Jun 21, 2021

Lessons in Simplifying to Increase Teacher Productivity with Angela Watson

This is a pivotal moment in my journey - a moment of self-reflection, regrouping, and revival. As I stand at the cusp of a new chapter in my teaching career, I find myself drawn to the simple yet transformative power of balance, well-being, and increased teacher productivity.

As I reflect on my decision to return to the classroom, I paid close attention to my feelings throughout the process. I felt excited when the position opened, and it felt right when I contacted the principal about it. Even when I went to the school and saw my now teaching partner, everything felt perfect. I'm genuinely excited about this new chapter.

However, I must admit that as I head into the last weeks of June, I'm also looking forward to some well-deserved vacations with my family and friends. But at the same time, I'm feeling exhausted. Although I love my work with Burned In Teacher, I'm not as energized as I usually am at this point in the year. I need a clean break from this chapter of my life.

Angela will talk about the importance of taking time to regroup, step back, and pay attention to our bodies and minds. So, I've decided this will be the last episode for June and throughout the summer. The podcast will be back in August with fresh content.

To set myself up for success in the coming school year as a full-time teacher and teacher burnout coach, I will focus on simplicity. I'll start by learning to efficiently fuel my body with a healthier diet and pay attention to my mental health. I'll also work on creating a minimalist wardrobe and setting up a smooth transition for my students when they return to the classroom.

Additionally, I'm participating in the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club, created by Angela in 2015. It's an opportunity to level up my productivity strategies and make the most of my time as I juggle my roles.

I wish all of you a summer of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation so that we can start the new school year as our best selves. Remember, it's essential to try less, live simply, breathe deeply, and rest hard. I'll still be active on social media and may drop into your inbox now and then during the summer, but for now, I'm excited to begin this new chapter as a kindergarten teacher and teacher burnout coach.

Alright, Burned In Teachers, let's dive into the interview with Angela Watson.

Amber: Angela, welcome to the Burned-In Teacher Podcast. I'm so honored to have you here today.

Angela: Hey, Amber, thanks for having me.

Amber: So tell us a little bit about you. I'm pretty sure that most of my listeners are going to know the name, Angela Watson. But for those people who are new to the podcast, or new to podcasts at all, you know, maybe this is their first time meeting you. So tell us a little bit about your teaching journey and what it is that you do now to support educators.

Angela: Sure. So I was a classroom teacher for 11 years. And I've been doing instructional coaching and educational consulting since 2009. And through that time, as I'm sure we will be talking about, I have hit multiple periods of burnout, feeling like I needed to change. And I think what's been really cool about my journey is that everything just sort of happened organically. If you had asked me, you know, 20 years ago, if I would be doing this, I would have never seen it. And even five years ago, I never would have seen it. So it's really cool to think about a career in education as being something that's always kind of evolving, there are always new possibilities, as new technology comes out. There are new things that you can do. And just sort of following the things that really get you excited and make you want to try something new. For me, it's been a lot of sort of chasing those fresh, new challenges and trying to solve ever-increasingly big problems in education.

Amber: I've often said, and it's not funny, but it is coincidental, if not ironic, that, you know, teaching is always... I've always had this feeling of Gosh, can it get any harder? It can't possibly get any harder. And then COVID was like, "Hold my beer, let's check this out." You know, and it was such an unimaginable challenge. And I know you and I have both, you know, in addition to many other people who are focusing on teacher and educator wellness, have really touched on and tried to help in these situations. So quick backstory, I found you, I found the "Truth for Teachers" podcast back in 2015, 2016. And actually, it was the summer after I started Burned-In Teacher. So I started listening to education podcasts around that time, found you, and you had just started the 40-hour Teacher Workweek. I think back to that summer when I was listening to you on our way home from the Outer Banks and thought, "Wow, you know, maybe someday I can have a podcast and I can help teachers in this way." I'm curious about a specific burnout story that maybe you have that you would be willing to share, where you have transitioned yourself out of that burnout. Here on the podcast, we look at burnout as an opportunity for growth and change. Can you tell us how you used that burnout, or how you moved through it? And it doesn't have to be pretty, you know, moving through burnout can be messy. But how did you transition yourself into maybe a different, growth-based version of yourself?

