De-Cluttering your Teaching Practice

Earlier this year, I was revisiting John Hattie’s work on visible learning, and was struck by his mantra: Know thy impact.

To be honest, I’m not sure I know what to make of his study of the effect size of different teaching practices and influences. There seem to be as many voices that challenge his findings as support them, and I know so little about research methods or statistical analysis that I don’t feel I can even have an opinion.

But I am interested to know if the work I do does have impact and achieves the desired outcomes for my student. So to that extent at least, I’m a fan of Hattie. I really concur with his message:

Educators, know thy impact.

So what has that to do with the title of this piece: De-Cluttering your Teaching Practice?

We are so busy as teachers, we don’t always consider the impact of what we do. We can spend an inordinate amount of time on things that don’t matter. We take on new practices but we hang on to the old. We work too hard, the benefits often far out-weighed by the cost.

As an example: In NSW primary schools, we use the Human Society and Its Environment Curriculum (HSIE). It has learning outcomes for each two-year stage of schooling.

Years ago, my stage team found we could cover those outcomes over 6 of the 8 available terms, and we mapped out a plan to do that. As Term 4 was our busiest, with end of year concert preparation, swim scheme, and other events, I advised teachers not to include HSIE in their Term 4 program. There was enough to do, and the curriculum requirements had been met.

However, some would not heed the advice. Some found it hard to come to terms with the idea of NOT teaching HSIE every week of every term, because in primary schools, that’s what you DO. It’s embedded.

I’d observe them struggling with stress. They’d feel guilty for not covering things and extremely over loaded. Sometimes they’d blame me, or others in the management team. I felt for them, I did. But it was clear that at least part of their overload was caused by being unwilling to let go of an unnecessary practice.

I observe this repeatedly: teachers hanging on to practices because they feel they should be done, it’s the way they’ve always done things, or because its something they happen to like.

How to De-Clutter 

For the last few years, I’ve been working on decluttering my practice, but keeping Hattie’s words in mind, has proven particularly useful this year. If we reflect on the impact of our practices, we can make far better choices in how to spend our time.

As I consider my practices, I ask myself,

“Will this have a positive impact on my students and help achieve our goals?”

If I can say yes, I ask this follow up question.

“Will the amount of impact be worth the time taken to implement this practice?” 

If I answer yes to both of those questions, I implement the practice. If the answer is no, I need to either drop or redevelop it.

Finally, I need to ask,

“Do I have time to implement this practice? What low impact practice can I discard to make room for this?”

I realise there’s a lot in teaching that we have to do, but as a starting point for decluttering, it might help to think about this for areas within your control:

Consider what you spend your and your class’s time on. In primary schools for example, we seem to love creating and laminating resources. Will that chart or board game have any sort of real impact? Is it worth the time it takes to create? Will laminating it increase its impact?

If its something that will make a difference, you’ll use it again and again, and the time spent creating it really is worth the benefits for your students, go ahead, create and laminate it. But if not, then why spend the time? Time is precious, make sure you spend it on the things that matter.

What about productive use of classroom time? Do you really need to have all your students come and sit on the mat when they enter the classroom, and quietly wait for you to deal with parents, notes, roll call and messages, before commencing their learning? Is there something more productive your students could be doing for those first minutes of every morning before you call them together to meet as a class? Can you adapt your class routine, to maximise the benefit to students and and minimise waste?

Our time is precious and limited, lets direct it to where it can have greatest effect.

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5 thoughts on “De-Cluttering your Teaching Practice

  1. I have just been revisiting the work of Hattie with the same idea. I am presenting on time management at a beginning teacher conference on Friday and I wanted to start with the teaching & learning that research says has the most impact as a way of prioritise what is worth investing time in. I will be referencing this in my presentation. Thanks You. You have made me realise I am on the right track

  2. Thanks Corinne – such a powerful message. I wish that more early career teachers received this kind of advice. I have seen many of them struggling with managing what could be done, instead of focusing on what has the most effect. A burnt out teacher is not going to be very effective!

    I also like that it ties directly into the idea of reflection itself – a teacher needs to be critically examining their practice in order to make the best decisions about what they do. Spending time on things that return no benefit to the learner in the long run is questionable…

    I empathise with those teachers who can’t let go of a practice like the example of your teachers in term 4- who are used to doing something. I imagine it is quite difficult to shift to doing less, even if there is a clear benefit (i.e. less stress!)

    • Hi Nick, thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. I’m not perfect at doing this, and I think it will be a lifelong journey, but the practice certainly has helped reduce my workload and my stress.

  3. Reblogged this on what is this thing called teaching? and commented:
    An excellent post by Corinne on About Teaching. The idea that educators need to know their impact on teaching includes an ability to reflect honestly on their practice. A teacher should be able to explain the benefit/effect of the way they choose to spend their time, in terms of the effect in student learning. Doing more things, and things that do not help learning are not conducive to sustainable teaching. There are only so many hours in a day, in a week, in a term. Teachers should choose carefully, and make sure they practice self-care. Particularly early career teachers who are still learning how to manage themselves as educators.

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