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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!

Comments (5)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Grace Padgett's picture

This article was very helpful to me. This year I have started at a new school and I find myself feeling like I'm at a runner's pace just trying to keep up. As a new teacher, I find myself stretched to the limits so it seems. However, I know that once I get the hang of it, the rules and ways of doing things at the school, I know that I'll be able to shine. The hectic grading period has just ended and I'm ready to make some new resolutions for the rest of the year and upcoming marking period. I'm also looking forward to reading the book by David Allen.

Science.Teach's picture

Thanks for providing this valuable information. This article is very helpful to me as I am yet to enter the profession and right now I am in university working hard to finish my courses and getting ready to embark into the teaching world. However, with this information I believe I will not feel the pressure to rush up the things when I am teaching! Thanks again.

Mrs. Hooven's picture

I will be a first-year teacher in September 2013. One of my main concerns is how I will remain organized. Each course I take I learn more and more on how to be an efficient teacher, however, organization has never really been a topic of learning.

I know that remaining organized will deem to be difficult once I am in the classroom and trying to stay on top of the grading of 120 students and writing lesson plans. This of course is just the beginning of organization that I need to think about. I'll need to organize my classroom in an efficient manner for the students and my own productivity. There will be mounds of paperwork that I will need to distinguish the levels of importance and organize myself to insure that everything is handled appropriately.

I think that an organized teacher is a happy teacher. If the educator is able to put ideas on paper, organize herself/himself to be able to be highly efficient, he or she can focus on teaching instead of focusing on tasks that remain unorganized in the mind or on a desk full of paperwork.

Erica Newcomb's picture

This was a great reminder of fantastic ways to keep organized. I agree that organization is not a one fits all. I have not yet started teaching, I am working on my Masters Degree and I love reading the advice from all and know it will make me a better teacher.

Monique Kimbrough's picture

Hello my name is Monique Kimbrough and I currently a college student. I will be ready for teaching in less than a year. I am extremely excited. Your tips helped me to stay prepared and not fall behind at all. I found it interesting that you said by October or November teachers are unorganized and running around like chickens basically. As a student I have saw unorganized teachers and it is not pleasant. Plan with a mentor was the most useful for me. I plan on talking with my sister who is currently a 4th grade teacher with the same concentration. She will be able to guide in the right direction. Thanks!

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