AngelaYou know, the first time I experienced burnout as a teacher was during my third or fourth year in the profession. Early on in my career, I focused on early childhood education, covering grades pre-K to three. Back in the late '90s, I chose this path as I disliked standardized tests, which were becoming more prevalent even then. However, I could see the education system moving away from child-centered learning towards a standardized approach, which didn't align with my teaching philosophy.

Initially, I loved teaching pre-K, but it was undeniably exhausting. Dealing with very young children who needed help with basic tasks like using the bathroom was challenging. Moreover, I found myself restricted from implementing some of the creative and engaging teaching strategies I envisioned for my students. I yearned to work with older students who could handle more advanced learning experiences.

There was a point when I considered leaving teaching altogether, feeling disheartened. However, a visit to the dollar store and seeing the little shaped erasers I used with my pre-K kids made me realize how much I loved being a teacher and how important my creative outlet was to me. Instead of giving up on teaching entirely, I decided to shift to a different age group.

I was certified to teach up to third grade, and I found it to be the perfect fit. Third-grade students were at a stage where they were transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. I was thrilled by their progress – they could write, work collaboratively, and didn't need constant assistance in the bathroom. Teaching third grade reinvigorated my passion for education, and it kept me going for nearly another decade. It became my sweet spot, and I loved it.

So, my advice to any teacher facing burnout, as you often discuss, is to consider a change in grade level or even a change of schools. I personally experienced the positive impact of such changes, having taught at eight different schools over 11 years. Each environment had its own morale and culture, making a significant difference in my experience and outlook. This change helped me cope with burnout for a long time, and I hope it can be helpful to others as well.

Amber: So there are a couple of things I'm taking away from that. One of the key points that really resonated with me is the idea of hobby work in teaching. You mentioned that there are certain aspects of our job that we genuinely enjoy, and they don't always feel like work. These are the things that we gladly put in extra effort for because they bring us joy. For example, creating center materials for students was something I loved doing in my free time, even though it wasn't a mandatory task. Embracing these hobby-like aspects of teaching can actually help us get through the less enjoyable parts of our work, like data collection and emails. Recognizing these elements and learning from them can make our overall teaching experience more rewarding and fulfilling.

Angela: Absolutely, and it's essential to understand the concept of hobby work in teaching. There are parts of our job that are necessary and required, but there are also elements we do just because we find pleasure in them. For me, creating center materials was an enjoyable hobby that I voluntarily engaged in outside of the required tasks. These aspects of teaching can provide a sense of fulfillment and sustain us through the less rewarding parts of our work. By identifying and embracing these aspects, we can approach our job with a different perspective, viewing them as choices we make rather than burdens we carry.

Amber: Yes, exactly! The word "choice" is crucial here. Just like kids, adults also crave autonomy and the ability to make choices in their work. Your point about different school cultures and environments is also significant. I experienced this myself when I moved from teaching first grade to second grade. The shift in the culture among the second-grade teachers made a world of difference in my teaching experience. Collaboration, respect for each other's ideas, and a positive atmosphere can reinvigorate a teacher's passion for their job.

Angela: That's so true. The culture within a grade level or a school can have a profound impact on our teaching experience. It's not necessarily about wanting to teach a different grade level; it's about finding a group of teachers who align with your personality and work style. Each grade level has its unique vibe, and discovering that collaborative energy can completely transform the way we approach our profession.

Amber: Absolutely! I'm excited about my upcoming transition from teaching first, second, and third grade to kindergarten. One of the reasons for my excitement is that I'll be working with a colleague with whom I share a great rapport. We've known each other for a long time, and our collaboration outside of school has been wonderful. I'm genuinely looking forward to bringing that positive relationship into our teaching partnership. Building strong connections with fellow teachers is invaluable, and I believe it will enhance my experience with the students as well.

Angela: Yes, Teacher besties can make all the difference. Just one person, literally one person in the school makes all the difference.

Amber: So let's kind of go into this idea of transitioning. You just did a fantastic episode about regrouping after this crazy school year and transitioning into summer. But if you want to quickly go through how we can transition into a summer that is going to reignite and reinvigorate us. Also, I'm curious because you and I were chatting via email, and I said, you know, I believe that summer is, of course, a wonderful time to embrace rest, relaxation, and regrouping, like you said. But you and I talked a little bit about how can we also maximize this time and set ourselves up for success once school begins again in the fall.

