Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Taking Time for Personal Projects as Teachers

Teaching is a busy job. With so many different responsibilities packed into a few short hours everyday, it is hard to imagine squeezing anything else in...especially something you do just for yourself.

In my new role this year as education technology coach, I have the flexibility to make my own schedule. Originally I thought this would mean that perhaps I might just have a few more minutes to slow down and breathe at any point in the day but in fact learnt quickly that the job meant quite the opposite and my calendar was filled. Busier than I had ever expected or in previous years, I also found myself teaching more. Most days a week I was teaching in some capacity a minimum of five out of six classes with at least an activity or meeting or professional development session or two to lead at lunch, before school or after school. In trying to find the balance, I was finding that I was becoming more off tilter. I was finding it more difficult to complete the other portions of my job while still wanting to be in the classroom as much as I could.

After a week or so of trying to find the root cause and a few discussions later, one of the steps forward I decided to make was to take time each week for myself during the work day. It still boggles my mind that I'm actually doing it but the level of productivity that has evolved from it the rest of the week makes it well worth the dedicated time slot in my schedule.

Just to clarify, time for myself doesn't mean kicking back and relaxing. Rather, blocking out a regular amount of time each week to work on the projects or ideas that inspire me. They may be tasks I just have to get done or something else completely differentI want to explore. Think of it as my 20% time like Google, iTime, Personal Projects, or Genius Hour but for teachers. Time to simply focus on things that inspire a passion and drive even when it gets busy.

On my day off (due to public holiday), I sent the better part of my morning designing a e-Portfolio for my Masters of Education that would be long lasting throughout my entire programme. Each class seemed to ask you to set up an e-portfolio/blog to document your learning in the course but having 8 different e-Portfolios in the end didn't make sense to me. Thus, figuring out a way to map out a design and create what I had envisioned had me captivated and channeling my inner nerd without even realizing I was doing work. This was a project that stemmed internally but was rewarding to know I was setting myself up for success for the next few terms of study. In addition, it got me thinking about how we do portfolios at our school and how they transition between years without one central portfolio to house all e-Portfolios each year. Thus, generate even more learning outcomes than I had initially targeted for.

The first two periods coming into work today were scheduled as office work and administrative tasks that needed to be completed. In that time, I felt more accomplished, productive and motivated than I had the last few weeks during the time in the office.  I felt momentum continuing to flow from one day of independent work into other projects and started to make serious headway with them that I got so caught up in doing them, I almost didn't realize it was time to head to class.

This got me thinking. We want our kids to inquire into projects that interest them. We want them to ask questions and find the answers. We give them the time, the tools, the resources, and the support to explore their passions through learning. But how often during the work day do we do this for ourselves? There is always another assessment, report card, meeting, lesson to plan, the list goes on. A teacher's to do list is never complete.  But what if you blocked out time during the work day to do exactly what you wanted to explore. Why is it that what we ask of our students we don't always model ourselves?

To be honest, when I schedule the time from now on during the work day, it will almost always be work related independent projects. But because I reframe the work in my mind as time to work on whatever I wanted, I chose the work I felt I wanted to do, not just because they had to get done. Ownership over work truly promotes internal motivation. When mindset changes, so do the outcomes.

I'm looking forward to seeing how 'my time' evolves but it's not coming off my calendar any time soon. I wonder how many other educators actually dedicate time to individual learning in a schedule of chaos. I wonder what opportunities lie ahead in my time. My time is time for my learning, my exploration and my growth.

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