A Lazy Genius Teacher

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Some of my favorite “teacher-y” books

As an avid reader, teacher, and input-seeker, I’ve thoroughly deep-dived the popular authors in this world of innovative education. Titles like The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin, Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller, and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick line my bookshelves — unless I’ve loaned my copy out to someone, which is highly probable. However, this year the most influential book on my teaching has nothing to do with education. It’s technically a self help book (“A self help book for people who hate self help books”, as the author states).

The book is The Lazy Genius Way by podcaster and author Kendra Adachi. That’s right– I “lazy geniused” my teaching methods this year!

I discovered Kendra Adachi last spring when she was a guest on one of my other favorite podcasts, and I was immediately hooked. I binged episodes of her podcast (The Lazy Genius) and requested her book from the library. I’m not alone in my interest, so it took awhile to make my way up the library waitlist. I finally got my hands on the book over the summer, and the timing couldn’t have been better, just as I was preparing to plan for the new school year.

Kendra presents her ideas as principles to help readers be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t. The overriding theme of her message is “name what matters”. Once I name what matters in any given situation, I can zero in on accomplishing it, and essentially, let the rest slide as needed.

Like so many other pandemic-era teachers, I was in survival mode last year. I was at a new-to-me school with new-to-me curriculum, masked, extremely limited classroom space, constant sanitation for the in-person students, virtual lessons for the at-home students, and the ever present threat of ALL of us going virtual at any given moment. Some of the routines I somewhat haphazardly threw in place worked great, while some *ehem* didn’t. I knew going into this year that I needed to do better, even if the world situation hasn’t changed as much as I’d like.

So I asked myself as I planned for the coming school year “what matters?”

-What matters most in the curriculum?

-What matters most in our daily routines?

-What matters in my grading practices?

-What matters in my physical space?

Here’s where I landed: What matters in the curriculum are specific learning goals related to reading, writing, academic habits, and community membership. What matters in our daily routines is setting the right tone for instruction tempered with civil conversation. What matters most in the space is my ability to reach each student while limiting distractions as much as possible. What matters most in grading is timely feedback – helping my students improve from one assignment to the next. What doesn’t matter is an over excess of worksheets that (while applicable) don’t aid student growth if I can’t get them back to the students in a timely manner — and which usually end up crumpled in the bottom of some kids’ backpacks, anyway.

So I moved from digital journals and paper worksheets to consolidated spiral notebooks, eliminated stand-alone worksheets as much as possible (at least for the older grades – I just can’t seem to get rid of them completely for younger grades), zeroed in on learning goals for the year, and set the house rule of collecting the notebooks once a week for timely feedback.

My “Decide Once” (another Lazy Genius principle):
Spiral Notebooks and Single Point Rubrics

I was also influenced by Sarah M. Zerwin, who spoke in a session in this year’s Hive Summit (free online PD) on the topic of going gradeless. I didn’t read her book (because money), but I internet-stalked her content enough to glean several practical ideas — specifically, her list of learning goals and use of single-point rubrics. I haven’t gone totally gradeless the way she has, but those two changes alone are having a profound impact on how I teach and grade this year.

Our class learning goals – heavily borrowed from Sarah M. Zerwin’s work

I’m only a few weeks into the school year, but so far so good! I’ve settled into much better routines for useful feedback, and having established learning goals gave me permission to pivot easily the day I accidentally left an entire box of notebooks at home and couldn’t have my students take the notes I had planned. (We spent almost the whole class on one of Esther Brunat’s “Rank Them” slides — it was a blast, and totally justified as it provided excellent practice in polite disagreement, which applies to Learning Goal 5: “Become a Positive Community Member”.)

It’s not perfect, by any means. I learned pretty quickly that I can’t collect all the notebooks in one day, because they can take a long time to grade all lumped together, but if I spread them out, it’s manageable. And my physical space is certainly testing my creative limits this year! Overall, though, I feel like I’m on a better course than I was last year.

If a non-education themed book is having so much impact on my class – what other “outside” materials might be equally helpful to my teaching? Isn’t that its own kind of innovative thinking and teaching? My input-themed mind is currently deep-diving this question, and the stack of books I have waiting on hold for me at the library includes authors like Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Emily P. Freeman, Jessica Honegger, and so on. I’m not sure what direction I’ll go next, but as always, I’m enjoying the ride!

How about you? What books and resources are having a tangible impact for you?

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