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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU!

Maia Heyck-Merlin

Teaching is the hardest job in the world. As the founder of The Together Teacher, I care about two things: your success and your sanity.

You know what it's like when you go grocery shopping tired, hungry, and without a list? How all of the sudden, your cart is filled with bags of potato chips and a large assortment of artichokes on sale that you're just sure you'll use at some point? And how you're munching through half a ripped-open package of cookies as you mosey down each aisle like some sort of supermarket zombie with outstretched hands? Yeah, been there.

Now think about what happens instead when you enter on a full stomach, with a meal plan and clear list in hand. Better outcomes are ensured -- you eat healthier, save money, and waste less food. Plus, you go home without those telltale crumbs across your chest.

Let's apply that same clear and prepared mentality to planning for a week of your time.

I already know you plan incredibly well for your students, but how about all that other time? Like before and after school? And during prep periods? Here are seven prep steps to help you maximize your non-student time. Your goal is to produce a weekly worksheet, an hour-by-hour view of your time, and to-do's for the week ahead.

1. Select a Tool to Plan Your Week

You could use a handwritten template, go totally digital, or use a typed-in template. All three options are provided as examples (click on images to enlarge). For the purposes of illustration, I will work through my colleague Drew's Weekly Worksheet (PDF template in #3 below) for the remainder of this post. The choice is yours, but whatever you choose has to give you a clear view of both your time commitments and the things you actually have to get done -- all in one location.

2. Have a Meeting with Yourself

On Thursday or Friday, take 30-45 minutes to sit down with everything you've accumulated during the week. You know, the post-it notes, random pieces of paper handed to you by students, memos from the office, and all of those homework assignments. Take your stuff and sort it into short-term to-do’s, long-term to-do’s, and follow-up from meetings. Slowly get it all in the right places. Drew explains:

I try to discipline myself to have my meeting with myself at school so I can print my new weekly worksheet. Occasionally, if it is a particularly busy Friday, I will put it off until Saturday morning, but I much prefer to do it Friday afternoon so I can maximize relaxation on the weekends.

Your goal is to leave this meeting with your following week's worksheet totally ready.

3. Set Priorities for the Week

I'm not talking about teeny-tiny to-do's here. I'm talking about what matters most. Look at Drew's Weekly Worksheet to the left (click on image to enlarge). He is focused on "reinvesting students in Big Goals for Math" and "finalizing Baltimore field trip plans." What are your priorities? Boosting student attendance? Improving your classroom culture? And what about the personal stuff, like planning a baby shower or helping your parents get to the doctor?

4. List Out All Your Meetings and Appointments

Hopefully, you have been keeping a long-term calendar, but if not, empty your brain and your email inbox of all grade-level meetings, report card nights, and staff retreats. And don't forget your own child's pediatrician appointment or your brother's birthday! I am going to boldly recommend that you mix your professional and personal calendars into a single location to help you avoid collisions!

5. Determine How You Will Use Your Free Time

I get it. You don't have much "free" time. But we need to make the most of what we have. So list out how you plan to use your before-school, prep period, lunch, and after-school time -- for the entire week. At a loss? Try using some of the strategies here. Drew carefully plots out his to-do's by category: To Prep, Emails/Calls, Wedding (congrats, Drew!), Errands/Home/Personal, and Next Week. I especially love his "To Prep" category.

6. Allow Flexibility for the "Hallway Ambush"

You know what I’m talking about -- when you can't even take an innocent trip to the restroom without someone stopping you to do something? Take your weekly worksheet with you wherever you go so that you can always write everything down in the same place. Keep it on a clipboard, folded in your pocket, stowed in an Arc notebook, or stashed in a planner. This is why you see so many changes on Drew's weekly worksheet!

7. Review and Adjust Daily

Things change. Life happens. At the end of every school day, sit down for five minutes and cross off what you've accomplished, roll over what didn't happen to another time slot, or decide to delete something you had intended to do. It happens to all of us.

Your teaching week will never go exactly as planned. Plus, that would be boring! But by planning for a week at this level of detail, you will actually bring greater flexibility to your job -- and your life. Emergencies and last-minute requests won't faze you, and you may just decide that you can relax on the couch in the evening after all -- if you plan it in, of course!

How do you plan your week? And how successfully do you manage the ever-changing details?

