I believe that every teacher owes it to herself (or himself) to work smarter, not harder.
You know, there’s this elephant in the room.
It’s called the guilt trip. Maybe you know him.
He tells you that if you’re not working the hardest, staying at school the latest, participating on every committee – if you’re not doing everything absolutely perfect – then you’re not a good teacher.
We really need to let go of that prototype of the “perfect” teacher because that mindset is burning teachers out – you and everyone else on the front lines daily teaching in K-12 classrooms.
Plus, this notion of “working harder” is creating insecurity and unhealthy comparisons among educators.
And if you’re not feeling your best, then you can’t give your best teacher-self to the kids (or your family).
Here at Curriculum Chef, it is my mission to help you do things smarter, not harder.
I taught for 15 years, and let me tell you…
During my first year of teaching, I used to wonder how all the experienced teachers did it.
How in the world did they manage to handle it all…
- the grading?
- classroom management?
- standardized testing, etc.?
and make it look so easy?
Eventually, I learned the secrets of working smarter, not harder.
It didn’t happen overnight, though.
It took reflection, trial/error, and a complete change in mindset.
Before the switch in my thinking, I felt like a battery, the ones you just use once and discard.
Afterwards, I felt like those rechargeable batteries – easily re-energized and ready for another round.
Once that happened, everything else started to fall into line.
I’m here to help you get to this place.
Start by changing your mindset from working too hard unnecessarily to working smarter, not harder.
Your journey begins here…
Your Teaching: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Let Go of Perfection, Say “No” More Often, and STILL Kick-Butt in the Classroom!
Here’s a Start…
Leave Bulletin Boards “Bare” at Start of School Year.
The beginning of the school year.
You’re all refreshed, rejuvenated, and mentally ready to start the new year off right.
But then…you walk into your classroom after a long summer, and see…
- desks on top of desks,
- stuff, and more stuff.
The stress begins to settle in.
“Where do I even start?”
THE HARD WAY: You stress out over your bulletin boards. You begrudgingly (or nonchalantly) gather all of your cutesy designer borders and slug away at the boards for the remainder of your work day and maybe even into the next day.
Those bulletin boards just have to be Pinterest-worthy perfect!
THE SMART WAY: You can have nice bulletin boards without all the fuss. Simply cover all of them with butcher paper and a simple border.
If you must have something to show, a welcome banner does the job as do simple classroom job helper descriptions that kids will use the first week of school to apply for classroom jobs.
During the first week of school, the boards will begin to fill with student work.
This routine will continue throughout the year, as the boards will always have fresh content as students’ work is displayed regularly.
Now you’ve got classroom decoration planned for the entire school year!
Anchor charts and student-made word walls also serve as decent wall decor.
Let Go of Perfection.
THE HARD WAY: Your bulletin boards have to be absolutely perfect, and everything has to be labeled…with a label maker. Folders must be color-coded.
The teacher next door got it going on with her classroom organization and decor, so you’ve got to up your game! You’re exhausted already and haven’t even started planning yet.
THE SMART WAY: If you don’t have the time nor energy, prioritize.
Label by hand.
Don’t get crazy with all the different color codes.
Less is oftentimes more.
Yes, you want your room to be functional and pleasing to the eye, but that doesn’t mean it has to be magazine-shoot worthy.
Secretly competing with colleagues isn’t healthy either.
Is it really that serious?
Can’t just the basics get the job done?
THE HARD WAY: Let’s be honest.
Sometimes we do all the extra stuff because we want validation from others.
We want someone to tell us how beautiful is our classroom…
How cute our bulletin boards look…
And we’re secretly competing with the teacher down the hall. (She shows up once again. 😛)
Yes, comments like those are nice, but are you really doing it for you and your students first and foremost or others?
THE SMART WAY: What you think matters.
Your basic, neat classroom is enough.
So what if you don’t get any comments about how nice your room looks?
Ok, maybe you get comments, but they’re not as “gushy” as your colleague’s. LOL!
