A reading corner

With just a few days to go before the school year starts, I’ve been in at work preparing my room for my new Year Two class.

This year I wanted to create an inviting area for my students where they can relax and enjoy reading for pleasure.

My classroom is a little tricky to organise. The back wall which I share with the classroom next door  opens up to form a double room. This is great for team teaching, but you can’t put any furniture along it.  I only have one wall which I can use for storage units, and the space left for a reading corner is rather small.

When I started working on it, it was fairly uninspiring, so I added a small rug and a hyacinth chest; both of which I picked up very cheaply at K-Mart. I put the books into clear baskets from the $2 shop, allowing them to be stored with their covers on display. This created a more enticing display. I added some bright cushions, also cheap at K-Mart, and some soft toys from my childhood which  I couldn’t bear to throw out. Finally, I attached a wall decoration purchased about ten years ago.

I think it will make a nice little reading space for my class.

The cushions and toys finish off the space nicely.

Managing Teacher Workload 1: A Workload Audit

As I suffocated under the avalanche of work that came my way as a new assistant principal, something had to change. To avoid burning out I needed to manage my workload in  a healthy way, without compromising its quality.

I’ll be sharing the strategies that helped me in this series about managing workload.

The first post of the series is about one of the tools I find most valuable: a workload audit. I found out about it in the book Managing Teacher Workload: Work-Life Balance and Wellbeing by Sara Bubb and Peter Earley. Their  audit was a fairly rigorous process, but I took a more relaxed approach.

1. Keep a diary

Keep a diary of what you spend your time on at work for a couple of weeks. (Yes, I know that this is yet another thing to remember to do). Write down very briefly what you were doing and the duration of the activity. Include interruptions, meetings, both informal and formal, breaks etc.

The very process of keeping a diary may immediately help you identify some areas you can change.

2. Categorise your activities

Try to categorise the activities in your diary. Here are some that I used:

  • lesson preparation
  • lesson delivery
  • parent meetings
  • planning meetings
  • information meetings
  • professional learning
  • responding to email
  • sorting paperwork
  • marking
  • mentoring staff
  • preparing newsletters
  • organising resources
  • school management

Record the amount of time you spent on each category over the two-week period.

3. Cost-Benefit Analysis

Ask yourself the value of the time spent on each category in terms of student learning outcomes.

In my case, I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing activities for the IWB.  I’d been known to spend hours preparing resources that would only be used very briefly on just a single occasion. I learned to cut down on this sort of preparation time and reserve that effort for resources that would be used again and again.

4. Identify and plan to reduce the time-wasters

This is where it gets tricky. Some of those time-wasters feel as if they are beyond your own control. Start with the areas you can control, and make a time to discuss some of the other areas with your supervisor. Working collaboratively, you may find a creative solution to some of those areas that seem too hard to change.

Once you’ve completed your audit, you are well on the way to managing your workload. I’ll be sharing the time-wasters I found and more importantly, how I reduced or eliminated their impact, in the next posts of this series.

Have you struggled to manage your workload? What were some of the issues for you and what were some of the solutions?

How do you stay on top of your workload at school?

Managing workload has always been a challenge for me and when I became a primary assistant principal it took those issues to a whole new level. With a full time teaching load, I often feel as if I have two full time jobs.

At first the workload was horrendous. I was back to working 12 hour days and most of the weekends. To keep my head above water I dropped almost everything I was doing outside of school, turned my back on my social life and quit the study courses I was attending. I made time for my family life (just) but it was a struggle.

This was no good for my health or my relationships. Professionally, it impacted on the quality of my work and the quality of my interaction with students, their parents and my colleagues. I was spread far too thinly.

So it was important that I develop better strategies for managing my time and my job. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of the ones that worked.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you struggle to stay on top of your workload? What are some ways you’ve found to manage it and keep that work-life balance?

Is our love of technology risking our pedagogy?