Angela: You know, I think that daydreaming piece is really important, particularly because I think there's going to be so many people giving advice on taking webinars and courses this summer, planning this and doing that. But I think we have to be really careful not to jump back into our pre-COVID levels of busyness. This past year and a half have created varying levels of trauma for different people, but we have all been impacted. It hasn't been easy for anyone. Moving forward without healing first doesn't work. And expecting someone else to lead the healing process for you or expecting your district to be super mindful of that, it's probably not going to happen. So, you have to really do it for yourself, realize that this year took a lot out of you, and be in tune with what you need to recover.

Amber: Absolutely, and I feel like creating space for that is super important. It's something that we're not really taught to do. But if you're constantly rushing from one activity to the next, those thoughts don't have a chance to come. There has to be open space for your mind to wander, for you to daydream, and come up with creative solutions to problems. It's not by trying harder, I think it's by trying less and letting it happen. Trusting that it will happen if you give yourself time and space.

Angela: Right, and I think we feel pressured to use our summers to get ahead and prepare for the next school year. But taking a mental break first is going to get you better results. You really do have to train yourself to take that break and trust that when you come back, you'll have more energy and focus.

Amber: That's true. I've been winding down some of the things I've been doing outside of teaching to gear up for going back into the classroom. But sometimes my brain starts catastrophizing, worrying about all the things that need to be done. Thankfully, I have the skills to talk myself out of that mindset and remind myself to take a break and trust that things will fall into place.

Angela: You're not the only one. 

Amber: For sure. 

Amber: When we mentally distance ourselves from all things work, and we take that break, and we do the gardening, or we do the vacationing, doing those things that make us, like you said, living our best lives, when it is time to start thinking about school. And how it is that we can set ourselves up to continue to live our best life when school starts because I think there's sometimes this belief that there's this fence that we hop over or there's this door that we go through that it's like okay, this is summer me, this is my best life me. And now there's teacher me, and I don't subscribe to that I think that we can live our best life and be effective teachers at the same time. So do you have any suggestions on how I or how teachers can, in a healthy way, do some work that maybe doesn't necessarily have to do with curriculum instruction but how we can transition back into school to set ourselves up for success?

Angela: It's fascinating that you brought up the concept of the "summer you," as one of my former colleagues, Michelle, used to refer to it as well. Her husband, who always seemed to experience a positive change in August, fondly referred to it as "summer Michelle." During that time, she was joyful, and active, and spent quality time with friends, taking good care of herself. It's amusing yet relatable how we can almost feel like two different people, especially as teachers.

I often ponder how to maintain that summer version of myself throughout the school year. I've even contemplated starting a podcast on this topic because I believe many people can relate to it. One approach could involve analyzing what makes the summer version of you happier and more content. In Michelle's case, it was getting ample sleep and having time to exercise, particularly running, which brought her mental clarity. However, during the busy school year, finding time for these activities can be challenging.

But if you identify a few key things that significantly reduce stress and increase your well-being during the summer, it's worth considering how to incorporate them into your school year routine. Maybe you can wake up a bit earlier, squeeze in a nap, or take a short break after school to ensure you get enough rest. While it might be tough to do these things on workdays, weekends could be an opportunity to focus on activities like running and getting sufficient sleep.

The goal is to find a better balance and implement some variation of your summer habits as much as possible during the school year. By doing so, you can enhance your overall well-being and maintain a more positive outlook throughout the year.

Amber: I love that so much! The two things you just mentioned are of high priority in my life. Exercising and getting enough sleep are essential for me. Sometimes, I'm so eager to rest that I bid farewell to everyone, saying, "See ya fam, I'm out, I'm going to bed."

In my life, I have two daughters, one who is almost 21 and the other who is 13. Then there's my husband, who baffles me because he's both a night owl and a morning person. He can stay up late and get up early without any issues. In contrast, if I stay up late, I am worth nothing in the morning. I prefer to get up early and work out; for instance, I wake up at five in the morning even during the summer.

