Since the start of the school year, as I have been working in schools, I am hearing a theme emerge from teachers, “there is just not enough time to get everything done,” “I have no time for myself,” “all I do is work and just try to keep my head above water.”
Based on this feedback from educators, I have been rereading First Things First by Stephen Covey, Rodger Merrill and Rebecca Merrill. Stephen Covey is the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 3 is putting first things first.
In the chapter, First Things First, the authors suggest that our struggle with time is characterized in one of two ways. The clock is the common method for characterizing time. It is represented by our school calendar, class schedules, after school committee work, and extra-curricular activity commitments. A second method by which time is represented is our personal compass. The compass of a person can be represented by individual priorities, standards, values, and goals.
The clock represents what we do with our time or how we actually spend our time. The compass represents what we feel is significant, what we value, and what we believe is important.
The authors offer this advice: in order to live a more balanced life. We must learn to discern and make choices based on what are the most important and meaningful activities and experiences for our life. We have the right to opt out of activities and obligations. We must empower ourselves to “just say no” to issues that drain us of our energy and time---and that have little or no value to us as professionals.
A time management matrix is suggested in order for us to reflect on how we spend on our time.
What does all this mean?
How can this help educators get a handle on their time? Quadrant 1 represents events in our life that are both urgent and important. Quadrant 1 demands our time and draws upon our experience and skills to produce quality representation of our work. Quadrant 1 urgency can be lessened by applying the old adage “proper prior planning prevents poor performance.” If we handle Quadrant 1 tasks in a timely fashion, the urgency is reduced.
Quadrant 2 outlines activities in our lives that are important, but not urgent. This is the quadrant of “excellence.” We focus on professional learning, and on connecting with the resources and individuals around us in order to maximize our impact. Increasing our time in this quadrant strengthens our ability to act and achieve. Additionally, spending more time in Quadrant 2 reduces Quadrant 1…the urgent.
The elements in our lives that are urgent, but not important, fall into Quadrant III. Covey calls this the quadrant of “deception”. The pressure of the urgent creates an impression of importance, when in actuality, the events in this quadrant are of no importance at all. Quadrant III is typically driven by the needs and expectations of others, not by our own priorities.
Not urgent and unimportant items in our lives fall into Quadrant IV. This is the quadrant that drains much of our precious time and energy with no benefits in return. Covey calls Quadrant 4 our “escape” quadrant. Mind-numbing television or frivolous reading, social media, babbling in the teacher’s lounge, with no solution-focused goal, are examples. Don’t let Quadrant 4 be a vacuum of your precious resource of time.
So I’d like to suggest that you reflect back to your last week or even just yesterday…at school, at home, and in your community. Place the items that you spent time on in the quadrants. Be honest. Where are you spending most of your time? How can you manage your time differently to increase productivity, but also to maximize satisfaction? What steps can you take today, so you can move to a “First Things First” lifestyle?
Does this describe your work and your life at this moment?
Try these strategies to super-charge your observation routine. Commit, stay on track, and you'll head into 2017 with completed observations on all your teachers and observation goals met--maybe even exceeded!
#1 - Get tethered to your tablet!
It's that simple. Remember, you can conduct walkthroughs on your tablet or phone. Carry it with you--always. No excuses. You will be amazed at how frequently a convenient opportunity will arise to take 3 minutes--just 3 minutes--and complete an observation.
You've probably been observing teachers anyway, just NOT within your digital eWalkThrough® or classroom observation system. So carry your phone and get logged on! By the end of the week, your observation numbers will increase dramatically.
Get tethered to your tablet! Your stress level will go down. Teachers will receive the feedback they crave.
#2 - Trust your instincts!
It’s easy to avoid conducting observations because you think it’s important to have a set schedule, to go in at just the right time, and to attempt to observe all the look-fors on the tool face. Make an about-face!
You are an experienced instructional leader. The best walkthroughs are unplanned. Research indicates that it is very unlikely an observer will see each and every look-for during each and every observation.
