As an educator, it is important to create healthy routines in your classroom. Getting things done on your plan time or during hidden pockets during the day is essential to staying on track with all your grading, planning lessons and staying on top of your instructional practice. It is important to use your time wisely and effectively. Here are some tips to staying on task during your free time:
Make a top three “to do list” /priority list
Set your intentions prior to your plan time. At the beginning of your school day or even the day before, make a list of the top three things you want to get done. I say three because plan time typically flies by and only a few things have gotten done anyway. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, so starting small is the key. If you find that you finished all three items and you still have more time, then keep going down your list.
Becoming overwhelmed and stressed out is a part of being a teacher. This is a common theme that we like to tell ourselves, therefore we are accepting this as our truth. It doesn’t have to be, instead we can change this mindset to, “I can get everything done, I am relaxed.” Once we change the way we are thinking about all of our “to do’s,” we will start to feel better about ourselves. Once we have changed our feelings about our priority list we will then take our list and analyze it.
Decide what the three top priorities are, the non-negotiable for that day. These three items should be so dyer that your classroom cannot function without them. Maybe you need to make copies for the next day so you can teach your lesson, maybe you need to create or find practice work that aligns with the lesson, or you may need to make a few parent phone calls. Either way, identify the three things that need to be taken care of during that plan period. The goal is to minimize stress and the amount of time you spend doing task after school hours.
Set a timer
If you have three task to complete in a short amount of time, set a timer to keep yourself on track. Plan periods typically range from 40 minutes to even an hour at some schools. If your plan period is broken into two halves, choose what task you will complete during each plan period. If you have to make copies, allow time to gather your copies and then run them off. This may require 20 minutes of your plan period. I would suggest running copies before completing your other task. Let’s be honest, there is always something that gets in the way of copying, whether someone else is at the machine, it’s getting jammed or running slow. We could go on and on about the copy machine chronicles. To avoid this I suggest setting a whole plan period aside dedicated to copying. I will discuss more about this later.
Other tasks that you may need to complete can be timed. Use the timer to break down the allocated time you spend on a task. Using 10 to 15 minute increments will help you stay on track, so you don’t get bored. Once the timer goes off drop what you were doing and switch your focus to the next task. If you do not finish the task in the amount of time, then next time you need to plan more time for that particular task. If you have time left on the next task, then you can always go back to the first task. The point is to manage your time by using a timer to keep you on task with the things you need to achieve.
Eliminate all distractions
Planning period is the time for you to focus on the things you need to get done in your classroom. It’s a reflective time, organization time and time to use wisely to enhance your instruction. It is not the time to socialize with co-workers or to scroll social media. When we do these mundane task then it take away from the things that really matter. It is your responsibility to eliminate all distractions during your plan period.
Maybe, close your door so you can be alone and focused. Turn off your phone so you are not picking it up every time it buzzes. If you have co-workers that like to talk during plan, maybe you could let them know ahead of time that you have some work to get done so you cannot be disturbed. If they are true friends of yours then they will understand, if they don’t then you don’t need them in your life. The point is to do everything necessary to keep yourself focused on what really matters. When you do that then you will find that getting things done eliminates stress and we all can use some of that!
Set a focus for each day of the week
Setting a focus for each day during the week will help ensure that you complete all of your weekly task. Aside from writing down your top three “to do” list, it is ideal to identify a theme for the day. For example, the theme of my Thursday is getting prepared, which entails making my copies for the next week. Wednesdays are my planning days so I already have my plans made out which makes it easier to identify the items I need to copy. Thursday is the day I like to gather all of my copy paper into my copy folder and make all my copies for the following week. I do have meetings throughout the week during one of my plan periods. I will know my meeting times in advance, therefore, I make it a priority to get the bulk of my task done on the days I do not have meetings, which are Tuesday and Thursday.
What about grading?
Aside from the drama of the copy machine, grading can be one of the most daunting task as a teacher. I do not suggest setting a day aside for grading, like I suggest with copying. I think it is important to plan time each day for grading. Letting your papers pile up will only result to you having to take them home in the evenings to grade.
I am here to tell you that you do not have to do that! Grade a little bit each day, find pockets during your day that you can set aside for grading. During instructional time your focus is to work with your students, I do not suggest you reduce that precious time by grading a bunch of papers. What I’m saying is that you can find time during transition periods to quickly grade. If you give students a bell-ringer or an exit slip, this is only 1 to 3 questions and doesn’t take up a lot of time. These type of items will help you get immediate feedback. Grade these items as students move to the next task. This will give you an idea on what to teach next, or your next focus area.
If students have a writing assignment and you want to meet with them one-on-one to conference, you can grade the writing at that time. I like to read through my students’ work in front of them and talk them through my process of thinking. You can do this with math as well, pretty much any subject. It is our jobs as educators to teach students good habits, they learn them through our own process of thinking. You can also make grading one of your top three task each day on your “to do list.” This will ensure that you are on top of grading your papers. The point is that you do not have to fall behind on grading papers or any other important item on your “to do” list. If you set a focus or theme to follow each day, it is possible to get it all done!
Getting it all done!
I’m here to tell you that it is possible to be an amazing teacher and leave work at the end of your work hours each day. It is the educators’ mindset, which is a limiting belief, that great teachers come in early and leave late. This is far from the truth! You can find time in your planning period to get everything you need to get done. It just takes a little bit of planning and a whole lot of discipline. Follow these tips that I laid out above and I promise you, you will find that your job as an educator becomes easier.
What things do you like to do on a weekly basis to prepare yourself for the week ahead? Let’s share below. I would love to hear from you!