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A Single-Moding Approach to Teacher Productivity

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Some people I respect run a community/training site for online entrepreneurs called Fizzle, and in Fizzle there's this course called Productivity Essentials [1]. In the course, a key idea is that there are two required modes for online entrepreneurs: CEO Mode and Worker Bee mode. In the video below, Chase Reeves lays these out in his typical winsome fashion:

Teachers, I think, can benefit from the “single-moding” approach to productivity that Chase lays out because we, like online entrepreneurs, have a pretty small staff (pretty sure it's just us) but pretty audacious goals (you know, long-term flourishing). However, our work is a bit different than the entrepreneur's. Let's dive into it.

The Five Modes of Teaching

Here's how I liken Chase's two modes to our work as teachers.

Planning Mode: This is a CEO situation. It's where we make decisions about curriculum, assessments, classroom management, objectives, and the direction of the class. The degree to which we get to make decisions on these things varies by school, but all of us have to do at least some work here. However, planning doesn't do anything until it's executed.

Prepping Mode: This a Worker Bee situation — it's where execution starts to happen. We get materials around, create things (slideshows, stations, photocopies), and make sure we're ready for when the kids arrive.

Teaching Mode: This is kind of a place where the Worker Bee and the CEO co-exist. We teach the lesson as planned and prepped, but we also make modifications based on checks for understanding and make note of how our plans might need to be adjusted.

Reflect and Review Mode: Now we're fully back into the CEO mode, reflecting on what worked, reviewing student work, and noting teaching points for the following day's work.

Feedback Mode: Back to Worker Bee — this doesn't happen daily for me (100+ kids on the roster), but when it does, it's largely about Worker Bee execution. I'm either giving kids feedback on their written work or preparing whole-class feedback. Importantly, this is one of the hardest times to stay focused on being a Worker Bee because it's usually both time-consuming and tedious. To make it less so, we need to make our feedback as efficient as possible and limit the degree to which we engage in distractions while doing it.

The Importance of Teacher Single-Moding and How to Do It

A key pressure point for teachers, of course, is that (at least in the USA) we're given very little non-instructional time during the school day. Since these “prep periods” are so minimal, we find ourselves needing to do more in an hour than we can possibly do, and so we start talking ourselves into avenues of insanity like unconstrained working hours or treating relatively pointless tasks (e.g., frequent email-checking) as if they are important. This is a question not just of productivity but of productivity's roots in self-discipline and clear thinking.

The shorthand means for implementing this is to get in the habit of catching ourselves multi-moding. If we were planning a unit ten minutes ago and now find ourselves creating a mid-unit writing prompt, we are probably doing it wrong. Instead, we need to step away from the mid-unit Prep work and go back to Planning mode. Finish planning the unit — something like Wiggins' Understanding by Design or Burke's What's the Big Idea helps here — and then become the worker bee who does the necessary prep work.

The longhand version is up to you; only you can decide how to use the time you have — the finite time, the time between when you've decided you'll start working and when you've decided you'll stop. You approach this like a tinker, like an experimenter, like someone who holds and tests hypotheses about how best to use time.

My hope, though, is that it helps to reflect today on the real importance of single-moding, of doing one thing at a time.



  1. Fizzle is an example of a place where I've learned a non-teaching topic and, along the way, learned a lot that has helped me as a teacher.
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