As we leave summer and approach back to school in a frenzy, the "To Do" list can become overwhelming. As teachers, we find ourselves pulled in different directions -- setting up our classrooms, learning student profiles, meeting with parents, lesson planning, collaborating with administrators -- the list seems eternal! There is one important element that we sometimes forget: focus.
In the words of Dave Burgess from Teach Like a Pirate, my favorite summer read, "Time is our most precious commodity, and it is definitely a finite resource." Teachers need to be reminded that, as much as we want to, we simply can't do it all. Our profession calls us to be the jack-of-all-trades, but it's important to see the overall picture. Stop for a moment, focus, and ask yourself, "What do I want to accomplish this year?"
Think of planning for the school year as planning for an adventure. If we are going to teach like pirates, we'd better be well prepared for those duels and treasure hunts. Although this new school year will frequently bring the unexpected (as does occur on most adventures), we can still pack a survival kit to keep our journey on track. Once we've identified our overarching goals for the school year, it's much easier to figure out how we can use our limited time to unearth the buried treasure.
Just as the possibilities on an adventure are endless, so are the tasks for your classroom. By filling up every second of our schedules with small details, it distracts us from focusing on larger goals. Reflect on the reasons you entered the profession and answer the question: "What do I want my students to accomplish by the end of this year?" Record your main goals on a chart along with the necessary tasks to accomplish them. Identify the importance of each task, in order, in light of your overall goal. Prioritize. This will allow you to see the relevance of each task and remind you of the bigger picture. Captain Jack Sparrow definitely didn't reach heaps of gold until he knew the milestones to get there.
Make a List and Set a Timeline
The brain of a teacher is rapidly firing with simultaneous tasks and concerns. Approaching larger goals, let alone a single school day, can be overwhelming if you don’t have a well-documented plan. As you plan for daily lessons, you should also make a plan for your year-end goals. Once you've established your priorities, make a list and set a timeline for each of those tasks in the chart. In my personal experience, I make separate lists -- quarterly, monthly and weekly. The quarterly list shows me my end of unit projects, assessments, student learning outcomes and major school-related events, while the monthly and weekly lists help me to keep track of immediate daily goals. Through dividing work into lists, it is easier to break it up into sections and focus on one area at a time. Although we'd all love to, we can't do everything at once. It is much easier to visualize one set of tasks with the bigger goal in mind than frantically run around like a headless chicken.
The Teacher Brain
Enlist Students to Join Your Crew
Unlike workers at most cubicled jobs, you're not alone at a desk all day. You have many able bodies around the classroom ready to help the learning process! Although students can be your source of work, they are also your crew. Give them responsibilities, and make the classroom a dynamic community in which everyone contributes. Even the ship's pirate captain needs a crew to reach that buried gold. Keep in mind that each class contains students with different learning styles, so be sure to delegate classroom jobs appropriately. Taking roll, running errands to the office, distributing and collecting materials, writing homework on the board and other daily tasks can be completed by the students themselves. Delegating responsibilities not only gives students a sense of purpose in the classroom community, but it also encourages them to practice time management. As the year's adventure progresses, you will begin to find the balance between student classroom tasks (under your guidance) and your own work.
Refer to Your Outside Compass and PLN
If you feel isolated from other teachers by the walls of your classroom, it's important to remember that you're not alone. Don’t spend extra time looking for resources -- refer to your professional learning network both on and offline. Ask advice from your colleagues at school. Reach out to other educators in your field. Utilizing social media can be a time-savvy aspect of your professional development. Twitter, Edmodo, UClass, Tioki and Edutopia's community discussions are among the many spaces to identify other teachers facing the same issues. You'll be surprised how quickly the online community responds to your questions and concerns. Expanding your network can also provide you with a well-rounded perspective of the issues you encounter in the classroom. Even pirates sought advice from the Brethren Court. However, the process to reach wisdom from swashbucklin' scallywags wasn't as instant as your keyboard.
Don't Be Afraid to Say "No" (Arrr . . .)
We've all been there. The third week of school hits, and somehow you find yourself tutoring after school, running a painting class, presenting to the school board, tending the school garden, writing the accreditation proposal, and teaching somewhere in between. Don't be afraid to say "no." As teachers, we feel it our duty to give students every ounce of energy to make sure that they have the best learning experience. We know that they'll remember us forever and that we can change their lives. But we can't do these things if we've committed to too many activities. It's better to be effective and well prepared in a few select areas than scattered all over the place. In reality, overscheduling can blind us to the great impact that we make as teachers. Treasure the moments you have with students, and focus on how to make their goals a success.
We all strive to discover and dig up treasurable learning outcomes. Although it's important to manage your time wisely, remember that each school year is an adventure. Set sail and enjoy the ride.