3 Tips for Maintaining Teacher Sanity While Building Independent Learners

Wednesday, October 28, 20155:19 PM



We all have the class that just doesn’t hear the directions. Or even worse, yet all the more common, is the chorus of repetitive questions: What are we supposed to do? How do I write the author's name? Do I have to double space? Huh? I don’t get it. Each seems to follow then next, like a rhythmic, sometimes soul-devouring, student chorus-in-the-round. 

I want to answer my students’ questions, and I want to help them learn, succeed, and grow. But I don’t want to go crazy doing it. I don’t want to answer the same question again and again, with the repetitive ask chirping away at my sanity, like the cricket you just can never find and smash. Sure, students need help sometimes--and that’s how it should be. But I want to stop enabling distractions, unnecessary repetition, and unclear directions; instead, I want to use that time to better impact student learning. 

Instead, let’s hold our students accountable for listening the first time and for reading directions on their own. Let’s help our students develop the grit, tools, and abilities to find those answers and move forward in their learning. I always tell my students that they’re lucky to have a magical device at their fingertips; with a few keystrokes, the entire world is in their hands. Now, I want them to use it.

Don’t Be Insane.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Many teachers, me included, live in insanity. We do the same thing over and over and expect new results. We repeat directions, give the same feedback, and make the same mistakes. I want to work harder on doing things differently to make my life easier and to make students’ learning better. Don’t be insane, and don’t afraid be admit failure and fail forward, to fix what makes you crazy, or to change what doesn’t work for you or your students.


Last year, I realized that I could not--for the life of me--take attendance quickly, accurately, or consistently. So I stopped. Students started to mark their own attendance and were held accountable for doing it better than I could. I always remind students that there are more of them than there are of me, and this was something that they did better individually than I would have done for all of them.

3 Tips for Maintaining Teacher Sanity While Building Independent Learners


Differentiate Direction Delivery

Clear and specific directions are a must for any good lesson. No matter how clear a teacher is, though, students will always crave repetition. Sometimes this is for good cause--clarity, checking for understanding, etc.--and other times it’s simply recovering from a distraction. Either way, unnecessary repetition kills class time, distracts the students who are ready for more, and eats away at the tiny bits of sanity the average teacher has left at 2 PM at the end of the week. 

To battle the directions dilemma, provide your directions in multiple formats, and differentiate them. Combine verbal directions with written ones and share them in consistent ways. Whether it’s writing directions on the board or posting them online, giving students a place to always go to clarify their learning means there’s less of a need for the teacher to play traffic cop. Instead, students can listen for direction, then read for clarification, and teachers can help the students who really need it.



Provide Online Resources

Any question that starts with “do you have a copy of…” drives me crazy by its very nature. I don’t make a lot of copies for my students since most of our work is online, so when I do, it’s important. Students who misplace their work or are disorganized have take away from the larger class and lesson. Extra copies of my resources are always in a bin in my classroom and all of the work is online. Students who are absent know where to find the work they missed, and can use our online Assignment Calendar and Google Classroom to keep up with lessons, homework, and everything in between. Provide access to your class resources for students and your live and professional practice will be easier because of it. 

I strongly recommend that teachers have a consistent place for these resources because students can best succeed with high expectations when they are consistent. I use my Google Sites class page, english10.aschoenbart.com. Whether you choose a Site, Classroom, Community, LMS, or wire bin in the back of your room, make a choice that works for you and your students.



Ask 3 Before Me


This graphic from Pintrest is excellent and sums up my best advice: all of us are smarter than one of us. Sometimes, a student has a question that is ready for the teacher and truly needs the expert response. More often, though, students need a push to revisit notes, rethink the issue, and consider the problem from a new angle. I’ve seen the Ask 3 Before Me strategy used with asking three friends, three resources, three websites, or any mix of them all. I love this poster because it offers up choice to meet the needs of the student, question, and situation.

My students are on Chromebooks and cell phones daily, so I encourage them to Google questions and search online resources. Other times, revisiting notes, my presentations, or asking a friend is the best option to clarify understanding. Push students to work together, interact with their notes and resources, and incorporate online tools to push their learning forward.



And Then...Ask Me

I love nothing more than helping my students learn and guiding their progress. I want my students to ask questions, overcome challenges, and improve. And while I love the transparency and improved communication that technology allows, I don’t want to enable students to take the easy way out. Instead, I hope to empower students to become active participants in their learning, to learn to be persistent in their process of education, and to ask quality questions to push learning forward. And, I want to be mostly sane at the end of it.


What are your tips for maintaining sanity in the classroom? For helping independent learners grow and progress? Share your ideas in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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