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Working Smarter, Not Harder (Part II).

Last September, Sandy LaBelle wrote an article for Techniques that contained seven specific hints to reduce teacher stress and increase student responsibility. As part of our back-to-school issue, she has returned with seven more helpful ideas to make your school life less stressful.

Would you like a classroom where students take more responsibility for their learning? Would you like to be more organized with student paperwork? Would you like to spend less time on behavior problems? How about a streamlined system for absent students' makeup work?

Not so long ago, I looked for someone to help me answer these and other management questions. I could find general suggestions. However, no one was telling me exactly how, and everything I thought of just put more work on my already-full plate. I kept working harder and harder, until my health began to suffer. Some of you may be experiencing the same things: headaches, frequent colds, body aches or waking up in the middle of the night going, "What can I do?" What can I do?" Finally, I came to a difficult decision--manage my school day better or leave teaching.

I did not want to leave teaching, so I decided to step out of the teaching world and research business management techniques. After all, I thought, teachers manage people; we make presentations every day; we need to know how to handle difficult people; we have multiple projects; and we need to meet deadlines. Maybe some ideas from the business sector could be modified to create more efficient and more effective use of my time at school!

I combined my B.A., my M.Ed., more than 100 additional college credits and my 30 years of experience in both elementary and secondary classrooms with the business world research to develop new ways of effectively and efficiently managing the classroom.

The result is a model I call Teaching Smarter, designed to provide specific management techniques one can use every day to reduce stress and fatigue, while producing more responsible students.

One of the business management phrases kept ringing in my ears: "Do the best job you can in the time that you have." It has been my experience that teachers do not have a problem with the first part of this sentence. We are doing the best job we can! The place we have trouble is in the second part, "in the time that you have."

If we are not satisfied with our quality, we rob from our sleep time and come in early, and then we rob from our private time and stay late. Sometimes that's not enough, so we take work home during the week. Next thing we know, the work is coming home on the weekend, too.

We can do a quality job without coming in early, staying late and sacrificing our private time. It can be done by changing the way we "do business" in our classrooms. Classroom management skills are very teachable, but seldom taught in a specific "take back to your classroom and use tomorrow" form.

For this article, I have chosen a few of the quick and easy tips contained in my book, Teaching Smarter. Please be aware, there are more than 180 pages in the book, and information is taught in seminars over a period of several days.


1. Recognize that today's student tends to be more visual than auditory.

We need to design a way to use this fact to our advantage. Structure classes so you build a student dependence on the overhead (or blackboard or whiteboard). For example, many of the students will not hear the direction when the teacher says, "Open your books to page 155."

I can't count the number of frustrating times when I repeated and repeated the page number. A simple solution is to write the page number, or the points for correction, or the name of the video ... you get the idea. Then, if a student asks for a repeat, I just smile and point to the overhead. After awhile, the students know to always check the overhead before asking for any repeat.

At first I tried saying, "Ask a friend if you did not get the directions." But that caused a lot of distractive talking. The overhead dependence provides the visual cue that so many of our young people need.

2. Be ready to structure a "wait time" when you ask for attention.

When we ask for the class's attention, it is important that we wait for 100 percent attention. I've frequently observed a teacher request attention and then begin giving directions when almost all the students are quiet. It is a fact of life that once the leader begins to talk, not only will the students who are talking be missing out, but they will be joined by others who had been quiet. If we want attention, we need to be willing to wait for 100 percent. Sometimes the extra few seconds seem like forever, but it will be worth it! Develop the pattern, and soon students will know that you expect 100 percent.

3. Color code worksheets and tests.

If you teach a class where there are multiple handouts or worksheets, try using different colors. Then when you want to have a specific paper taken out, just say, "Take out the yellow worksheet we did last week." Our very visual students will find this task much easier than a teacher's reference to a specific title from several white papers that all look alike.

I use the same technique for tests. I make up a "Test A" and a "Test B" (the exact same test in a different order). Each test is run off on a different color. This really cuts down on "wandering eyes," because the different color makes it obvious that those nearby have a different version of the test. It is also much easier to see who still has a test out--for me and for the other students. I simply say, "Please look around; if you see a blue or yellow paper, that person is still working and deserves the same quiet time to do his best that you had."

One is much more successful keeping students quiet as a favor to their peers than because "teacher said so."

4. Use lots of small blocks of work time.

I work in 103-minute class periods (1,2,3 one day and 4,5,6 the next day). Now that many of us are working in extended periods, we are seeing some management problems crop up that were not obvious in the 50-minute period. People can focus productively on a topic they are not particularly interested in for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes or so, the mind begins to wander, talking begins and behavior problems begin.

