn't get to I leave in my "to grade" pile as I leave on Friday to go home. I will then come in 20 minutes earlier than normal on Monday to just breath, set my intention for the week, double check that I am all ready, and if time permits tackle some of the grading or lesson planning for the next day.

3. Do not grade everything, have students self grade/peer grade, or check for effort

Stop grading every single assignment.  If you have five or more classes than you have 150 or more students.   You do not and should not be grading every single assignment.  I don't grade assignments until the end of the unit.   I allow them to learn and try new things with the understanding that they should be able to try learning new things without being penalized for not knowing the information at the beginning. During the unit I will check off that they are doing the homework as a work habit grade and we discuss the homework in class and go over the answers, but it is not a grade.  You can also train the students to give themselves formative grades where they determine their own grade based on a rubric scale.  This helps them to be more responsible for their learning, trains them to take ownership of their work, and helps them better understand what they need to know in order to achieve the grade they want.

4. Do not reply to emails all day/night long

I allow my students to email me if they have any questions or want help on assignments.   Although my email goes directly to my phone, I do not check it all day long.  I tell my students that I will check it three times a day.   Once in the morning, once an hour after school is out and once again before 9 o'clock.  If they have a question that they need answered right away they can call another student.  If they wait until after 9 to start their assignment then they know that I don't check it again until the morning.  

5. Make it the students problem when they chose not to do an assignment

It is not your problem that a student chose not to do a homework assignment, chose to stay home on a test day, or chose not to manage their time and do their project.   This is the students problem.  They made a choice not to do an assignment.  They made a choice to not find out what they missed the day after an absent and make up the work.  You are not helping them by bending to their needs and wants.  You are not making them successful adults by catering to them.  Have a place where you put the assignments of missing students and make it their job to get the assignments.   Have them come for help on days that you are staying after school, not whenever they want to.   If a student turns in a late assignment I grade it at my convenience when I have time, not as soon as possible because they want their grade changed.   I make a deadline for when they can turn in missing work or change their grades.  If they are absent or don't meet the deadline I explain that it is a perfect learning opportunity for them but I don't change the deadline.    Holding them accountable for their actions is one of the best things you can do for your students.  This might seem harsh and I know that there are sometimes circumstances beyond a students control.  I do look at individual cases and might modify for a special case but I have found that when you have certain expectations and the students are aware of them that they usually rise to meet them.

6. Use your personal necessity (PN) days for mental break days and take time for yourself

Taking a few metal breaks a year is extremely important.   If you are feeling worn out, discouraged, or you just need a break than take it.   Your students will survive.   Give them a video to watch and take notes or a reading to do with questions to answer.  Make it a day that you would normally do direct instruction or a day you would give them basic information about the topic.  Then take the day off and do something for yourself.   Go for a hike, go to the beach, get a massage, binge watch your favorite TV show.  It doesn't matter.  Just take time for yourself, recharge, and forget about work for one day.  You will feel so much better when you do.  Taking time for yourself will help you better serve your students.

7. During long months between holidays take a 3 day weekend to get away as a mini vacation

October and March are usually the longest months of the year.  In the beginning school starts and we are all refreshed and ready to go with our amazing ideas.  By October all that enthusiasm is wearing down and Thanksgiving break seems like it will never come.  The same thing happens during March when the students start to smell summer and spring break can't come soon enough.  It is during those times when you are feeling worn out that taking a mini 3 day vacation and getting away does a body good.  Just a simple short vacation can really help get you through to the next school break.

8. Do something you love on your time to revitalize

Make sure you are doing something that you really enjoy on your weekends.  That could be painting, hiking, gardening, reading a good book, watching a movie... The possibilities are endless.  The important thing is that you are doing something for yourself.  For me that means getting a massage at least once a month, doing yoga, walking on the beach, and meditating.  In order to take care of others, you need to first take care of yourself. So do something that you love that is just for you.

9. Collaborate with others

Teaching can be a lonely profession.  Unless you have time built into your week to talk with other teachers, you are usually figuring things out on your own.  If you don't have built in collaboration then find a time and a place to talk with other teachers that are teaching the same subject or grade you are.  Share ideas, get advice, discuss what is working and what is not working.  There are some great teacher groups on Facebook where you can ask questions and advice and give advice.  I highly recommend joining facebook just for the collaboration benefits.

