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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
- Will Smith

It's about that time of year: the turning of the leaves, the excitement of the holidays . . . the falling behind in your process.

I can't tell you how many times during my work as a principal that I would frequently come upon new teachers sharing the woes of falling behind. They would hit the ground running in September, excited to be teaching. And by November they'd be feeling completely unprepared and disorganized. This isn't to say by any means that they weren't good teachers. It just speaks to the fact that they weren’t as prepared as they thought for the challenges facing them in the classroom. The lesson planning and delivery, tech tool integration and keeping kids engaged in a positive classroom environment are all very hefty and time-consuming goals.

In all seriousness, the need for new teachers to stay focused and organized is going to be critical not only to their own success, but to the success of their students. And in my opinion, finding that organizational balance in his or her work is key to a teacher's happiness in the classroom.

So how can we support ourselves to stay organized? You may be feeling that you've reached the end of your rope with mounting paperwork, parent conferences and that first grading period coming up. But fear not! You can get back on track and feel more at ease, and you can do it soon. Just take a deep breath and consider these Three Tips to regain your focus.

How does a new teacher get started?

1. Create Your Personal Organization Method

Here is an excerpt from David Allen about this process in his book Getting Things Done:

Creating a method for organizing your thoughts and actions depends on five key stages. Remember that trusting your method is essential, so don't feel pressured to use a particular tool if it really doesn't work for you. You'll need to use or create a system that allows you to move between these stages quickly and easily: collecting information; processing that information; organizing the processed results; reviewing those results; taking action.

These are five basic ideas, but they're great ideas to support us as educators seeking and using our own personalized organization method. David goes on to share that it may take some time to train yourself to take these five steps, but that once you do, it will become second nature to you. Think about how you might begin to develop this in your work, and try using the steps for your next classroom project. See if you aren't more successful.

2. Write it Down!

Have you ever felt that things were getting out of control in your planning process? Did you take a minute to sit and write it down? And after you did . . . did you feel better?

Here’s what David Allen shares about that simple action:

If you figured out why that works, you probably wouldn't keep anything in your head ever again! Your brain is not for holding commitments . . . it doesn't function very well that way. That's why writing it down didn't change any thing "out there," but something changed in how you're now better engaged with that issue.

Makes sense, right? Isn't this the whole idea behind why we "write up" lesson plans? In my opinion, it is! Doesn't it feel great to be able to write up a lesson plan in an organized manner and share it with your students? Why not insure that you do this in all your daily work to increase your organization? Student issues in the classroom? Write them down. Parent coming with a complaint? Write it down. Principal coming to do an observation? Write down all the important aspects that they require. Just by taking the action of writing down the simplest task, you will feel much better when it’s completed and checked off!

Consider using a Web 2.0 tool, such as Evernote, to support you. Evernote is my go-to tool for everything -- notes, photos, links and resources -- that I want to share. I can also record parts of a speaker's presentation, colleagues' messages or an Evernote message to myself to help me to remember the contents. I feel much more organized knowing that I have these items available to share or access at a moment's notice.

Are you a paper planner person? I am, too. Although I use a Google Calendar, I still keep a Franklin Planner on my desk as well. I also keep a small lined journal with me at all times for note-taking and capturing ideas that I want to be sure not to forget. As a new teacher, get into the habit of writing down the things that require your attention daily, and you will feel much more organized. I guarantee it!

3. Plan with a Colleague or Mentor

I simply can't stress this one enough! As a new teacher, it's such a challenge to stay on top of all the important work that is presented to you. One way to support your resolve to stay organized is to take advantage of planning with a colleague. Developing lessons and getting feedback on their potential success is too hard to do alone. Find a teacher buddy that can do this work with you, and I assure you, the time spent planning will be much more productive. The strongest teams on my campuses were those who planned as grade-level groups. Shared thoughts, ideas and resources never failed to produce happier teachers and excellent results with students. Don’t have a planning buddy? Here is a list of over 100 educators worldwide who have committed their time to mentor and plan with you! Find someone on the list that is a good match, and send an email! Let me know when you connect.

Let's Not Fall Behind

Staying organized at this time of year will support you in staying focused. It will free you to create great lessons with your students and keep instruction moving ahead. You won't always be struggling to keep up or feeling like you are behind the eight-ball. In the process, be prepared for potential setbacks on the road to getting organized. Don't be discouraged. Keep working on refining your process. Get feedback from an experienced teacher who has found the sweet spot for organization.

David Allen’s work is inspiring, and I highly recommend you consider reading his book. In the meantime, check out a recent video created by David if you are interested in learning more about keeping pace with your daily work and feeling less stressed. It's worth the 45-minute viewing!

How do you manage to stay organized during this time of the year? What tips would you like to offer fellow teachers? Are you on Twitter? Join us for an upcoming New Teacher Chat (#ntchat) this November on Tips to Stay Organized!

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