Try structuring your class so students perceive the work periods as 20 minutes long. Now, you can see the assignment as one long job, just creatively design the lesson so the students don't see it that way! Believe me, it makes a huge difference in the number of behavior problems that occur. I actually have students say, "Class is over already?" That's a big deal when the period is 103 minutes long!

5. Have a specific box for late work.

Any given day we can expect about 10 percent absences--the next day, about 10 percent absences, but not the same 10 percent as the day before. That can quickly add up to a lot of late papers to correct.

I have a box in my classroom that is clearly marked "late work." If the work is not on time, it goes in the "late work" box. I use a felt-tip pen to mark the turn-in date at the end of each workday. I "charge" students 10 percent per day for being late. If they have been absent, it is their responsibility to put "absent" at the top of the paper. I give top priority to grading on-time work. I promise to have the late work graded by the end of the quarter. When a student is concerned that the work has not been returned, he or she is welcome to check the "late work" box to make sure the assignment is still there. This way, about a week after a paper is due, if it's coming in, it's in the box. Then I sit down and grade the sets of week-old papers.

The students don't seem to mind this technique, as long as they know I haven't lost the paper, and I spend a lot less time grading late papers. Late papers get last priority, but the credit is always awarded before the next report period.

6. Have a box in the room for absent people's papers and handouts.

If we hang on to the absent students' papers (to give them when they return), who's responsible? If we put the paper in a consistent place in a consistent container, the students go to the box on their return and get the papers. Now, who's responsible for making sure late work is received? The more ways we can move this responsibility over, the better our lives will be. I call this focus "responsibility-moving-overmanship."

Students are naturally very good at responsibility-moving-overmanship. We have to get good at it too. In the business world, this skill is called "delegation," and the business world managers are having problems with it too. Once you get the hang of it, responsibility-moving-overmanship will ease your stress, and there will be fewer behavior problems as the students become more aware of the control they have over their success in your class.

7. Keep a record of the daily activities in plain sight for students to access.

This is one of my favorite ideas. I have a sheet of butcher paper, about 12 inches wide and 36 inches long, taped to one of the cupboard doors in my classroom(s). There is one sheet of butcher paper for each subject I teach. If I'm lucky enough to have access to colored paper, I use a different color of butcher paper for each subject (there's that visual thing again). Each day, I note what we did for lessons and date the entry. The next day, I use a different colored felt-tip pen to note our activities. I know, reading about this technique can make one think, "I don't have time for that? However, once one gets in the habit, it will take less time to do than it has taken to read about it. When students return from an absence and ask for what they missed, I just point to the butcher paper and smile.

Picture this: a student has been absent for two days. The parent says, "Be sure and get your work from Mrs. LaBelle."

That day, the student comes up to me during class and asks for work missed. (Have you ever noticed how we seldom get asked for work before class begins?) I'm busy with the business of conducting class, so I say, "I'll get it to you before class ends." Then I get even busier, the bell rings, and the student leaves.

That night the parent asks, "Did you get your work from Mrs. LaBelle?"

The student replies, "Well I asked her for it, but she never gave it to me."

Who's responsible? Responsibility-moving-overmanship involves designing a system where the student is responsible. By displaying the information so they can easily access it, I do not have to write down the same thing over and over for my absent students. I share this method at Parent Night, and I've received a lot of support! If you have students with special needs in your class, the aides will love the "butcher paper schedule." Mine do, because I do not even have to be in the room in order for them to see what we have been doing.

One teacher I know uses a big calendar he gets from the army recruiting office each September. In each block, he writes the activities for the day--but he only has two different subjects to teach. Whatever method you use, please seriously consider the "butcher paper schedule" technique. It has saved me so much time!

I would like to leave you with a statement that helped change the way I think about teaching. "The student is not the product. The learning is the product, and the teacher and the students should work together to produce the best quality product they can."

Sandy LaBelle lives in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, and has been teaching workshops and seminars for the last several years. She has been a presenter at the past two ACTE national conventions in Orlando and San Diego. LaBelle also presented at the National Principals' convention in San Antonio and was the keynote speaker at the National FCCLA conference in July of 2001. Her book, Teaching Smarter, was published in December of 1999, and she has co-produced an audiotape with nationally known speaker, Sherryl Gunnels-Perry. LaBelle can be reached on her Web site at www.teaching (where you can find out more about Teaching Smarter or order a book). Contact can also be made by e-mail at or by calling 253-630-2907. She is available as a presenter at school and district in-services, or as a keynote speaker at conventions.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Association for Career and Technical Education
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:LaBelle, Sandy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Previous Article:One School ... ONE STEP.

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