Every Teacher Should Have a Personal (Digital) Assistant

A couple of years ago I wanted to “quantify” my life as a teacher. That is, I set out to detail how much time I spent grading, planning, conferencing, talking to parents, connecting with other educators, meeting, teaching etc. I also sent out a Google form on my blog to other educators to see what they spent time doing.

The final results looked like this:

In an average week I spent about 62 hours doing educational work.

  • 22 hours teaching in front of a class.
  • 10 hours planning
  • 6 hours grading
  • 7 hours in meetings
  • 2 hours conferencing with students
  • 1 hour talking with parents
  • 5 hours reading (blogs, educational books, magazines)
  • 5 hours writing (my blog etc)
  • 4 hours connecting online

At different parts of the school year this may change. I coach two sports, so that takes up a lot of time in the fall and spring. I also run a large club at our school that takes up a lot of time depending on the week or event. Finally, I also write curriculum, and teach summer school. So each of those add hours at different times.

Why I Needed a Personal Assistant

Now you know what my daily week looked like. My current weeks are much different as my role has changed over the past two years to a K-12 Technology Staff Developer. As a teacher, I wanted to spend more time with students in small groups and 1-on-1. I wanted to have better planning sessions, and be more productive in and out of class. I also needed to be reminded about IEP meetings, faculty meetings, department meetings, planning meetings with other teachers, conferences with students, and calls home to parents. Finally, I wanted to document all of these meetings so I could look back on what worked, or find something I needed.

Lastly, but most importantly. I want to spend as much time with my family as possible. Organizing my work flow and being efficient, allowed me to spend more time with my wife and two kids.

The problem: they don’t give teachers secretaries or personal assistants.

The solution: “If This Then That” (IFTTT) App

Using IFTTT as a Personal Assistant

Enter IFTTT. IFTTT is a service that lets you create powerful connections with one simple statement: If THIS then THAT. First, you set up “channels” which basically connects IFTTT to your Gmail, Calendar, Evernote, Dropbox, Weather, Photos, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pocket etc. Second, you create “recipes” using that statement above.


One of my first “recipes” had to do with coaching. IF my weather app showed a change to rain THEN it would send me a text message. No need to check the weather about practice or games. If anything changed I would be alerted immediately.

Next I started creating “recipes” that helped me get to meetings on time. IF my calendar had a meeting scheduled THEN I would receive a text message an hour, and then 5 minutes before it happened. IF I received an email about a meeting THEN it would automatically add it to my calendar. IF someone sent me an email with the words “meeting, cancel, reschedule, and/or postpone” THEN I would receive a text message alerting me. I usually have my phone with me, and 100% of text messages are opened.

David Khorfage at EdSocialMedia.com writes about using IFTTT for automated research:

IFTTT can be combined with Evernote to make a powerful collaborative research tool, because it allows you to combine the collaboration and cloud-access of Evernote with the easy access to information offered by RSS feeds.  Here’s an example:

My public forum debate team is researching the Middle East for debates in November.  The Council on Foreign Relations runs a blog called “Middle East Matters,” which you can subscribe to via RSS.  So first I created an Evernote folder call “Middle East Matters,” then shared it with all the members of the team.  Then I created a recipe so that every time a new item is pushed out by the “Middle East Matters” RSS feed, IFTTT creates a new note in Evernote out of that item.  Voilà!  I have now effortlessly shared the latest updates from the Middle East with my PF team.

It was simple, taking no more than five minutes to set up.  In fact, it was so simple, I created six IFTTT recipes, for six different RSS feeds.

What Do You Need a Personal Assistant For?

Maybe you don’t need to use IFTTT in the way that I use it. That’s fine. Check out the popular “recipes” of users here. However, I’m hoping that this app can make your life teaching a bit more streamlined. You can use it for grading, reminders, emails to parents or students, the list goes on. I can’t wait till other apps like Remind101 become a partner on IFTTT. The “recipe” possibilities are endless.

Whatever you end up using IFTTT for, make sure you let us know in the comments below, and share your recipes with other teachers!

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