?Time Management for Teachers

Now that school has started for many of us, it’s a great time to think strategically about how we’re spending our time so that we don’t find ourselves drowning in deadlines and forgotten to-do’s before too long. To tackle this topic, we’re going to once again look to The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin as a resource for helping us manage our time as teachers. I encourage you to visit her website or buy her comprehensive book for more details.

Map out your ‘Ideal Week.’ You can’t be in control of your time if you’re not even sure what you’re spending it on or what you want to be spending it on. Starting with the exact times you want to wake up and go to bed, fill in the non-negotiable times like teaching time and recurring meetings. Next set aside eating and commuting time and then determine personal and planning time. While this will definitely vary and you may not stick to the exact times you allot, once you have everything down, it will help you realistically understand how you’re managing your time and allow you to prioritize things like exercise and spending time with friends. Without this, many of us never allow for exercise or hobbies because we have a huge cloud of ‘work’ hanging over our heads we can’t stop thinking about. With our time mapped out, though, we can fully focus on each task, whether personal or professional, knowing there is time allotted for everything else. This ‘ideal week’ becomes the basis for scheduling your time moving forward.

Create a comprehensive calendar. A comprehensive calendar includes monthly and weekly views and has all of your personal and professional dates and deadlines. As you know upcoming events, log them on the monthly pages. On the weekly calendar, enter all the recurring events that went into your ideal week.  Block off planning periods and personal time ahead of time so they don’t get lost and then fill in the particular tasks you’re doing during those blocks when you plan out the details of each week. If your school has a certain electronic calendar they use, it’s probably best to use the same one so you’re not juggling two different ones.

Fill your planning periods strategically. All of us have experienced days where our planning periods fly by and we realize at the end of the day we crossed nothing off of our to-do list. Consider when your energy is highest and lowest during the day and fill your planning periods accordingly. If you’re exhausted in the afternoons, don’t allot that planning period for lesson planning or other tasks that require lots of brain power. Instead, use that time for rote tasks like making copies, logging grades, or checking e-mail. Even if these seem less important, they’re still tasks that need to get done and better to use a planning period to do them than scrambling in between classes for copies.

Create a weekly worksheet. In addition to your calendar, create a weekly plan that serves as a prioritized to-do list.  In order to better manage everything that comes up, section out your document or worksheet into categories. For example, your categories might be: lesson planning, big tasks, little tasks, and personal tasks. If you’re a grade level chair or coach you would add a section for each of those responsibilities. Chances are you’ll start your week with several tasks already on there and then you can add tasks to the appropriate category as the week goes on. In The Together Teacher, Maia recommends including ‘thought catcher’ sections for people and groups you meet with regularly so every time you have an idea you want to share with your grade level team, planning partner, or instructional coach, you can capture it in their section to refer to the next time you meet.

Make things bite-sized. If writing a unit plan is on your to-do list, for example, it’s going to be hard to not be overwhelmed by that task or find one block of time in which to do it, so break it down into all of its actionable pieces. By doing this you’ll have a better idea of the scope of the whole project while also being able to tackle pieces of it during planning periods so that it gets done efficiently and not put off until the inevitably long night before you start teaching it.

Make it portable & keep it together. Once you have a weekly calendar and worksheet that can hold all of your tasks, deadlines, and priorities, determine a way to keep it together and make it portable so you can keep it with you at all times. For example, you might print out your weekly calendar and worksheet and put it on one of those clipboards with the attached compartment. The compartment means you can stash any papers or ‘stuff’ you get during the week – hall passes, parent notes, confiscated cell phones – so you don’t lose it or forget about it. And having your worksheet with you at all times means you can write down a random idea you get in the hallway or a task that comes up during lunch duty so you don’t forget about it.

Pause to plan. The most crucial element in your organization system is the time you take to plan out each week. Comb through your monthly calendar, weekly worksheet, and thought catcher from the week so that everything gets appropriately scheduled into the next week’s calendar and worksheet. Try dedicating a planning period each Friday to mapping out the week ahead. While most teachers will still have to schedule time on the weekends or some evenings for planning or grading, once it’s all mapped out you can relax over dinner with friends or head over to the gym knowing all of your tasks and priorities are accounted for! 

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