Two years ago, I would have dismissed the thought of promoting checklists to fellow teachers: I saw the impersonal routine they implied as stifling and in any case, my own organisation was too haphazard to venture advice to anyone else. But my views and my efficiency have changed.
As teachers, many things prevent us from achieving all that we would like, but most come down to a single cause: while students’ needs are infinite, our time and resources are not. Were we to itemise everything we would like to do for every student in all our classes for a single day – marking books, planning lessons, having supportive individual conversations and so on – and then add up the time these tasks demand, I suspect we would reach a total in excess of a reasonable week’s work. Additional external and unsought factors add to this pressure – moving classrooms, evidencing our work for Ofsted, specification changes – but they are simply a bitter icing; the cake is unpalatable because students’ needs are so extensive. Our time will never suffice for all we hope to do, so it pays to be as efficient as possible.
I was never one of those really organised teachers… You know the ones I mean: intimidatingly structured in all they do. Neat stacks of paper, appropriately labelled and organised, set out everything their students may need each day; by the afternoon, worksheets have been completed diligently, resources filed carefully, work marked constructively and all is ready for tomorrow. I can offer nothing to such paragons.
I was more of a ‘coper’: getting by most of the time, with occasional heart-stopping moments as I realised, or feared, that I’d committed a gigantic oversight. I’d find myself starting a lesson and realising I hadn’t printed enough copies of an essential worksheet. Struggling with how many students need help with a simple task I was sure I’d explained clearly. Crawling occasionally to colleagues and managers to apologies that data, forms or replies have slipped my mind.
I’m not a bad person or a bad teacher. I managed my mistakes. I reprinted lesson resources and sent students to collect them, anxiously filling time. I ran around the classroom trying to help every student, not quite managing, and ending with a dull sense that the lesson didn’t quite work out – a sense quickly overwhelmed by the rush of the next class’s arrival. I apologised to colleagues and struggled on to my next lapse. I chalked up my mistakes and omissions as an inevitable part of the everyday struggle of being a teacher, and assumed it was meant to be this way.
Atul Gawande changed everything for me. I began by reading Better – a brilliant book which I felt set out a model for improving teaching. On the strength of Better, I bought both his other books – Complications and The Checklist Manifesto. Complications was interesting, The Checklist Manifesto was transformational. Gawande showed that checklists can help us focus on what really matters, can prevent us from missing key actions, can build better teams. I was inspired.
I wrote up what I’d learned from Gawande in a blog and began to experiment. It worked. My organisation was transformed, and numerous other advantages accrued: I was not only more effective in my work, I felt better about it too.
Having experimented, I began to present what I’d learned. And what I heard back was that it worked. Teachers tweeted and blogged to say that checklists were really helping them.
It was this encouragement, particularly inspiration from @Leedsartteacher, that led to Ticked Off. Checklists transformed transformed my work: I became more organised, more effective, more relaxed. The changes I’d experienced were too good not to share with fellow teachers. After a year writing, collecting, refining, editing, and proofing, Ticked Off is the result.