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16 Ways To Reduce Your Teacher Workload



Teaching is hard.

Work Smarter As A Teacher

16 Ways To Reduce Your Teacher Workload

by Terry Heick

There are many ways to reduce your teacher workload–to work smarter and not harder as a teacher.

Working ‘less hard’ may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s important to do so because teaching as a calling is important. The result is that we push ourselves–and are pushed by others–to be as close as we can be to perfect. This may not be our best thinking.

In public education, defined in terms and standards that it defines and measures itself by, perfect teaching means bringing every child to master every academic standard, then to be able to prove that mastery on a government-designed test.

This is a tragically limited view of knowledge, societal trends, and human potential, but let’s just accept that in 2020, that’s just where and what education ‘is’; to argue against this definition the work of innovation and progressive thinking and clean-sheet learning design, and that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about helping teachers.

So below, I’ve listed some strategies to save teachers time, effort, angst, or wasted potential. The big idea is helping you work smarter, and not harder, as a teacher.

While the benefits of smarter-not-harder-teaching include less mental and physical fatigue and likely more contentment as a professional and sustainability in your career, perhaps the most critical boon is to your creativity and inner genius: A cluttered mind burdened with task and tedium can’t readily achieve its own potential. There are warning signs of teacher burnout–don’t overlook them.

So many teachers are amazingly gifted, but never quite find the space in their own mind and heart to bring it all together at the same time, and after four or five years of mediocrity, just accept that that’s what ‘they are’ or what ‘education is.’ And it doesn’t have to be that way.

As it is, the field of education focuses on weaknesses and accountability and certification and data and committees and compliance. There is little room for greatness or reward for innovation or flexibility for the kinds of risk-taking and genius that innovation requires. If we want amazing teachers, we need to quit making it so difficult to be amazing.

Right, so, on to the list. 16 seems like a lot of tips, but not all will work for everyone. If you can just find two or three that help, that’d be a good start.

Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload

16 Ways To Reduce Your Teacher Workload

1. Stop Focusing on Your Weaknesses

There are certain things you do well–some even exceptionally well. Use those to drive your teaching. Whether you’re creative, energetic, charismatic, forward-thinking, organized, effortlessly collaborative, hip, intellectual–whatever you are, use it.

By all means, if you’re not strong with technology or classroom management or assessment or data, work to bolster those weaknesses. But as you plan your own teaching and the growth of your career, work backward from your strengths as you shift from working harder to working smarter.

2. Create a System and Schedule for School and Home

Sometimes you need to bring work home, and sometimes you’ll need to bring home to work. That’s part of being a human being.

But smart teaching requires a system and a schedule–some way to organize your priorities and workflow. Rules for grading (e.g., everything is graded within 48 hours or we grade it as a class or use self-assessment), rules for using your planning period (e.g., no cellphone), or rules for what work you let yourself take home (e.g., consider refinement of unit plans based on what you’re seeing in class as ‘okay’ to do at home while ‘grading papers’ not)–anything that creates a kind of system you can depend on and refine as you go along that keeps you from unchecked inefficiency and long nights staring bleary-eyed at papers.

This is a simple way to reduce your workload as a teacher.

3. Make it Your Job to be Inspired

Being inspired and curious and enthusiastic and full of wonder are prep-requisites for excellence in most ‘fields’ and domains. Protecting your inspiration and your gifts and your little guilty pleasures as a teacher is as critical as being able to quiet a noisy classroom or extract takeaways from data.

4. Create Intentional Spaces

Physically and digitally, create specific spaces to organization, creativity, technology, neurology, etc.

As a metaphor, think Pinterest boards for each area crucial to your success as a teacher, but not just Pinterest — think communities and books and social media channels and online courses and websites and small-scale PLNs and whatever else you need as a teacher. If it’s important to you, make it a priority — and making a literal ‘space’ for it can make that possible.

5. Say ‘No’

You have to be selective here, of course. Don’t tell that student that needs you ‘no,’ or your principal when they ask for documentation for something. But set clear boundaries for yourself and your time that make great teaching sustainable for you. You’re not good to students if you burn yourself out.

6. Work With a ‘Do less’ Partner

Kind of like a workout buddy–someone to keep you company, share tips and ideas with, or hold one another accountable for working less–to reduce your workload as a teacher.

7. Delegate, Share, Empower

These are classic ‘save yourself time’ strategies. If not done well, they can end up costing you more time than they save; even done intelligently there can be an implementation dip. But get them right and stick with them, and others can grow alongside you as a teacher.