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Comments (16)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Chelsea D.'s picture

I'm glad that I came across this post. I am very new to the teaching profession, but I know that all of the obligations that teachers have can be very overwhelming. I am also working on getting my masters degree right now, so that adds even more to my to-do list. I especially like step 2: Have a meeting with yourself. It is so important for teachers to think about what is going on in their professional and personal lives and how the two will co-exist. I think this would be a great time to also reflect on your instruction and your students' learning throughout the week and how you might alter it for the next week. Thanks again for sharing. Hopefully it will make my life a little more organized and my teaching a little more flexible.

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Kelly's picture

Thank you for sharing this post! I just began my second year of teaching, and with all of the responsibilities that we have as teachers, our schedules can often be chaotic and overwhelming. I love the analogy you made at the beginning about going to the grocery store with a full stomach and list in hand versus going to the grocery store with an empty stomach and no list or plan. I have never really thought about making a to-do list or plan for my prep periods, but after thinking about that analogy, I see how important it is to have a clear plan for our non-student time. Otherwise, our prep-periods will become filled with junk just like our shopping carts will when we go to the grocery store without a list. I am currently working towards my master's degree, and my current course is focused on the importance of teacher reflection. Creating a plan for my prep periods and including time to "have a meeting with myself" will help me remember to take a moment to truly reflect and make changes accordingly. This will also ensure that I keep my priorities in line. Thank you again for sharing this great post!

kbeckman's picture

Thank you for sharing! Planning is so important to my success in the classroom. As a third year teacher, I still struggle with finding the time, and strategy to effectively plan my time. The 7 prep steps you listed are applicable and realistic, I look forward to utilizing these strategies to help plan my time for the upcoming school year. The analogy you provided at the beginning of the post is an excellent connection to the importance of teacher planning and preparation. Thank you for sharing such valuable advice!

JessK's picture

Thank you for this great post! I am going to be heading back into the teaching profession after taking some child rearing years off. This will be a great way to keep me on track during the time I have to be in teacher mode. I think it will actually help with when I am in mom mode as well! It is exciting to think I can have such a great plan in place very early in the year. Thanks again!

Jvanderhart's picture

As I make my way through all the student planning for the year it is refreshing to read your post. I am a fairly new teacher and was struggling with how to organize my 'free' time. I am looking forward to implementing the meeting with myself this school year. It is something that I have not done with structure or on a weekly basis previously. After reading the other comments I was happy to find the link to your other free resources. Thank you for reminding me to plan for me.

Christine Powers's picture

Tomorrow is my first day of my second year of teaching and I am already feeling stressed. Just reading your blog post was a breath of fresh air! I need to be better about truly planning my time for everything (planning, exercising, reflections; etc.) so that I don't get too stressed out. You shared some great tips - thank you!

Inkyung's picture

Thank you for sharing this post!

Especially, it's amazing that you think about the "hallway ambush".
As you suggested, I will take a weekly worksheet wherever I go so that I can always write everything down in the same place - maybe in the smart-phone note pages.
This will be able to allow me see so many changes!

Jonathan's picture

Good website! I truly love how it is easy on my eyes it is. I'm wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your feed which may do the trick? Have a great day

kgniles74's picture

What program was used for the digital planner image in #2? Just some random phone app?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

I don't recognize it and I use google calendar and iCal. Maybe it's a Microsoft product?

Chelsea D.'s picture

I'm glad that I came across this post. I am very new to the teaching profession, but I know that all of the obligations that teachers have can be very overwhelming. I am also working on getting my masters degree right now, so that adds even more to my to-do list. I especially like step 2: Have a meeting with yourself. It is so important for teachers to think about what is going on in their professional and personal lives and how the two will co-exist. I think this would be a great time to also reflect on your instruction and your students' learning throughout the week and how you might alter it for the next week. Thanks again for sharing. Hopefully it will make my life a little more organized and my teaching a little more flexible.

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Maia Heyck-Merlin's picture
Maia Heyck-Merlin
Teaching is the hardest job in the world. As the founder of The Together Teacher, I care about two things: your success and your sanity.

Hi Bobby, Thanks for your note. Drew's template is indeed outstanding and is one of many available for free on my website, www.thetogethergroup.com. I would love to see how you modify it for your specific role! Cheers, Maia

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