Teaching Opinion

Tips for Capitalizing on Lost Instructional Time

By Starr Sackstein — March 09, 2017 2 min read
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Since most of us get into teaching to be with students, there is nothing worse than losing instructional time with them.

We get taken out of our classes for all kinds of reasons, but the guilt and disappointment, as well as the break in flow can be detrimental to student learning regardless of why it is happening.

As teachers, when we are called away to meetings, especially of the unexpected variety, with little time to plan for the loss, we need to have protocols in place in our classrooms that inspire and encourage students to use the independent substitute time to continue their learning.

Believe it or not, it is possible to keep the learning happening, even in a teacher’s absence and I strongly recommend the following to ensure that even for the unplanned moments we can’t be in our classrooms, students learn.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Build a culture from the start that empowers students to be independent even when you’re there. Don’t bail them out the second they need help. Allow the productive struggle to ensue and encourage them to work with each other.
  • Allow students to have choice in every class, so that when you aren’t there to supervise or facilitate from the side, they always know there are many things that can be done on any given day. For example, if they finish the learning of the lesson early, have an independent reading protocol where they can take out a book of their choosing and read quietly. Or if you have access to technology in the room, maybe you have a class Twitter hashtag that they can add resources to or pose questions to when they have completed the assignment.
  • Maintain a classroom that has on-going multiple projects. Perhaps they are working on group projects at the same time they are working on independent ones where they can seamlessly move back and forth through the work because they rely on each other.
  • Be available to students via technology in your absence when you can. If you don’t feel comfortable with them having your personal accounts, make a class email, or social media profile where they can reach out. Voxer is great for this because you can use your voice and so can they to make sure there is an understanding of expectations.
  • Send an email to the class (I have this practice in place daily), where I provide the lesson plan and additional resources directly to students so even if they are absent, they can still get what they need and ask any appropriate questions moving forward. This works in both directions.
  • Have a student periscope in class so you can see what is going on for a few minutes. It’s easy enough to find a student or two who would be willing to help out, so that the other students who may be inclined to take advantage of a substitute, know that your presence is only a click away.
  • Remind students regularly that they have a choice to participate in their own learning and just because you aren’t there, doesn’t mean their learning should cease. They owe it to themselves to use the time productively.

Every student wants to learn, but sometimes the temptation to mess around becomes too great, especially when an unfamiliar substitute is in front of the room. If we can create an atmosphere that demand and challenges students to engage, they will rise to the occasion, at least most of them will. So much of what we do depends on the groundwork we lay on a regular basis. What we value becomes evident, perhaps more so in our absence.

How do you inspire students to be proactive in their learning even in your absence? Or what challenges have you faced trying to make this shift? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.