Tracking Time to Learn from Our Patterns – a Lesson from My New World

At my new company, we track our time. I imagine many companies track how time is spent. For me, in these two weeks, during an 8-9 hour day, I probably spend 3 minutes total going through the exercise of tracking my time. So, it’s easy. The software we use makes it easy. There are pre-poulated pull-down menus and sub-menus. There are wonderfully granular levels of such activity as “research.” There are text fields so that I can add commentary, too. Then, I can look at reports of how I am spending my time. Of course, my coaches can also view how I spend my time, and I totally and completely trust them to do so.

What if we teachers tracked our time like this? Recently, at lunch with a colleague, I mentioned how surprised I was to learn that I am loving my self-tracking of time. Because I have spent 20 years in schools, and because I love to integrate most of what I am learning with school life, I could imagine us teachers tracking our time. I could imagine content-oriented pull-down menus and sub-menus. I could imagine skill-oriented pull-down menus and sub-menus. I could imagine methodology and pedagogy menus and sub-menus. I could imagine running a report after two weeks and seeing for myself, “Wow. I spent 78% of my teaching time this week lecturing. Is that a good thing? How might I re-balance my methodology and approaches given my SMART goal and desired outcome for the year?”

Of course, I also imagined students tracking their time. In the spirit of making education “more pull, than push,” I would love for a student to share with me in an individual conference how he or she had spent his/her learning time during the week or two-week period. I could imagine doing this with advisees, so that I could discover with them how they are exploring their interests and spending time in their structured school-learning environments. I could imagine seeing the cross-polinations and synergies among class-content time recordings and self-directed time recordings.

In many ways, I see my time tracking as related to the tips shared in an article that a colleague sent to me about 11 secrets of leadership. My time tracking allows me to record reality in short bits, and then I can study my time to be more proactive about how I structure my days to further leadership and learning.

Time is a valuable resource. In fact, time may be the most valuable resource. I am thrilled to have a better handle on how I spend my time so that I can be purposeful, intentional, and strategic about making the most of my opportunities to create impact and to make a difference.

How are you spending your time…your time learning…your time teaching…your time working?

[Interestingly, after talking about this with my friend at lunch, he sent me a link to Lesson Note, a digital tool for tracking class activity, particularly as it relates to “lesson study,” an action research collaboration in learning communities for which I am a strong and dedicated advocate. However, the kind of time tracking that I am sharing above is very different and only distantly related to Lesson Note tracking. The type of time tracking I am discussing feels more self-initiated and self-directed. Of course, Lesson Note could be used in very positive and powerful ways, too, if a team decided to employ such a digital resource to advance their work and understanding about their teaching.]

9 thoughts on “Tracking Time to Learn from Our Patterns – a Lesson from My New World

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  3. I had a weird, mostly negative reaction to this when I first read it. I’m not sure why it hit me the way it did, but I think I immediately jumped to the potential for abusing this type of access. I know that isn’t what you are advocating at all, but it’s immediately what I imagined. I think time-tracking, as long as it’s self-initiated and self-directed, has tremendous potential to enlighten and empower a learner. As a teacher I’d love to read and offer feedback on that type of reflection, but I’m not sure I want access to the actual data. Of course, this is just an immediate gut reaction. I might change my mind as I think about it further.

    • Philip, I so appreciate and value your honest, candid comment. Thank you! I worry about the “echo-chamber” possibilities in PLNs, so I highly value push back and difference of perspective and opinion. I love that you and Steve have pushed back. Could you say more about what you mean by “potential for abusing this type of access?” What exactly causes you alarm at such a record of tracked time?

      • Perhaps it’s an innate fear of too much accountability, my aversion to the obsession with quantifying things, or my acceptance of the idea that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Honestly, I’m not sure. And I don’t think you are advocating any of these things. “Learning” can be somewhat nebulous–what makes for beneficial learning for me, may drive you crazy as wasteful time. How do we label some of the social interaction/connecting times? I’m not sure I’m communicating my apprehension. Does any of this make sense?

    • Philip, I do understand the “innate fear of accountability” and the “absolute power” corruption possibilities. As I recent principal who tried to tear down the us-them walls, I guess I hope for more trust and mutual “in this thing together” ness. Of course, I hope you know me well enough to know that I am not advocating for this time tracking as a way to over-the-shoulder gaze or catch people doing something wrong. In fact, I see the potential as more action research oriented and fodder for a PLC team to discuss and learn from. In my twenty year career in the traditional classroom, I could give you rough estimates for time I spent in certain methodologies, but as I start the second half of my career, I wish I could say with statistical accuracy how much time I spent in various pedagogies. I wish I knew how representative my pedagogical spectrum was. I wish I knew what percentage of the pedagogical bandwidth I utilized. I think I could learn so much from that type of analysis of my own practices. I would LOVE to debrief and hold “postmortems” of this data analysis with my PLC and sub-team. As a former triathlete, I tracked my training with a very detailed log of what I did to train, what I ate, how I slept, etc. It strikes me as ironic (MORE than ironic) that I did this for nearly 20 years, and I NEVER tracked my teaching with such interest and accuracy. In my triathlon, I could fine-tune dial my performance by correlating my races with my eating, sleeping, training, etc. I so WISH I could do this for my own teaching – something I love far more than my racing. Yet my daily actions tell a different story. I think I am looking for ways to align my passions and my dedication to practices. Does that make any sense?

      • I have no doubt about the purity of your motives, Bo. And, the athletic training comparison is actually helpful for me. I think the right leader with pure motives and healthy relationships could suggest this type of tracking and it be beneficial research and well received. I recognize that all leadership isn’t servant leadership and all leaders aren’t worthy of that type trust. Thanks for getting me thinking. Now, back to solving world peace…

  4. Hi Bo. Great post. As a former lawyer, who had to account for every 10-minute increment of time (I know some firms that accounted for time in 6-minute increments), this struck a chord with me.

    But I wonder about something — when you say that “I would love for a student to share with me in an individual conference how he or she had spent his/her learning time during the week or two-week period.”

    What is “learning time”? If I learned something at 11:30 at night, do you want to know about that? I don’t have a fully-formed thought here, but I’m not sure I want to know what students are doing all the time. I want them to have some time to just be teenagers (or tweens, at my middle school).

    I guess I’m trying to figure out whether, and to what extent, you would want students (and/or teachers) to track their work outside of “school”. I hope this makes some sense. I will think more about this…

    • Great questions, Steve. I am NOT advocating for anyone tracking all 24 hours in a day. However, as I contemplate “schools of the future,” I imagine that we will be in a much more blended and hybrid environment. As you know, I like to explode a lot of conventions just to play with “what if” thinking that can reveal new insights. Nevertheless, lets keep in place the convention of 8-8-8: 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work, and 8 hours to live outside of work. (I don’t see things as this distinct and black-and-white, but I think this helps me respond to your question.) So, let’s assume that a student is in “school” for 8 hours. In the near future, I imagine that some of these 8 hours will be less top-down structured and more self-direction structured. Therefore, a student could track the 8 “working hours” of school – some of which are in class and some of which would be self-directed, self-inititated “flex time.” This time might be spent working alone, in small pre-set groups, in organic teams, etc. But by tracking the 8 hour “work/school” day, we could identify patterns, break throughs, ways of working, correlations with innovation, etc. Does that make sense? I do NOT advocate for knowing what people are doing all the time. Just thinking about “school of the future” time, which I think will be harder to set in solid, concrete boundaries.

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