5 Way to Reduce your Mental Load in the Classroom

I am a HUGE proponent of working smarter not harder. My anxiety greatly affects my productivity so I have to make sure that I have procedures in place that are highly efficient or I will put even the most simple tasks off.  This is largely because my brain is full of things to do, and I get overwhelmed with where to start. This is called mental load; the number of tasks your brain is juggling at the same time. As teachers, we have one of the most decision heavy jobs on the planet and our to-do lists change minute to minute.  Our job might not be as physically exhausting as others, but it is definitely mentally exhausting. Because part of working smarter means not reinventing the wheel, I’m going to share my greatest discoveries for how to work more efficiently and reduce my mental load 

Google Forms: Hands down, my favourite tool for testing. If you do not use this for formative or summative assessments, you are missing out on the easiest way to get immediate feedback on students. I can share a link to my online quiz and receive student scores as well as information on each question as soon as the student clicks submit. While this isn’t a good tool for much more than multiple choice, matching or short answer questions, it is a great way for me to check in with my kids and be able to solve any comprehension problems the same day. I recently gave a PD session on this very topic and have shared our presentation with you below (you’re welcome lol).

Unit Plans:  So my first year of teaching, most teachers told me they never created unit plans after university. It’s a lot of work and they felt they were pointless. Thinking that I was taking notes from pros I followed in their footsteps and planned my lessons individually without too much thought on progression what would happen the following week, much less the following months. Boy was this the worst idea.  I missed outcomes and greatly overestimated how much time I had. When it came to the end of the year, I was struggling to get everything covered. It was a mess that just made me even more stressed. That summer, I decided I needed a plan, and I reworked my lessons so that I was set up for my first unit.  I didn’t finish every unit that year, but I continue to build comprehensive unit plans that match each of the units I have to cover. These plans include resources for each less, links to Google Docs or Google Slides I would refer to, even examples I would show my students. It has reduced my prep time drastically, and even when I have no idea what’s going on, I have my unit plan to set me on track.  

Lists: You’re probably rolling your eyes at this one. You have lists. 12 of them in fact. All on different sticky notes attached to your planner, your computer screen, on your phone, in that notebook you take to meetings but don’t look at until you’re in another meeting.  Do you have a list of your lists? I have two ways that I keep my lists up-to-date and easy to find.

  1. Google Keep: If you are a Google school this is a MUST! I love that I can link multiple accounts to a list. That I can colour code them. But most importantly, I can access them from anywhere. On my desktop at work or at home or on my phone. This keeps all my important todos in the same centralized location, meaning when it’s time to get working, I know exactly where to start.
  2. Daily List: I found a perfect tool while I was taking the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek (I highly recommend this course if you are working more than 8 hours a day). I printed off this sheet and put it in a page protector. I use a wet-erase marker to update it, then wipe it clean at the end of the week and start over! This list helps me know exactly what is coming up for me during the week. I have added this to my planner as I don’t have enough space to write down everything I need for each day. This list has helped me stay on top of phone calls, parent meetings, late assignments, and grading. I don’t know how I managed to keep my head on before I found it, but this one is definitely a lifesaver!

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Stay organized: Mess creates stress. You may know where every piece of paper is on your cluttered desk, but your brain can’t stop focusing on all the papers around you while you’re trying to get through your newly organized todo list. UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) discovered a link between high cortisol levels and the number of things in a home. Try and end your day by organizing papers and to-do lists so that you don’t feel overwhelmed when you come in the next morning.  Not only will this help you stay focused during the day, but it will also demonstrate good organization to your students and help reduce their stress in the classroom as well. I revamped my entire filing system over the summer, and my students immediately noticed how much more organized I was. I no longer worry about misplacing papers and I find myself being able to get focused faster, instead of sitting down and wasting 1 minute looking for the tests I need to grade.

Ask for help: If you aren’t collaborating with your fellow teachers, you’re working way harder than you have to. I’m only in my 4th year of teaching, and I would be lost without the resources my colleagues have shared with me. It is so much easier to adapt a lesson to your style than start from scratch. And sometimes another opinion is the difference between a good lesson and a GREAT one.  There is nothing wrong with checking out Teacher’s Pay Teachers for subject related sub plans, just make sure when using resources from people outside your province or state, that the information taught aligns with your curriculum.  

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