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WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER


one individual as a reasonable and strategic expenditure of time and energy may not work or be appropriate for others. Just as companies aiming for sustainability will take different steps depending on their business models, so must teachers individually examine their students’ needs, current practices, time commitments, and pedagogical beliefs.


Consider two high school English teachers whose classes are focused on persuasive writing. Both teachers want to ensure their students receive high-quality feedback on their writing. After assessing his students’ skill levels, one decides to provide feedback personally, toting rough drafts home each evening and writing substantive comments on them. He has only one preparation this school year and has taught the course for several years; his planning demands are thus relatively limited. The students respond well to his feedback. In the end, he feels his time expenditure is worthwhile as it helps his students grow as writers. Also, the final grading of the papers is more efficient since he has read each paper earlier, and the final drafts have fewer flaws.


The other teacher coaches a varsity sport and does not feel she can devote time to personal feedback for each student each evening throughout the writing process. Moreover, she has discovered that her students are quite independent and able to handle a great deal of autonomy. As an alternative to nightly feedback, she develops a peer editing system that utilizes online resources and allows her to see the comments that students are providing to one another. She dedicates some class time to coaching the whole class on constructive editing and feedback. In the end, she feels that the guided peer-editing experience helps her students assimilate her writing expectations. When it comes time to grade the papers, she has to spend a bit more time because she is not as familiar with the students’ writing on the assignment.


While one of these approaches may resonate more powerfully with some readers than the other, both are potentially valid, and the differences between them illustrate the personal nature of sustainability with regard to teaching practices. Adopting a sustainable approach often requires us to consider the big picture and the cumulative demands on our time as teachers, as well as what a particular group of students most needs.


Thus, sustainable teaching is an individual construct; it is a mindset, plus planning and instructional practices, that allows teachers to persist in providing consistently engaging and effective instruction for students. Sustainable teaching yields benefits for teachers in that they can conserve personal resources and therefore be energized as they approach their work with students; students, then, also reap benefits from this approach. Teachers reflect on their own practices to determine how they can most efficiently develop and deliver effective instruction that boosts student learning.


40 Virginia Educational Leadership Vol. 8 No. 1 Spring 2011


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