So enjoy! Step in classrooms unannounced. Don’t second guess what you see. Open the door. Walk in. Mark your responses on your digital tool. Don’t debate and don’t hesitate. Hit ‘submit!’ It’s done!
The data you generate are invaluable. Teachers can reflect. Coaching and mentoring self-generates. The data inform the design of differentiated professional learning! That’s what you want. Support teachers. Give teachers exactly what they need. The answers are in the data. Trust your instincts.
#3 - Talk about the data!
That’s right! One of the best ways to super-charge your observation routine is to use the data. Talk about it! Talk to your teachers individually. Send reports to professional learning communities and grade levels teams. Share building data at faculty meetings. Provide powerful aggregate data analysis to the board of education, to advisory boards, to the parent organization in your school/district, and other stakeholders.
When you talk about the data, everyone naturally wants to know more. This motivates more observation. When you’re motivated, the process becomes exciting. The more you observe, the easier it is. Before you know it, observation is a habit. It’s a routine.
Talk about the data. The result? Instruction will improve. Student achievement will increase. Everybody wins!
Educators must continually be supported in the effort to deliver excellent teaching. Student success must remain the center of all our work in education. We know, and research confirms, that classroom observations are an excellent choice for supporting best practice instruction. As building and district leaders implement the digital eWalkThrough system, or another observation tool, for this process there are easy steps for success:
eWalkThrough data are collected and shared in real-time as instruction is being delivered. Teachers receive immediate feedback on which they can reflect to impact their practice. Data ensure that resources target specific instructional needs. Teachers are supported with exactly what they need in their individual professional learning.
Where are you in this process as an instructional leader? How do you know you are implementing the steps? I want to hear from YOU! Comment below with your take on the 3 Easy Steps.
As we enter into the new school year, there are a couple of reminders I want to offer as considerations for building and district leaders. Please be planning for, and considering, your own professional learning for the school year. Part of this professional learning should center around the eWalkThrough. The “summer shift of knowledge” didn’t just happen to the students.
You know when teachers say “but I taught them that concept last year!” The same concept applies to adult learning. It has likely been at least three months since administrators have been in classrooms, either individually or collectively, to conduct observations. Calibration needs to happen to assure reliability and validity of the observation process. Many schools also made summer changes to their tool and these need to be reviewed and calibrated as well.
Don’t forget those new administrators you’ve added to your team. They need to be trained in both the content of the tool and calibrated in the process. Because the eWalkThrough has such potential as a catalyst to support excellent instruction and a positive shift in learning (Walk-Through as Powerful, n.d.), we can’t let new administrators lag behind in this knowledge and process. Plan to provide support for new administrators for at least the first 2-3 months of school and invite them to accompany you in your building on observations and offer to go with them in theirs.
Goal Setting! Another back to school process I believe ensures the quality process of implementation of the eWT. Administrators should reflect on their archived data from the 14-15 school year in setting their goals for the year. These goals can be entered into the digital eWT system under the building tab. (See Diagram below)
These cards are handed out to administrators during calibration or data analysis days with SWPRSC eWalkThrough consultants. We then input the information directly into your tool so that administrators can check on whether other observers are meeting their goals and expectations for eWalkThrough use.
This is a picture of an actual eWalkThrough Goal Chart that administrators can view anytime to see where observers are on their goals.
Good luck and have a fantastic year! Take full advantage of the eWT tool to support your teachers and student success!
Our approach to the eWT is likely quite different than most. Our desire for this process is to provide support and resources to improve teaching and increase student achievement through its application.
Our purpose for the eWT is to provide a short, focused, informal observation with immediate feedback to the teacher for reflection. The eWT observation is about 3-5 minutes in a classroom. There is no intent to evaluate the teacher. Instead, it is a time to gather data about instruction, curriculum, classroom management, and other teaching practices and decisions that a teacher is making.