Your simple room is enough, your best teaching is enough, you’re enough.
Believe it ‘cause it’s true! 😜
Assign Each Student a Classroom Helper Job.
THE HARD WAY: You do all the work. Everything.
THE SMART WAY: Work smarter, not harder by giving every student a classroom job.
This is going to save you so much headache, time, plus keep your classroom running smoothly.
Your to-do list as a teacher is never-ending, so get your kiddos to chip in.
Elementary kids love to help out, and classroom jobs teach them responsibility plus accountability.
Establish Routines, Systems, and Set Schedules.
THE HARD WAY: Changing routines too much confuses students and contributes to poor classroom management. Plus, you never get into a set routine yourself.
THE SMART WAY: Have set routines for students to follow throughout the school day: morning arrival, transitions, walking from/to class, etc.
Keep these routines consistent, and to better help students, place a list of them in a prominent area as a reminder.
Additionally, strategically plan your school weeks.
At the beginning of the school year, I pencil in all of the important dates/events for each quarter.
Afterwards, I do the same with the scope and sequence curriculum for all the subject areas I teach.
Doing this lays the foundation for my planning throughout the school year. Seeing the big picture helps to put everything into perspective and provides a guide as I plan.
Also pencil in planning periods.
Maybe on Thursdays you’ll plan for the following week or schedule to make the majority of your copies Monday morning.
Have systems, and stick with them until they become habits.
Give Less Homework.
THE HARD WAY: You give lots of homework regularly, and it’s getting hard to keep up with it all.
Is this really helping kids or just keeping them busy?
THE SMART WAY: Work smarter, not harder by giving less homework.
While I’m not generally an advocate for homework, I do give it as needed.
Don’t create more work for yourself.
Having students read nightly (and complete a reading log) is perfectly fine.
Online learning tools such as IXL, Mathletics, and BrainPop jr. are also great low-maintenance homework ideas if your school has a subscription to any of them.
Regularly Put Into Practice a Student-Centered Classroom.
THE HARD WAY: Maybe you dominate book discussions, “over help” students, and/or don’t give them enough time to analyze information.
THE SMART WAY: Remember, you are the facilitator!
Make students the center of it all; they should be doing most of the work, not you.
Oh yeah, and don’t baby them.
If we’re going to work smarter, not harder, every person, including each little cutie pie in your room, must do his part.
Of course if they need assistance with something you’re going to help.
However, making a habit of enabling does no good for anyone.
Create an environment where it’s okay to take risks!
Utilize Student Grade Sheets.
THE HARD WAY: Keep students in the dark about their grades and academic progress until progress report time.
THE SMART WAY: If you teach 4th or 5th grade, I highly recommend that you use a simple grade sheet with students if your school uses the traditional grading system of a, b, c, d, f.
I’ve used simple grade sheets, and let me tell you, they were a massive hit with kids and parents!
Assuming every assignment carries the same weight (100%), have learners record and average their grades each time an assignment is returned.
Send the grade sheet home to parents weekly or biweekly for review.
Grade sheets promote accountability, and help you worker smarter, not harder. No more surprised parents at report card time.
With students tracking their progress along with you, they are much more involved in the assessment process.
Grade sheets are simple, yet powerful tools for working smarter, not harder.
Don’t Formally Grade Everything.
THE HARD WAY: You have tons of papers to grade. Fortunately, not all of those papers are created equally.
Some are informative but won’t necessarily impact a student’s final grade.
THE SMART WAY: For quick assessing, use a stamp system. A green stamp stands for “great job”.
Yellow is “review – you have a few errors”.
Red means “What?! Please redo.”
If a stack of papers is really no good -maybe all of the kids did poorly on an exam – or the assignment wasn’t a good one to begin with – just chunk ‘em quietly.
Yep! I said it!
THE HARD WAY: You attempt to do everything yourself.
If you want something done well, do it yourself, right?
THE SMART WAY: No!! This isn’t working smarter.
