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The Biggest Secret to Sustainability in the Classroom

Mar 23, 2021

 What is the Biggest Secret to Sustainability in the Classroom?  Teachers do some of the most impactful and important work, and keeping them in the classroom is our top priority here on the podcast and for team Teach On A Mission, and we work to do that by helping teachers build sustainable systems and practices in their classrooms.

Sometimes it’s hard to have these conversations about doing things that sustain teachers because it feels guilty to focus so much on the adult in the room rather than the students.  That narrative, along with the status quo of teacher hustle equating to effectiveness, is what’s ultimately driving teachers away from the classroom.

Could we overdo it by focusing too much on the teacher and not enough on the students?  Of course we could - there are two ends of extreme to every choice, and I choose to live somewhere comfortably in the middle as much as possible, including when it comes to building an effective classroom.

So what is this big secret?  The biggest secret to finding sustainability in the classroom?

Well, I’m going to tell you all about it, and I’m also going to provide three reasons why this one thing is so sustaining.  After reading this blog, you will feel empowered to get the best return on your time investment with every classroom choice you make because you know that sustaining you is important, not selfish, work, and you’ll know how to make it happen with the flipped classroom.

Return On Investment

Often times in the business world you hear the term ROI, which stands for return on investment.  It’s one of the most important aspects of any financial decision you make whether you’re a fortune 500 company, or a family trying to decide on a larger purchase.  Like right now, my husband and I are deciding if we install a sprinkler system or remodel our master bathroom… which one will result in the best ROI.

You know who doesn’t have these conversations?  Teachers.  Meaning they don’t work with large sums of money  when it comes to the decisions they make about their business, the classrooms, and so they don’t have to consider ROI.

Or do they… 

Maybe teachers don’t work with large sums of money, but you know what probably means more to every single teacher in the world, maybe even more than money?


And this is what I believe is the biggest secret to building a sustainable classroom.  In every decision a teacher makes, he/she must consider the possible return on their TIME investment.  So it’s not ROI, it’s ROTI - return on time investment.

The next time you consider using a new project in your classroom, implementing a new strategy, or even whether or not to rearrange your seating charts again, ask yourself… what kind of return will I get on my time investment here?  Then determine if it’s worth the time investment.

The Changing Times in Education

Two weeks ago, I talked all about the New Normal in education we are barreling toward, and how it truly could be a great opportunity to determine what we want our normal to look  like as classroom educators.

If I could add an addendum to that blog, it would be that when you consider what you want your classroom to look like, how you want it to flow, function, and feel,  you should do nothing else before considering the potential return on your time investment with each decision you need to make.

If it’s alright with you, I’d like to help you do that.  I would like to give you some teacher-friend advice on how I believe you can get the best return on your time investment especially when it comes to the new normal we’re approaching in education.

In that blog I mentioned the New Normal when it comes to things like:

  • Being accessible to all students no matter how they  arrive to your classroom,
  • Managing students on multiple platforms,
  • Staying grounded in the content while  providing engaging learning opportunities and experiences for your students so that they choose to arrive to and thrive in your class…

If wrapping all of those kinds of results up into a sound, research-backed, sustainable structure of your classroom  is what we want to achieve, then the absolute best way to do it is through the foundations of flipped learning; by flipping the classroom.

Now, I want to show you why.  I’m not just going to say “Hey, I’ve got a secret you want to hear that’s going to rock your socks,” tell you the strategy and then peace out.  No.  I want to empower you to get  jazzed up  about it.  See the impact it can have not just on your classroom but on the sustainability of your daily teaching life.

And I’ve got three key points to show you the sustainability of the flipped classroom.  Here’s the truth - a ton of teachers who consider flipping start the process by considering if it’s worth the work.  Wondering, ok how much work is this going to be because I already have a never ending to-do list.

And you are not wrong in asking those questions, because you are ultimately asking about the time investment you’ll make, and here I am showing you the return you will get.

Return on Teacher Time Investment

Return on Time Investment number one is this…

Let’s talk about the videos of your flipped classroom, particularly what they look like at different grade levels.  Starting with our oldest students in high school, you don’t want to make your videos longer than 20 minutes.   For lower high school students, get closer to 10-15 minutes, then on down from there to elementary-aged kids, no more than 5-10 minutes.  For the babies, that is kindergarten and first grade or lower, don’t make a single video longer than 5 minutes.