10. Save time by using quality lessons other teachers have already created

Why reinvent the wheel?  Your time is precious.  Even if your are only using the curriculum that is given by the textbook company it still takes a while to put it all together and many times the curriculum that is produced from the textbook company is created from people who have never been in the classroom or have been away for awhile.  You can find some great lessons online that are created by teachers.  They already put in the hard work so you don't have to.  Do a google search or use a site like Teachers Pay Teachers to find exactly what you need.

I would love to hear your thoughts and advice about what you do to limit burnout

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How to improve note taking in the classroom through video

Does this sound familiar. It's the point in the lesson when it's time to give the students the basic information about the topic.  You create this great presentation.  It has all the information the students need to know including checks for understanding. You set aside 15 minutes during the lesson for these notes and have an application activity to follow that will take around 35 minutes. The day comes to show the presentation to the students and it doesn't go as you planned.  

Some students quickly copy the information into their notes, other students are still setting up their notes and your already onto the next slide, and some students start off taking the notes and then their brains check out for a bit as they start thinking about something that happened at home.  When they check back in they realize they missed two slides of information and are trying to catch up.  Plus as they are supposed to be writing down what is on the slide while you are verbally adding information about it going into more explanation and giving examples.  Some students are busy listening to you and they forget to write down what is on the slides, while others are so busy trying to copy down what is on the slides that they don't listen to a word of what you are saying. All of this becomes apparent when you get to your embedded checks for understanding slides and realize that some students missed the key parts.  The notes take you 35 minutes to get through instead of your projected 15 and now you only have about 10 minutes for practice.  Leaving the class not prepared for that nights homework.

If you have students that are language learners or have a learning disability, trying to listen to a teacher, look at the information on the slide, and write everything down can be very challenging.  The result is that they miss information and it takes two to three times as long to give students the information. And if you have students that can process things quickly they are left sitting board while waiting for the class to catch up. This can lead to behavioral disruptions in class as they try and entertain themselves while waiting making the note taking part of the lesson take even longer as you are dealing with these students.

There has to be a better solution.  One that allows students to move at their own pace.  For me, the solution came through videos.  With videos, the students can take notes at their own pace.  They can pause the video so that they are not writing and listening at the same time. They can rewatch a segment that they don't understand or watch it again before a test.  There are video hosting sites that allow you to add comments, questions, and voice overs on the videos.  This can help direct the students in their note taking skills and give them immediate feedback on their level of understanding of the topic.  By taking notes through videos, I am able to incorporate more hands-on activities and higher level thinking activities into my lessons.  If you want to learn about my process for teaching though video, follow the steps below.

Simple Steps to Teaching Through Video

1. Turn Your Presentations Into Videos

There are various ways to convert your already made presentations into videos.   If you have a mac and use keynote you can record your slideshow and then export it to a movie.  You can also record your slideshow in powerpoint and export it to a movie also. Another way is using a screen casting program to record a video of what you are doing on your computer screen.  The one I use is screencast-o-matic.   There is also camtasia and screencastify.  Finally, if using an iPAD there are various apps that allow you to create a video.  I have used the Showme app when I need to explain how to solve problems or draw structures.

2. Host Your Video

Once you have created your video you will need a way for the students to watch it.  If you just want to have the students watch the video without asking questions along the way than you could upload it to YouTube, Google classroom, Microsoft OneDrive, or any other platform that you use that will provide a way for students to watch the video.  However, if you want to add questions or comments than I would suggest hosting it in Edpuzzle.  I love Edpuzzle for the fact that it allows me to add voice overs, comments, and various types of questions.  The students get immediate feedback on the multiple choice questions so that they can monitor their progress.  It also allows me to set it to prevent skipping and gives me analytics on how many times they watched each segment. Plus it is integrated with Edmodo and Google Classroom.

3. Taking Notes During the Video

Students need to be actively engaged with the video, not just passive learners.   Being able to take notes from a video is a skill they need to learn and practice.  I have seen some students notes that look more like one long paragraph with no breaks between thoughts and ideas.  I have seen other students notes with just one or two sentences.   Students need to be taught how to use bullets as a form of organizing information.  They need to be taught to leave space between ideas.  These notes should be used throughout the unit and for that reason they need to be formatted for easy use.   I teach my students to leave 3-4 spaces between each major idea.  I remind them of this type of formatting each time the video stops them and asks them to summarize the segment.

