Have you ever taken a quiz on pop culture and felt so behind? There’s a moment of disappointment quickly overshadowed by the recognition that being ‘on fleek’ is inconsequential. However, if we shift into the classroom, being in the know is crucial for teachers. It’s important not only to make sure scholars are progressing, but that they are also progressing at the right pace, toward the right goals. Moreover, being organized and accessing information quickly is fundamental for teachers to get all they need to do, done. Essentially, teachers need to be ‘on fleek’.
Being one step ahead is not always a simple task. Often, knowing what’s happening in your classes takes time and resources. Gaining in-depth insight can become just another ‘to-do’ rather than something that helps you check items off that list. ‘Time is precious’ takes on a new meaning when looking at the limited time students have in the classroom with a particular teacher. So how can you successfully stay ahead and be in the know? Let’s explore three techniques to help teachers ‘do it all’.
1. Data, Data, Data!
Data has become a buzzword, and there’s a reason; it empowers you to focus on instruction. Let the software crunch numbers and then use your brainpower to create smart interventions. Creating a data strategy will take work up front, but save you time in the long run. When looking to leverage data, there are a few things to consider.
- Mission – What is your school’s mission and what is your professional mission? Define why you’re doing this. Seems simple, but going back to the basics is the first step in creating your plan
- Scope – What are your goals and how do they align with your mission? Define what you are hoping to accomplish. Make sure these goals can be tracked
- Metrics – What data points will be used to inform decisions, and can they be collected? Confirming that your metrics align with your goals and ultimately your mission is an important next step. Defining metrics that can be tracked follows close behind. When deciding metrics, start small. You want to be able to create actions based on the details collected, after which you can begin asking more complex questions
- Action – After defining a plan and collecting details, ask questions that will inform actions. A great place to start (going back to the basics again) is building on Who, What, Where, and Why. Who is involved, what is their impact; can it be improved? What was tracked, did it provide valuable insight; can you take it to another level? Where are there gaps? Why are there gaps?
2. Apply Agile Principles
Although this may seem to be more of a technology concept, tech companies tend to reflect a level of change and diversity in requirements that is also commonplace in schools. Agile methodology is based on iterative design and deployment, which is most likely already part of your teaching philosophy. “Agile is something that really needs to be implemented in schools,” says Glenn Kessinger, a middle school teacher and instructional coach. “A big problem we have in most of public education is a lack of focus; we have so many competing priorities. Agile could clear that up.” Design > Develop > Test > Reflect > Adjust. You already design and develop a lesson plan, and you test it year after year. Now you can implement your data strategy in order to reflect and adjust. Review what practices lead to which results, identify gaps, and make changes that target successful outcomes.
Keep in mind that implementing agile principles requires a high level of collaboration. How can you learn from or partner with other teachers? How can you involve your students? Envision a regular ‘scrum’ to discuss what you plan to achieve in a given time period, and the activities associated with tackling those tasks. Then schedule your retrospective – discuss what was successful, unsuccessful, and what you learned. Tweak your process and you’re off! Forget one step ahead – employing agile tactics and maximizing your data will make you the Usain Bolt of the classroom.
3. Do What You Do Best
Teachers who are passionate about teaching find nothing more frustrating than core activities coming second to ancillary tasks. Responsibilities beyond planning lessons and teaching leave teachers with little to no time to make adjustments that impact student achievement. And the role of teachers seems to continue to expand, making already precious time even more precious. Using data and implementing agile practices can be a great help in freeing up teachers’ schedules. Teachers use the efficiencies gained to concentrate on things like building trust in the community, developing school culture, and adapting lesson plans to meet the needs of students. When there is time to focus on students, teachers can do what they do best.
Analyzing data and trends using metrics collected in an iterative environment can shape decisions and, therefore, change student outcomes. It becomes easier to immediately discern trouble areas for students and work to correct them before those at risk fall too far behind. The ability to communicate these successes and challenges with students, parents, and administrators builds rapport and trust within the school community.
So, let’s recap and take the first step in staying ahead. First, create your data plan. Identify your mission, goals, and metrics. Start tracking and tweaking. Second, try applying agile methodologies to your classroom. Kick off the day with a scrum and end a semester with a retrospective. Lastly, put it all to use in the classroom and find yourself teaching from one step ahead.
It does sound simple, but we all know the incredible hurdles involved. These are changes you can initiate as an individual, but in order to see the most bang for your buck, a cultural shift might be required at the school and/or district levels. Embracing data, being agile, and enabling teachers to do what they do best are themes that make smart schools smarter. “Agility is the essence of responding to change, and change is the thing that we in education fear most. But change might not scare us so much if we had proven principles to help us manage it,” says Steve Peha, president of Teaching That Makes Sense. Teachers are at the core of this change. Being one step ahead is no easy feat, but with a solid plan and willingness to adapt it, being in the know is achievable.