The eWT should occur at all points in the day and at all times during the hour or instructional period. These observations are unannounced. No record of these observations is put in the teachers personnel file. The primary focus of the eWT is to determine professional growth needs of the individual teacher, grade level group, professional learning community, building, or district.
("business people" by Adam Grabek on Flickr)
Our ultimate goal leads to reflective dialogue around the data to drive professional learning decisions. When a teacher or administrative group is analyzing the eWT data, they should not be asking the question…what are we doing wrong, but instead, what professional learning do I need in order to improve my teaching practices.
At Southwest Plains, we believe that teaching can and should be excellent. We believe that at the heart of excellent teaching, each and every teacher WANTS to do the right thing for students. However, unbeknownst to the administrator, the teacher may not have the skill set or knowledge to provide this level of instruction.
Without regular observations and classroom visits, this lack of knowledge could go on for years. We believe there is a set of research-based best practices that will enhance instruction and support student learning. These should be understood and implemented by every teacher.
Due to the ability of the eWT to disaggregate observation data in multiple ways (K-12 math teachers, all 4 grade teachers, all elementary schools in a district, etc.), districts can finally provide DIFFERENTIATED PROFEESSIONAL LEARNING for their teachers. We have boasted the need for differentiated instruction for our students over the last 15 years. Why are adult learners any different? Don’t teachers deserve the right to have professional learning that meets their needs? In education, we should no longer offer “teacher inservice”. I define this, teacher inservice, as coffee, conversation, and in many cases no application to the professional growth of the majority of teachers in attendance.
Guido van Nispen on Flickr “R0011198”
About seven years ago, a handful of team members joined me at a training on classroom observations. Day one of the training covered the research and background of the observation process. In the morning on day two, we actually went into classrooms to apply the paper tool we had in our hands. The afternoon of day 2 was spent then manually calculating all of our results to get data from the observations we had conducted.
As I was sitting there that afternoon and looking around the room at the brilliant, highly educated people involved in this mundane process, I thought “there has to be a better way…this is such a waste of their time”. So on the drive home, the eWT idea came into fruition as my team and I began to visualize and create what an electronic observation tool would look like. We identified the problems with the process on which we had just been trained that day! For example:
Our list went on and on regarding how we might design and program a system that would provide administrators and TEACHERS a more efficient and effective process that could drive decisions and ultimately, instructional improvement. SWPRSC immediately began to work with a programmer on the basic ideas and piloted the process with two school districts that very first year!
My next career move came in the form of an invitation to join the team of Southwest Plains Regional Service Center in Sublette, Kansas, as Assistant Executive Director with a focus on providing inservices to districts. At the time, it was an agency that provided health insurance to school districts and I would be their professional development “department” of one! Because of SWPRSC's leader, Deb Haltom, I took the leap.
Thanks to my upbringing and experiences with 4-H, public speaking has never been a problem for me. My background as a K-12 teacher, administrator and special education teacher provided me with extensive background knowledge for most audiences.
Fast forward to today…
I have been Executive Director at Southwest Plains Regional Service Center now for 11 years. During the time I have had a luxury that most leaders do not get during their career: I have been able to build my team at SWPRSC.
When I started at SWPRSC we had 8 employees. To date, we have around 80 employees. I was the only consultant that provided professional learning when I started and now we have a team of 14 professional learning consultants, we direct the Migrant Program for the state of Kansas and we have 10 adult learning centers where adults can earn their high school diploma.
There is only one word for the SWPRSC TEAM: incredible. OK…and talented, zealous, committed, highly skilled, exceptional, brilliant, enthusiastic, etc. I could go on and on about our team. Each team member brings extensive classroom experience, extensive specialized training and advanced degrees. Our mission is:
Professional Learning…Innovative Solutions.
And that is what they represent.
The only way to do great work it to love what you do.” --Steve Jobs
"Up the Stairs to School" by Michael Coghlan on Flickr
After six years of teaching FACS and Gifted Education which allowed me the opportunity to serve students K-12, I was asked if I would consider moving into K-12 Administration.