I'm so glad you brought this up because I believe the true balance lies in considering our highest priorities and integrating them into our schedule. It doesn't have to be all work and hashtag adulting; we should make time for self-care, as it can make a world of difference.

Now I'm curious about what makes you your best self. What are some things you do to transition out of your summer, Angela? I know how busy you can be during this season.

Angela: Yeah, summertime is my busiest season, whereas December is when things slow down. That's why I've developed the habit of taking a sabbatical for a year. I'm sure we'll delve into that later. However, I agree with what you're saying; we can't simply wait and assume we'll rest in December, just like a teacher can't say they'll rest in July. It's not sustainable to go 24/7 for almost a whole school year. So, I've been exploring what helps me lead my best life. As a woman, and perhaps more so for mothers, we often prioritize others' needs over our own and seldom have the space to discover what truly sustains us.

I've noticed that having some time alone is crucial for me as an introvert, and during COVID, I realized I appreciate even more alone time than I thought. Finding the balance of solitude has been vital. Communicating with my partner, and letting him know when I need some space, has also been helpful. Additionally, being outdoors is a must for me; nature is restorative, and even while working, I try to take my laptop outside whenever the weather allows. Observing nature's beauty, like the sun streaming through trees or watching a butterfly, brings joy to my soul without detracting from my work. It actually enhances my focus and presence in the experience.

Moreover, surrounding myself with people who challenge my thinking and encourage personal growth is essential. This applies both to my friendships and the connections I make on social media. It's enriching to engage with those who inspire me to become better and expand my horizons.

Amber: Yes, exactly.

Angela: I love following inspiring individuals on Tik Tok. Every time I open it, I can't help but marvel at how much I've grown, understanding myself better, gaining insights into the world, and comprehending the inner workings of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy. It's like a continuous journey of self-improvement, and each new revelation leaves me feeling mind-blown. TikTok has become a platform for personal development, don't you think?

Amber: I get that feeling too.  I find it fascinating how brilliantly these people perceive so much in such a short period of time. It was truly enjoyable to watch, wasn't it?

Angela: That is absolutely incredible! I can't believe how much joy TikTok brings into my life. It has become my ultimate happy place.

Amber: As an adult and educator, you may find yourself contemplating whether certain actions or choices are appropriate. For example, encouraging kids to reduce their screen time while also acknowledging that these platforms can provide a sense of release. It's crucial to reflect on this aspect and pay attention to how you feel when engaging with platforms like TikTok, Instagram, or Pinterest. If they contribute to your well-being, it can be considered a form of self-care. However, if they leave you feeling awful, it's the opposite of self-care.

One concept that has resonated with me for a long time is "paying attention." Taking the time to recognize how you feel and what sparks your excitement or relaxation can make a significant difference in your well-being. As educators, we may feel pressured to fit into a predefined mold, conforming to certain expectations about our preferences and behaviors. Yet, it's essential to remember that we are all unique individuals with diverse interests and preferences.

Instead of subscribing to a "good teacher" narrative that dictates how we should dress, spend our free time, or what we should enjoy, we should embrace our individuality. Self-care and living our best lives involve recognizing and honoring our differences, finding what truly nurtures our well-being, and embracing those choices with authenticity.

Angela: Yes, we're all unique individuals, and I find that even my own self can vary from one day to another. Some days, I just don't feel like getting off the couch, and you know what? I've learned not to force it. If my body is telling me to rest, I've come to trust that signal and honor it. It's okay if I'm not feeling up to being productive, and I don't pressure myself to do so.

For example, yesterday was one of those days when I didn't accomplish much. Despite having a long to-do list, I decided to take it easy and engage in activities that brought me joy—reading, going for a walk, spending time outdoors, watching some TikToks, and catching up with friends. And you know what's great? This morning, I woke up early at 5:30 AM, full of energy and motivation to be productive.

As a teacher, recognizing this aspect in myself has allowed me to stop expecting consistent levels of productivity from my students as well. I used to get frustrated when a student was on top of their work one day and then seemed completely disengaged the next. But now I understand that we're not robots, and our energy levels fluctuate for various reasons. Maybe they didn't get enough sleep, had a rough morning, or are dealing with personal issues.