Are we in danger of turning our backs on effective practice as we become seduced by the appeal and excitement of working with the latest technologies and gadgets?

This little anecdote illustrate my point.

One very effective way of teaching children to spell multisyllable words is to chunk them. In a nutshell, this involves the students breaking the words into blocks of sounds rather than individual letters. It’s a fantastic strategy – if you haven’t tried it a great explanation of chunking can be found here.

A couple of years ago, a visiting consultant was modelling some teaching strategies in my classroom. When teaching the children to chunk, she wrote each word on a piece of cardboard. To model the chunks, she cut the flash cards up into their separate sound blocks.

As I watched this, I’m ashamed to say, I was feeling rather dismissive. I would have created an interactive display on the IWB where the chunks would fly apart with sound and colour. Cardboard and scissors seemed so old fashioned.

However, the effect on my class was somewhat different. They were shocked as she cut up a real object. Though it was only a cardboard flash card, working with it had more immediacy and was far more tangible than the virtual flash cards I would have used on the IWB.

At a later point in the lesson she mixed all the chunks cut from different words and invited some students to put them back into whole words. Again, this is something I would have had them do on the IWB. As it turned out, her way was more effective. Using real objects, the children could hold them in their hands and manipulate them in a way that is just not possible on the IWB. It was a multisensory and kinaesthetic experience, not just a visual one.

This was a gentle wake up call to me which reminded me of the obvious. Young learners need hands on experiences with concrete objects. IWBs, computer screens and IPads are all fantastic devices, but they still create a filter between learners and the objects they are manipulating. They display virtual objects, not real ones, and there is a world of difference between the two.

The myriad of technologies available to us today are just tools of our trade. As we get to know our students and how they learn best, it’s important that we choose our tools wisely.

Do you have a similar story to share or any thoughts on this one? Feel free to leave a comment.

Education and Politics – We need to pay attention.

After working in public education for many years, I’m afraid I’m becoming a little bit cynical. All too often government education policy seems to be motivated by cost cutting, or  populism rather than a genuine desire to deliver high quality education to all childen in NSW. Many of us remember the blue print for educational reform commissioned by our previous Labor Government. More and more I fear that both of our major political parties want to turn their back on their responsibility to deliver high quality education, leaving it up to the private sector. 

Australians seem to be shifting away from a sense of collective social responsibility towards a more individualistic paradigm. With this shift, comes a change in perceptions of the role of public education. Increasingly, public schools seem to be perceived as a second rate option; a form of social welfare for those who can’t afford a private education. I don’t doubt that the vast majority of our population agree there an  obligation to provide public education, but I am concerned that an increasing number of Australians no longer agree there is an obligation to provide a quality education. 

Public Schools in Australia are doing quite well. As these charts prepared by Trevor Cobbold from www.saveourschools.com.au reveal, public and private schools from similar socioeconomic backgrounds perform similarly on national tests. The biggest determinant of difference is poverty. He explains it in detail here. 

I am concerned however, that if we are not careful the quality of our education programs will suffer. Government initiatives, such as the My School Website, which allow schools to be compared based on national test results is already narrowing our curriculum. Some schools rort the system by persuading families of low performing students to keep them at home. In NSW a recent government wages policy has resulted in public school teachers being paid less than their private school colleagues for the first time, which will surely make it a little more challenging to attract new staff into the public sector. There is now talk of performance pay for teachers, a system which will pit teachers against eachother, breaking down the collaborative working relationships that are at the heart of much of our success.

It’s impossible to divorce public education from politics. While many of us might prefer to bury ourselves in our classroom responsibilities, if we are at all interested in the future of our education system, we  must start paying attention to the politics that surround it and get involved when necessary.

We need to inform ourselves about current debates in education and participate in the dialogue. We need to be contacting politicians, writing to newspapers and participating in social media. We need to have our voices heard by the decision makers who determine our education policies.

Who knows, we might even make a difference.