It’s definitely working harder.
Delegate various tasks.
If you have an assistant, have her work with a small group, organize files, make copies, etc.
Parent volunteers are a great resource. Room parents are able to organize parties, field trips, help with making copies, etc.
Back-to-School night is a good time to have parents sign up to volunteer for something at least once during the school year.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel.
THE HARD WAY: I consider myself a creative person, but making every lesson from scratch is time-consuming and definitely not practical.
Why not use what’s already out there?
THE SMART WAY: When it comes to lessons and activities, don’t reinvent the wheel.
I often like to switch things up, but I always start with what’s available.
Take a standard lesson, and make it your own. Make it more engaging, more hands-on, interactive, or add a technology thread to it.
Organize Files + Declutter Digitally.
THE HARD WAY: You store files randomly or without a strategy. This is a sure way to accumulate clutter and disorganization.
THE SMART WAY: Keep one of those crates that hold hanging folders on hand.
Have a folder for each child and a folder for any topics that you teach. When students bring a doctor’s note or return signed assignment papers, they file them in their respective folder.
On the teacher’s end, once you’ve taught a lesson, put the template sheets used for that lesson in its appropriate topic folder.
If you do a lot of activities on your computer or simply have a lot of school stuff there, organize those files into different folders. Delete files clearly not worth saving, but file everything else into its digital folder.
On another note, are you one of those people who have two or three thousand emails going way back like six or seven months?
For your sanity (and for the love of glory!), delete those emails or archive them.
Psychologically, I think you’re going to feel so much better after doing so. It’s like one big purge.
And for the future, within 48 hours, try to have answered any new email and/or archived it.
Keep that inbox streamlined!
Collaborate With Your Grade Level Team.
THE HARD WAY: You plan solo.
THE SMART WAY: Plan with your team, if you have a good one.
Each team member plans for a different subject, and then you swap plans. Tweak to make them your own or use as is.
Working smarter and not harder many times involves working with others. Take advantage of collaborating with colleagues if you think the opportunity will serve you well.
And if you departmentalize, all the better.
Change Your Mindset and Say No!
THE HARD WAY: You think participating in every single school activity or going over-and-beyond is the way to get into your administrators’ good graces.
To make matters worse, you have a hard time declining offers of involvement.
THE SMART WAY: Change your mindset.
You don’t have to stay at school the latest or arrive the earliest. That doesn’t make you better or worse as an educator.
And you don’t need to volunteer for every committee.
Yes, you want to have some level of involvement, but it’s okay to decline sometimes.
And no need to feel guilty about it.
Cap Your To-Do List.
THE HARD WAY: You cram every little task possible within your 24-hour day.
THE SMART WAY: Set a specific number of items to do each day and call it a day after you accomplish them.
I do 3 professional and 3 personal things.
Professional goals could be something as simple as responding to a parent email or drafting a couple of report card comments.
Personal goals include taking some time for myself once arriving home, reading a chapter from a juicy book, spending time with loved ones, etc.
Customize your to-do list to your likening, but work smarter, not harder by completing those tasks and then releasing the pressure to have to do anything else until the next day.
Your to-do list will never be empty.
So set your daily goals, and once you reach them, ta-da!
Make Efficient Use of Technology.
THE HARD WAY: Do you use technology simply for the sake of using technology?
For whichever lesson you use it, does it really maximize the learning of the targeted academic objectives?
THE SMART WAY: Every few years, schools implement some new technology strategy or app.
Though well-intended, many of these instructional methods end up being more of a hassle than a help for teachers.
If technology use is creating more stress and problems for you and your students, just stick to what technology you know.
And if the use of a certain app or device is required, seek the assistance of the Technology Coordinator.
Technology should make work smarter, not harder.
Focus on Your Strengths and Weaknesses.
THE HARD WAY: You try to do things you’re simply not good at (even when your skill-set demonstrates otherwise). You don’t make the effort to improve on your weaknesses.