Once we grasp this in ourselves, we can extend empathy and understanding to others. I no longer hold myself to an unrealistic standard of constant peak productivity, and consequently, I don't become disappointed or angry when others can't maintain that level either. It's all about recognizing our humanity and embracing the ebb and flow of energy and focus in our lives.

Amber: This is such a fantastic way to discuss how, as humans involved in so many teachers' lives, we can connect with students on a more profound level when we take care of ourselves. Although our occupation may not inherently focus on understanding humans on a personal level, this is precisely where the opportunity for systematic change lies. We can initiate this change in our classrooms, with our students, teaching teams, and grade levels. My conversations with Alexa Shepard, the AfroEducator on Marco Polo have reinforced our desire to make a significant impact on educators and reform the education system. However, I have decided not to pursue a political role or become part of the bureaucratic machinery. Instead, I've chosen to remain a teacher, directing my energy toward driving systematic change at a smaller level. This means focusing on the teachers who listen to this podcast, follow me on Instagram, or work with me in my building. By doing so, we can create small ripples of change, one teacher, one student at a time. It starts with paying attention to ourselves and exploring what we can do to be that transformative force.

Angela: Absolutely right. Leading by example gives others permission to follow suit. It took me some time to realize this until many people approached me and expressed how my time management and lifestyle choices inspired them. They saw that if I could do it, then they could too. It created a ripple effect.

I don't come up with these ideas on my own; I observe and learn from others in my life who inspire and guide me. They encourage me, saying, "Angela, you don't need permission, just live your life." Witnessing others embracing their freedom helps us find our own, and in turn, we become a source of inspiration for others.

The ultimate goal is liberation from the burdensome expectations imposed on us, which don't serve us or our students. It's crucial to reevaluate what we should retain and what we should reinvent.

Amber: That's another perfect transition into asking you about the 40-Hour Workweek Club. So, Angela, I know this episode is going to air here in mid-June. Could you tell us a little bit about how you bring those elements into the 40-Hour Workweek? Please share all the details, what the focus is, who the right people for this program are, and how it will help them prioritize what matters most.

Angela: You know, it's really interesting how the 40-Hour Workweek program started. In the beginning, I almost quit doing it because I faced a lot of pushback. Many educators resented the idea of creating boundaries for themselves. Some believed that if you don't give this profession your all, then you don't truly care about the students. It took a long time for teachers to realize that they have permission to value themselves and their own needs. Streamlining your work doesn't mean you don't care about kids. In any other profession, finding more efficient ways to do your job is rewarded with promotions and raises. But in education, if you suggest doing the same, people question your dedication to the students. It's essential to identify how toxic that culture can be.

As you mentioned earlier, COVID brought this issue to light for many people, and the education space has evolved since I started this program in 2015. More educators are receptive to the idea that giving your all to the point of burnout is not sustainable. The 40-Hour Workweek Club is a place for like-minded educators to come together and reject the notion that working nonstop on evenings and weekends is necessary for doing a great job for the students. We need a more sustainable approach to teaching that maximizes our contractual hours, which is where the 40-hour concept comes in. It's not about limiting everyone to 40 hours a week; it's about being paid for 40 hours and finding ways to get the most important things done within that time frame. 

Some teachers can figure this out on their own, but others appreciate having accountability, support, and fellow educators to bounce ideas off of. Some are simply overwhelmed and need guidance on streamlining tasks like grading and lesson planning. They want proven systems that have worked for others, so they don't have to start from scratch. That's where the 40-Hour Workweek Club comes in to help. 

Additionally, there are already excellent teachers who want to improve and become even more efficient in less time. They've exhausted all the trial-and-error approaches and need that extra push to think outside the box. That's precisely what the 40-Hour Workweek Club offers - ongoing personal and professional development wrapped into a year-long program. 

And exciting news for this summer is that we're introducing the 40-Hour Leadership and 40-Hour Instructional Coaching components to drive school-wide change. I'm really thrilled about this new addition and the impact it will make.

Amber: I am really excited about that, too. So you used to open it also in January. But that's not happening anymore. This is the only open window from June through July.

