Finding HAPPY: Efficiency, Productivity, and Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Dusting off the old blog. How is it possible that I haven't blogged since October?! I've missed you!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how to help with a common phrase I hear in education: "One more thing." As in, "this new (initiative/idea/curriculum/app) is just one more thing I have to worry about in my classroom."

And I get it! With the rate of new initiatives/ideas/curriculums/apps coming across my desk, it's a dizzying pace of new and change. But I also like a lot of these new ideas. I often present to teachers about these ideas! So, in my role of instructional coach, how can I help teachers embrace them too without feeling overwhelmed or burning out.

First, I think we need to look at the ideas of happiness and success. In this Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, he looks into the idea that being happy makes us more productive. Often, we might think that success will lead to happiness, but this is backwards. And, in fact, thinking you need success for happiness means that happiness is almost not attainable because once you have 1 success, you are on to trying for the next! Watch his talk to hear him explain it:

So back to education. How can we be more efficient, more productive, and (hopefully) more happy?

I have a few strategies to share and have organized them into the acronym, HAPPY.

H: Have Goals and Set Boundaries
We all know we should have goals. However, sometimes they are too vague. "Be the best teacher" or "Make Kids Lifelong Learners" sound great, but they are a little too broad. To help you be more efficient and productive, you need to think about what professional goals you have for you or your students. It could be "becoming a reading coach someday," "getting my Master's degree," "starting a blog," or "reading more professional books." Whatever it is, determining a few goals can help you narrow in on the professional activities you should be doing (and make it a little easier to say no to the things that aren't aligned with your goals."

Once you have 3-5 goals, you should also think about your boundaries. We all want to be available to kids, parents, admin, and other teachers all the time, but that just isn't feasible. We all need boundaries to make sure we aren't running ourselves ragged. For example, when I was in the classroom, I found that letting students come to my room during lunch wasn't very productive for them and made me stressed that I didn't have that 30 minutes to eat myself and get ready for the afternoon. Setting up a boundary that I didn't have kids in my room during lunch felt weird at first. Was I a selfish teacher? Didn't I care and want to give kids every opportunity to get help from me?

In the end, having this boundary was important for my own stress level and I did give kids help before and after school. Was it a perfect solution? No, there never will be a perfect solution. And maybe that's the point. We can't aim for perfection because we will never achieve that. So instead, we need to make thoughtful and intentional decisions that take into account our own well-being as well as what will maximize benefit to others as well.

What are some other boundaries to think about?
-time you get to school
-time you leave school
-how much time you will spend socializing with other teachers (you should do some!)
-when will you give extra help to students
-when will you (and how quickly) will you respond to parent emails/calls
-how many committees you want to be a part of

A: Avoid Inefficient Grading
If you are drowning in grading, it can feel like a never ending battle, like you are trapped on a hamster wheel and can't get off. First, STOP GRADING ALL THE THINGS! You do not need to grade/correct every piece of work that students do! Second, give less "work" and ask students to produce and create more high quality. Value quality of tasks over quantity of work. Third, Focus on feedback! Sometimes you might spot check work and give feedback on 1 thing.

Here are a few more ideas to help you grade less:
-Check out single-point rubrics or just use rubrics in general to give students their next steps.
-Try peer review of work or even brief conferencing with students instead of grading.
-Or try the color coded method of grading, like I explain here. I truly became a marker ninja sweeping color coded swipes across student work.
-Observe students working and quickly assess their understanding (by observation instead of grading) and record on a chart of the class. Use this to monitor progress instead of entering grades.

P: Productive Routines
Make use of the time you have in class to be productive. Establish sustainable routines to address some of your biggest time-sucks. For example, if you spend time cleaning up the floor and organizing materials when your students leave, put a routine in place where your students do that organizing/cleaning before they leave. Sure, it might take a little time up front to get everyone doing what they need to do, but it is worth it in the end!

Here are a few more ideas of productive routines:
-Have students working in ClassKick so you can be giving feedback while they are working instead of grading later
-While students are working on an online practice or platform, use that time to confer with students about their progress and review the data
-Give feedback to students using codes. Seeing a common mistake often? Write the feedback on the board with a symbol next to you. Write that symbol on student work that needs that feedback. (or even faster, use a rubber stamp. For example, a stamp of a flower means you need to show your thinking on that problem)
-Look for trends. While students are working, look for trends in work and use that to help pull groups that need similar help or feedback.
-"My favorite no" is a great strategy to address a common or interesting mistake but make it a learning opportunity for all students.

P: Purge What You Can
How can you add new ideas and keep all the other stuff going as well? You can't! Yep, time to let some stuff go. Really evaluate all the things you are doing in your classroom. Stop thinking of new things as "in addition to..." instead think of them "instead of..." What can you let go that will free up some room for the new?

Would you love to try some new math ideas (Which One Doesn't BelongEstimation 180Splat!) but don't have time during your block? What can you let go? No more timed tests (yay!) or swap out one of your old stations? Maybe your warm-up would be a good spot to infuse a new idea. Yeah, maybe that old stuff was working... or was it?

Y: Yes and No (The Balancing Act)
Once you have your goals, boundaries, new grading practices, productive routines, and have purged what you can, it's now time to cut yourself a little slack. No one is perfect and really we are just aiming for a balanced, happy life. You are going to have to say "yes" to some things you don't want to (ugh, my admin wants me to do this committee I don't want to!) and you are going to have to say "no" to somethings you wish you didn't (aw, that project sounds fun!).

Don't beat yourself up. If you have a boundary and need to make an exception once in a while, that's okay. But it's also okay to advocate for yourself. Communicate your goals to your principal so they can help you find opportunities that align and they will also be more understanding when you have to say no to something.

Also, say "yes" to the people that are positive, helpful people (your marigolds) in your life. Find your tribe and that can help you find balance as well.

Say "yes" to more of the things that make you happy and you have been neglecting. Say "no" to more than you did before. Be productive, be balanced, and be happy! :)


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