THE SMART WAY: Know your strengths and weaknesses.
Play up your strengths, and work on improving your weaknesses. This goes along with self-validation.
When you focus on and showcase what you’re naturally good at, it becomes much easier to validate and exude your worth.
When you have those bad days where you feel as though you’re not a good teacher, remind yourself of your teaching strengths and talents.
What high value you see in yourself (from a professional standpoint) matters more than any opinion from a colleague, parent, or administrator.
Yep! I honestly believe that.
Your Finances: Do It Smarter, Not Harder
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Learn to Grow Your Money and Have It Work Hard for You!
Here’s a Start…
Make Money Work For You.
We’re so accustomed to going to a 9 to 5 that we forget that there are other ways to make money.
When you have a moment, take some time to look over these methods for making your money work for you.
Pass on the Expensive, Cutesy Classroom Decor and Use Recycled Stuff.
Save yourself money and headache by reducing the amount of expensive, cutesy stuff used in the classroom.
Instead, use recycled materials to create a warm, inviting classroom.
You can find crafty class decor ideas all over the Internet. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a nice-looking teaching and learning space.
Invest for Retirement Outside of Your Teaching Job.
Even though you probably have a teacher pension, it’s still a good idea to invest additional retirement money on your own, outside of your school retirement accounts.
[Disclaimer]: I am not a financial advisor. See your financial planner to discuss your unique money situation.
That extra money won’t hurt.
Plus, you never know what surprises life brings, so having an extra stash somewhere is financially smart.
Your Career: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Explore All of Your Career Options While Tackling the Job Markets Like a Pro
Here’s a Start…
Don’t Put All Your Eggs Into One Basket.
Obtain multiple certifications to make yourself more marketable, and be open to relocating if the job market shows no love for your certification area.
Consider Teaching Abroad.
If you really want to take your teaching career to the next level, consider teaching in international schools abroad.
I did this for 9 years, and it totally changed my life – for the better!
The experience changed the way I taught, changed the way that I invested money, and it just really changed my life in general.
Teaching abroad at international schools is a game-changer for your teaching career for sure.
Work in Independent Schools.
Need a different teaching environment but not wanting to move outside of the U.S?
If you want to stretch yourself professionally, take a look at independent schools in your state.
Choose a Grade Level that Works for You.
When it comes to your teaching career, one of the most important decisions is the grade level you choose (or the one that chooses you) to teach.
How you feel about a certain grade level will play a huge role in how well you respond to that age group and the teaching team.
Whenever appropriate – whether that be during an interview or end-of-the-year evaluation meeting, mention your preference and why you feel it’s the best fit for you.
Your Personal Life: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Live a Life of Balance, Health, and Happiness.
Here’s a Start…
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.
Since I first started teaching, I’ve had a copy of the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.
Grab a copy of this book!
It’s a quick read, but you’re going to find yourself referring to it whenever you need some wisdom.
I really believe this book will change how you view certain situations.
Take Care of Yourself.
This goes without saying – take care of yourself.
Get moving, eat clean, and spend time with those you love.
You’ll do better at your job as a result because once you take care of yourself, you’re in a better position to help others.
Set clear boundaries for work and home.
Disconnect from work-related stuff once you arrive home, and don’t respond (or even check for) work emails or engage in any work-related tasks after a certain hour.
Advocate for Yourself.
Last but not least, when things don’t go your way at work or when something goes down because inevitably it will, speak up for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to say how you feel.
Hoarding feelings is never a good thing, and if you don’t say anything, others will assume everything’s okay.
Wrapping Up: Work Smarter, Not Harder
My mission here at Curriculum Chef is to help you work smarter, not harder.
You owe it to yourself!
Teachers are naturally nurturing, but let’s not lose ourselves in the work and daily grind.
Wishing you all the best!
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
- Are you on a quest to do things in your teaching career smarter, not harder? If so, I can definitely help you with that! Take a look at how I got started on this mission.
- Want to know more about the authors behind the mission? Go here.