My small school of Copeland was also going through changes and we were about to enter into a “sharing agreement” with Montezuma, a town 12 miles down the road. This agreement still stands today and has been, in my opinion, an excellent example of a partnership of two communities and two school districts working together for the good of their students.
By moving into administration, I became a K-12 Building Leader with my office in the high school building in Montezuma. The thought of being able to support the change for the Copeland students into this new situation was as much of a draw to my decision to move into administration as anything. Being a “Copeland” person situated in the town of Montezuma, my hope was that I could contribute to overcoming any barriers in the shift that would surely arise. Thus, back to school l went.
I completed requirements for a K-12 Building Leader endorsement and ultimately gained my District Leader certification during my time as South Gray Building Leader. As anyone who has been an administrator in a small district knows, you learn all aspects of running the school - transportation, activities director, food service, scheduling, hiring, plans of assistance, working with boards of education, negotiations, and on and on. This was an invaluable learning time in my time in education.
My career in education has taken a wonderful path that has provided me with extensive and varied experiences.
I began my career as a 7-12 Family and Consumer Science (FACS) Teacher in Copeland, Kansas. This is a small 1A school district in southwest corner of the state. They had stopped the FACS program several years before I arrived on the scene so I was able to start from scratch with no preconceived ideas about what the curriculum should look like. When I approached the Industrial Arts, English, Math and Biology teachers about doing a cross-curricular project the second week of school, I think they might have fainted and then all decided to humor me and go along with this unfamiliar idea. That first project initiated me (and those veteran teachers) into an entire world of collaboration, team work, real-world learning, and helping students create connections from classroom to classroom.
Because Copeland was such a small school and this was a new course offering, Copeland could only offer me a part time position. I just completed my degree from Kansas State University three weeks before, but I willingly approached the Special Education Cooperative in my area, High Plains, to seek teaching opportunities with them. They agreed, that if I would go back to school and get my master’s degree in Gifted Education, I could teach for them part time.
So, I had not even started my first day of my new teaching position, my first set of student loans were about to begin coming due, and I said to my husband that I want to go back to school. Always being fully supportive of my goals, off I went to FHSU to get my Master’s Degree in Gifted Education to serve K-12 Students while starting my first year of teaching.
I quickly learned that FACS and Gifted education have much in common. I had learned in my FACS preparation about higher level thinking, application of content, creating original work, critical thinking and problem solving when “things” don’t turn out as planned, etc. It’s quite amazing how the preparation of my first degree supported a smooth transition to my second degree with no forethought on my part what so ever.
I grew up on a dairy farm in northeast Kansas. Family, hard work, participation in extra-curricular activities at school and 4-H were the foundational elements of my childhood. The core values that I learned that stick with me today are:
This town has allowed us to raise our family in a culture of “community”. An example, this weekend my husband smoked ribs for a friend who has cancer and I was busy making cookies for a funeral reception today. My kids grew up going to a small 1A school, but received an education that allowed them to be college and career ready. Both graduated as valedictorian, Governor’s Scholar, National Honors Society members, and participating in numerous extra-curricular activities.
But the most important lessons they learned are not represented in those accomplishments. They learned from their coaches that perseverance reaps rewards. They learned from their teachers that the first draft is not your final paper, and that persistence is a vital part of being successful in life. They learned from their family that it all starts at home. Say please and thank you. Offer your arm to the elderly lady as you walk into church. And after church, Sunday is family day. There is never a time to lie. Make a difference in someone’s life every day.
"Life is what we make it, always has been and always will be!"
My entire life I have been passionate about learning! I want to grow and learn and move quickly each and every day….even if that means I make mistakes (many of them) along the way. I believe we need to squeeze every ounce of what we can out of this life and positively impact people….students, parents, board members, teachers, administrators and others. Anyone with whom we come in contact should remember us when we walk away.
"If you want to feel secure, do what you already know how to do…
(Photo: by TumblingRun on Flickr “Leaving the Farm”)