Whenever you are trying to develop a system for more productivity, I think the best thing to do is start with what I call a “Big Picture Breakdown.”
By this, I mean for you to think of the period you are trying to plan for—it could be a school year, a month, a week or a day. Whatever it is, think of all the tasks you want to accomplish during this period, and do a “Brain Dump,” as my friend Tiffany aka Coach Glitter calls it. What you will do is set a timer, and just write. Get all your ideas down and don’t worry about censoring yourself, putting them in order, etc. JUST WRITE! Chances are the list will be overwhelming, and that is ok. Tell yourself you are probably not going to get to all of these things, but the list is there so you can make your best plan to accomplish as much as possible.
From that list, look for things that you can batch.
For example, if I have both copying and laminating items on my list, I would batch those two together because the copier and laminator are side by side in our teacher workroom, so it makes sense to do those things together. Some other things I like to batch are:
- Lesson Prep
I am one of those people that writes out my lesson plans for the entire upcoming week on Friday. If I over plan, which commonly happens, it is ok because I can just move the items to the following week or save them for emergency sub plans (more on that later.) Some people like to plan day by day, and for more novice teachers, that may be a better idea until you feel more comfortable with pacing and knowing your students’ needs. Whatever works for you is what is best—there is no hard and fast rule for any of this.
- Emails/phone calls
I try to set aside time each day after school to go through emails or Class Dojo messages and make parent or other phone calls. It is a good idea to make this policy known to your parents at the very beginning of the year, so that they will understand that you won’t typically be responding to them during the day. Therefore, if they have an urgent message, they would need to use another avenue for that (i.e. call the office, etc.)
- I was definitely one to batch cleanup.
This certainly will not work for everyone. I can think of several colleagues right away that would cringe just to read this, but for me, it worked. One set period to tidy everything up at once just fit better with my personality, but again, you have to do what works for you!!!
Determine your best time to work and hold it sacred.
Everyone has their “Golden Hour” for productivity. Some teachers prefer to get to school at 6-7 AM (we had an 8:30 start time), and work before most other teachers are there. Others would roll in right on time but stay until dark. Others work contract hours only but did several hours of work at home. For me, I did a little before and a little after. This was mostly due to necessity, but I made it work for me. My daughter’s drop-off time for her school was an hour earlier than mine. This gave me several quiet minutes at school at the start of the day, and let me tell you, I was NOT above closing my door and working with the lights off to avoid interruption. During this time, I made sure everything was ready and organized for the day, and if there was extra time, I would peek at email, but I often didn’t have time for much then, so it was primarily dealt with after school.
After school, I often had friends drop by to chat and it was just fine with me. I could socialize and still put materials away, papers in mailboxes and any leftover cleanup tasks. Then I would work on switching everything for the next day—schedule, paperwork, etc. Finally, with the time I had left I would work on email, then any copies/laminating/other prep needed. I rarely took things home to work on once I was married and definitely not after Ellie came along. I wanted school time to be focused on school things, but home time to be family time. That is not to say I didn’t ever bring anything home, but it was often things that could be done without distraction, like laminating to cut while helping Ellie with homework, or easy papers to check that could be done quickly while she was doing something else. There were many times I never touched my school bag once I crossed the threshold to my house, and that was fine too. I always looked at whatever I got done at home as a bonus.
Set a routine and use a checklist.
Once you have determined a best practice for something, make a checklist or template and use it to help speed up a process. For example, I have been blessed to have many wonderful volunteers in my classroom. I had one parent that loved to work on displays and was very artistic. I could tell her the basics of what I wanted, and she would create something beyond my wildest dreams—it really was a beautiful thing! ?
However, I had another parent that preferred to make copies and prep materials. I made a template on the computer that I filled out and left with everything she needed the day before she came. I had other volunteers from a program through the university that came to help tutor students who needed help in language arts or math. I designated a red bin for language arts and a blue one for math. I made a template for each area and had a folder for each tutor. I put the directions in their folder and then placed that folder and any materials they needed in the correct bin. This way, they could come in and get started right away without having to ask me what needed to be done. I downloaded a lesson plan template on my computer and used the same one every week to fill in my lesson plans electronically. I only printed them out if I felt I needed them. I also had a template for sub plans.
I took some time at the beginning of the year to type up dismissal lists, children who left the room for some type of intervention, a daily schedule, etc. and then put them all in a sub binder, so that all I had to do was fill in the lesson template, grab the materials, and put them all together. I also had a green bin that I put worksheets we didn’t get to in (I told you we would come back to that!) and this was great for extra work in case the sub got through everything I had left with time remaining. It rarely happened, but it was a comfort knowing he or she had plenty to do if need be.
This should probably be the very first one I listed!
Seriously, there is always far more to do than can ever be done as a teacher, and even more so if you try to do it all yourself. Sure, there will be some things only you can do—lesson planning and report cards come to mind—but there is far more that you can let go of. As I mentioned before, I always utilized volunteers when I could. If you are fortunate enough to have a student teacher, they will have to have tasks delegated to them, and it is never too early to start. And let’s not forget about the kids! Even in all my years in kindergarten, I always had plenty of jobs that kids could do, often after the first few weeks of school. I never passed a paper out after September 1st! There is plenty more that kids can do, of course, depending on their age. It helps them feel a greater part of the community and makes everyone accountable for the success in the classroom.
My final tip is to utilize technology.
I am a huge believer in cross-age partners (I promise there will be a blog post on that soon!) and I remember working on a project with our fifth-grade buddies and hearing a timer go off. My colleague had programmed timers in her phone to correspond with when students had to leave to see an interventionist or take meds, etc.
I love Class Dojo because that one thing takes care of so many tasks. My printed newsletter went from weekly to monthly after beginning to use that app. All the things I would normally send home each week – behavior reports and reminders—could easily be handled through features on Class Dojo. I am sure there are dozens more, since technology is evolving all the time, but those were definitely my two biggest go-tos. I’d love to hear how you use technology to help you be productive in the classroom—leave them in the comments below! We can all help each other!
Let me end with this disclaimer—by no means was my classroom ever perfect, but these six tips kept me pretty well on track most days, and I would call that a win!
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