But a high school teacher making 20 minute videos will have her students watch 2-3 of those per week.  An elementary school teacher will make multiple 5 minute videos for her students to watch possibly per day - let’s just say one for each subject of math, reading, and science, for instance.  Those two amounts of video-time get pretty close to equaling out.

One video that is 15-20 minutes in length (so that’s three to four videos for our elementary teachers), will take about 30-40 minutes to make depending on your editing preferences and how many mistakes you made while recording.  Man that sounds like a lot of work.  I won’t sugar coat it, it is a decent amount of work, but let’s get real about this time investment so we are fully aware of exactly how much time we are investing and what return it will get us.

Delivering that information to students in a traditional classroom (remember, a 15-20 minute video) every bell of the day takes 30-40 minutes multiplied by how many bells you teach it, multiplied by semester (if it’s a semester course), multiplied for every year you teach it.

Let’s do the math.

As a high school teacher who teaches gives one 30 minute lecture in the same course for, let’s say, 10 years because our courses do switch, and teaches that course 4 bells per day will spend 1200 hours delivering that one lecture.  

If you make it into a video, and let’s say you remake that video after 5 years because you want to update it, you’ll spend no more than one hour delivering that content and yet all of the students you have in those ten years will get the content.

Not to mention, because it’s in a video, more of your students are likely to get the content because they're able to watch your lecture in spite of absences.

Return on time investment number two is this…

Because content delivery is through a video and probably outside of class time (although it doesn’t have to be), you now have time to empower your students learning through meaningful conversations instead of just reminding them of their lengthy to-do list as if that’s the equivalent to learning.

The meaningful conversations you’ll have in your classroom will be more focused on their learning habits and the results of their effort, and therefore will have better return because you are increasing student ownership and accountability.

So not only does the video itself have a high return, but it provides you more time in class to then get even more return with what you decide to do in class.

And engaging students in their own metacognitive learning processes will get higher returns on your time investment everyday of the week.

The ability to dive deeper into the content, not just stay up on surface-level-learning, will also get a greater return.  Not to mention, it’s going to reach those middle of the road students who are oftentimes left behind in our hustle of reaching kids at the bottom and top of performance, and will push them to higher growth and achievement.

Return on time investment number three is this....

Your passion and excitement in your classroom matters.  If you are delivering the same song and dance multiple times a day without the ability to truly dive deeper and engage with students, you’re going to burn out.  Your passion and excitement is going to fade.

With the flipped classroom you have the class time to spend on the cool stuff of what you teach or maybe the cool ways in which you teach it.  You can save all the stuff that you really like to teach for in-class time, making everything else in a video.  Or, you get to put all the content outside of class so that you can do things like Socratic seminars, let them choose a book to read in your non-ELA classroom, a fun new lab you’ve always wanted to try, passion projects, 20% time, the possibilities are endless.  

And, sure it’s all stuff you’ll need to find or build, but the possibility is there and it’s one that gets you going as a teacher, one that lights you up and reminds you of why you love to teach without sacrificing  your effectiveness with the content in the process.

That last part is huge.  Because of the flipped classroom, you can do the cool stuff you want to do, that really lights you up and gets kids engaged without sacrificing the content.   IN a traditional  classroom you have to set standards aside, not all the time but a lot of the time, in order to do something cool.  Well, in the flipped classroom you don’t have to set it aside, you can do both.

Alright teacher-friend, you now know the best kept secret of sustainability in your classroom, and that is to consider the return on your time investment with every classroom decision you make.  You also can see and I hope feel empowered to get the best return on your time investment with the flipped classroom. 

If you’re ready to flip your classroom (or know you will be soon) I have the exact resource you need to get started, and that is the Flipped Classroom Starter Kit.  It’s a free, printable guide built on my ten years of flipping my own classroom and helping other teachers do the same.

If this message of flipping and sustainability is resonating with you, listen to the podcast linked at the top of the blog.  It would mean the world if you would subscribe, rate, and review the podcast so that I know what you like about it, but also so that we can reach more teachers with our message of sustainability.

Have a fantastic day doing your incredibly impactful work, and I’ll see you next week, same time, same place. Bye.

P.S. Starting this week, I am going LIVE on Facebook to dive deeper into this topic of flipping.  Please join me this Wednesday, March 24th at 8pm EST for a discussion on how no two flipped classroom should look the same and what that means for YOUR flipped classroom.


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