4. Partner Talk and Editing

Once students have taken notes from the video they are not done yet.  One of the most important steps in the note taking process is sharing and editing of the notes.   It is not enough to just take notes from the video.  They need the opportunity to discuss their information with a partner, edit their notes, and synthesize them.  This step helps students process the information and clarify it so that they can start applying it in class activities.  For example, the day after they watch the video, which they do at home, I will spend around 15 minutes in class having students talk with their partners and edit their work. First, I have the students discuss their notes from the first segment of the video.  During this time students will add to their notes, cross off information, and highlight the key details.  Then, I have them work together to come up with a big idea sentence that synthesizes the information from the segment.  They write their big idea sentence in the 3-4 line space that they left while taking notes. Next, they continue to do this for all the video segments.  Finally, together they use the big idea sentences to summarize the notes.  If there is time I have them share their summaries out loud so that other students can hear their thoughts.

5. Accountability and Assessment

Having students do steps 1-4 is enough to teach the lesson through the video.  However, I know some teachers want that extra formative assessment piece to determine where the students are at in their level of understanding. There are various ways you could do this.  You could have students write a short summary of the video and ask one question about it that they turn in as they enter the class. You could give them a short 5 question quiz that tests their basic knowledge of the video.  Finally, you could host the video on Edpuzzle and track their progress.  

I want to leave with one word of advise as I finish this post.  Try not to make your videos more than 6 minutes long.  Typically videos that are longer than that either have to much content that should be broken down into smaller lessons or have to much extra information that is not necessary.  For example, if the video is a math lesson having one to two examples is enough to teach the lesson.  More than two and the video becomes to long.  Save the extra examples to do in class the day after the video.

For more information check out my blogs on flipped lessons.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What should the focus of school be

Tests, tests, and more tests.  Do you sometimes feel like all we do is test.  Between quizzes, unit assessments, quarterly tests, semester finals, and state testing it seems like students spend one third of their school time testing.  They are told that they need to make sure that they are meeting their A-G requirements so that they can get into college.  They are told to take more AP classes. They are told that they need to get A's in order to be competitive and get into the college they want.  All this just leads to kids feeling more pressure, more anxiety, and more feelings of being failures.  I have had students that have gotten upset because they had an A- and didn't think that was good enough.  I have had students miss school because the anxiety of being the top in the class was to overwhelming.  I have known students who have given up after getting a C on a major test because they would loose their 4.0 GPA and felt they would not get into the school of their choice after that.

As teachers we are told that our students need to be at a certain level by the time they leave our class.  It doesn't matter what level they start, they all need to be mastering all of our subjects standards by the time they leave.  Some states put so much emphasis on this that amazing teachers that can raise students by three grade levels are told that they are poor and ineffective teachers because raising the students three grade levels is not enough when those students need to jump four or five grade levels just to be at standard.

Is this what the focus of school should be?   Should it really only be about teaching the standards, preparing the students for the high stake tests, and focusing solely on the academics.  In my opinion No.  In fact its a loud NO!

School should be a place where students can develop their creativity.  It should be a place where students are allowed to take risks and fail and learn from those failures.  It is a place where they learn how to socialize both in person and online.  It is a place where they build their problem solving skills.  It should be less about testing and more about growing.  So many times the focus is on sending students to college.  Not every student needs to or wants to go to college.   Students should not feel that they have to go to college in order to be successful.  

So what can we do to change this test focused, college is the only path, culture we are creating?  Here are some steps we can take.

#1. Give less tests.  Look at how many tests you are giving your students and try to eliminate 25% of them.   That doesn't mean you aren't assessing them.  You can still assess them and give your students feedback.  I'm talking about the weekly tests that some teachers give.  The small quizzes in a unit before the unit test.  If you feel you still need them so that the students know how they are doing then consider not assigning a grade for them.  Just have them take it as a formative to lead your instruction.

#2. Allow students to fix mistakes.  Let students know that mistakes are a part of learning.  Allow them to improve their projects, to make test corrections, and then retake tests.  I would even take it another step forward by allowing their grade to change completely, not just giving them partial credit for retakes.  Consider the amount of learning that must take place in order for a student to change a D project into an A project.  Or to change their grade from a 45% on a test to an 85%.  That amount of self-motivation, self-determination, and self-guided learning should be rewarded.  

#3. Offer student choice.   Let them choose their own way to demonstrate that they know the topic.  They will put more effort into a project that they want to do and are interested in than something that a teacher assigns.   Consider the possibilities if you let them write their own children's book about the topic, create a video about the topic, make a podcast, draw an infographic, or create and sing a song.  The students will be creating what they like and in the process will be learning more about the topic.

What are some of your suggestions?  Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.