By delegating the right tasks to the right people, you can save time and increase the capacity of students. Delegate the creation of study cards, the creation and ongoing updating of a ‘homework’ folder for students that miss class, the editing and uploading and tagging of video for a flipped classroom, maintenance of the class website, use of class social media–what would actually help here depends on your classroom, but the lesson remains: spread the burden–and opportunity–of the day-to-day operation of your classroom.

You can share, too. Share lessons with other teachers. Share data — or share the administrating of data-giving fluency probes or mini-assessments. Share the responsibility for maintaining the bulletin board down at the end of the hall. Share apps through an iCloud account. Share the work of proactively calling home to parents by rotating with other teachers on your team or in your department. You get the idea.

Empowering those around you can make for smarter teaching, too. This is a lot like ‘delegating,’ but with more freedom. Instead of delegating a specific task, you can empower a student with autonomy for a specific purpose so that they can identify necessary tasks, then complete them and revise needs accordingly. For example, instead of delegating the changing of pictures for the proverbial bulletin board down the hall, you empower them to use the board entirely at their own discretion. They decide what it’s used for and how to make it happen. Oversight is necessary, but by delegating your workload as a teacher is reduced.

And that’s smart.

8. Become Learning-Model Literate

Learning models are powerful strategies for innovation in education–and a way to work smarter, not harder as a teacher. A learning model is really just an approach for learning–a pattern or sequence or set of strategies and values designed to promote learning. Each usually has a certain shtick — a problem it addresses or a benefit it seeks to provide.

The flipped classroom, for example, is a model that simply ‘flips’ the kinds of work students do at home and what they do at school. One ‘drawback’ is the demand for technology, but a benefit is an opportunity for improved ongoing learning feedback as they practice new skills. This has the potential to save you time as a teacher, but that (obviously) can’t happen if you don’t A) Know what a ‘flipped classroom’ is and B) Understand exactly how it might work and C) Know the ins and outs to really optimizing its function to help students.

The more you’re aware of emerging trends and models, the more you can bring bits and pieces into your classroom for practice, or even adapting new frameworks outright to further reduce your workload as a teacher.

9. Do Less

Not everything you do needs to be done. It’s not always easy to see that in real-time, but in hindsight, it can be clear. Not all tasks are equally valuable.

10. Reflect

See #9. Strong and consistent reflection is the closest you’ll ever come to being able to predict the future.

11. Use Technology Effectively

Tech, done well, can save you an extraordinary amount of time. Seeing patterns in student errors through data analysis. Giving voice feedback to student writing. Creating quizzes that grade themselves. Empowering students for self-directed learning through carefully curated resources and networks. Automatic curation of select project-based learning artifacts. Notifications sent home. Sharing student work with parents with the push of a button.

Learn what tech does what, and start experimenting.

12. Don’t Grade Everything

And even what you do grade, consider only grading the work smarter for specific items that are most likely to benefit that student for that skill that they need the most.

13. Use Social Media Effectively

Like #11, using social media can save you time by reducing communication barriers, increasing the relative velocity of information, scale certain tasks effortlessly, creating visibility for student progress, and more. Use social media effectively, then help students do the same.

14. Prioritize

This is similar to #9. Know what’s most important, and do more of that to reduce your workload as a teacher. Identify what’s less important, and do less of that.

Prioritization isn’t rocket science, you’ve just got to have the courage to do it.

15. Use Emotion Intentionally

Emotion is what drives us as human beings. Affection, curiosity, insecurity, hope. Love. ‘How’ to use emotion to teacher smarter is probably a little esoteric, and this post is already almost 2000 words so I’ll just stop short and say that emotion is what energizes you — and is also what fatigues you.

And students.

Know what kinds of thoughts and activities and projects and grouping activities and patterns cause what sorts of emotions, and you can begin to master the art of teaching.

16. Talk *with* rather than *to* parents

Talk with them. Not all will be able to ‘help,’ but we can agree that it’s ‘smart’ to have parents at least on the same page with you as a teacher, and talking to–or worse, down to–them is the quickest way to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It’s difficult to get busy parents on board with over-worked teachers to help over-tested students, but what’s the alternative? To whatever degree you are able, collaborate with them instead.

At worst, they’ll ‘know what’s going on at school,’ and at best they just might surprise you with support, resources, ideas, and other avenues to make your life easier, and student outcomes more compelling and enduring.

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The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives




The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”




They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives
pay for an essay to be written

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching



How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.


If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.


Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional


Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog:

Vicki on Facebook:

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet


A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning



18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.


X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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