Angela: That's correct. Initially, we ran the program for the first couple of years, from January to January, along with a July session. However, it never gained as much popularity. It seems like starting a new year for teachers aligns better with the summer, when the new school year typically begins in August or September, rather than January. Many teachers expressed their preference for starting the program in the summer, and after considering their feedback, we decided to go all-in with a summer launch and drop the January session. Now, the instructional coaching and leadership programs are available year-round, so you can start them at any time. As for the teacher program, it operates with cohorts of educators who begin together once a year.

Amber: Okay, so tell us the specific dates.

Angela: It's now open! Take advantage of the Early Bird period in June, where you'll receive extra bonuses to help plan how you want to rejuvenate, rest, and re-energize during your summer. The program officially kicks off at the beginning of July and enrollment ends on July 15th.

Amber: Okay, all right. So what can people expect? You know, at the beginning of July, August, and September, what are some things that you'll be covering or teaching in the 40-hour workweek?

Angela: We start by discussing the concept of creating a self-running classroom, which involves automating its operations to empower students and give them a sense of ownership. Often, secondary teachers overlook the idea of implementing a classroom jobs system, assuming it's only suitable for younger children. However, secondary students also appreciate being in charge and taking ownership of tasks. By delegating responsibilities to students, we can alleviate the burden of managing everything ourselves. The key lies in providing proper training and guidance to help them take ownership and establish a self-sustaining system. This way, students can support one another and carry out tasks without constant oversight.

Another important aspect is designing the classroom for productivity, treating ourselves as specialists for our students. Similar to web developers ensuring easy navigation on a website, we can arrange our classrooms to support routines and procedures intuitively. With built-in reminders and fail-safe procedures, students won't need to constantly seek help but will understand and follow instructions naturally. This approach goes beyond having a visually appealing classroom and focuses on creating a smoothly functioning environment.

Throughout the discussion, we provide various ideas and strategies that educators can adopt from kindergarten to grade 12. The beauty of this approach is that you can choose the elements that resonate with you and your unique classroom setting. Plus, you don't need to rush; these resources remain accessible, allowing you to revisit and refine your practices as you learn from your experiences.

Productivity should be viewed as an ongoing experiment. As schools, students, and circumstances change over time, we must continuously adapt and streamline our methods. Embracing this perspective can turn the journey into an enjoyable and rewarding process of discovery, where we constantly try, learn, and refine what works best for ourselves and our students."

Amber: I love it. And I am strongly considering joining myself, to take myself to the next level, I'm pretty good at organizing and productivity. But I have to admit, over the last several years, it's always piqued my curiosity. And now that I'm going back, I'm thinking, why not?

Angela: Yes, we would love to have you in the program.

Amber: And, of course, I would love to, and I am an affiliate now for your workweek. So I will definitely let people know about this at the beginning of the episode, as well as how they can learn more, sign up, and join us because I'm so so ready. And I'm so excited about it.

Angela: Yes, I want you to be going through the program with them and sharing what you learned and supporting each other. Yeah, I think that's going to be amazing. And I'm really, I'm excited for you.

Amber: Oh, thank you so much. Well, Angela, can you let people know how they can find you if in the small chance that they've never heard of you where it is that they can learn more about you?

Angela: You can go to TruthforTeachers.com. We are transitioning my whole website over to that's going to be launching in August, but that URL does work now. That's the best place to just find links to absolutely everything, TruthforTeachers.com.

Amber: Okay, fantastic. Angela, thank you so much for joining us here today. It has been such a pleasure and really a dream comes true. I have been listening to you for years and years. And you really have paved the way over the last almost 20 years for this focus on teacher well-being and systemic change. And I just really appreciate all the work that you've done. Well,

Angela: I really appreciate you saying that because I think you are amazing, and I'm really happy to be here and I am a huge fan and supporter of your work as well. So it's just really cool to connect with people who have like-minded visions.

Amber: No, thank you. Well, I know this is not the last time that we're gonna talk so definitely not so excited to keep this going.


Resources Mentioned In This Episode:


Find Angela:


Angela’s Bio: 

Angela Watson is a productivity and mindset specialist, author, and motivational speaker for educators. She is National Board Certified and has a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction, along with 11 years of classroom teaching experience and over a decade of experience as an instructional coach.




50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.