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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Time Management: Planning for the Adventure

Clara Galan

Former Social Media Marketing Assistant for Edutopia

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.

Prioritize

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

Image credit: Edudemic

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.

Comments (13)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jamese Broadnax's picture

While reading your post it was very interesting. I learned a lot about time management because naturally I am the one who become very stressful because I take on so many tasks at one time. But you gave many examples on how to overcome that. I can't wait until I graduate and get my own class, and also with that I am sure I will take on many task that my principle might ask or offer to me. I like how you talked about having your students active in helping you out around the classroom, because I loved it when I was in school and my teachers had me help them too.

Crystal Fitzgerald's picture

This blog was very informative to me, when it comes to time management inside the classroom it can get overwhelming. I really do appreciate the blog it gets me ready mentally, to prepare for future teaching. Some of the things mention in the blog really reminds me of some of the thing I do now, and it make me really ponder about some changes I have to make for the future.

Chelsea Dennis's picture

I'm someone that feels that I can take over the world at times. I always tend to over book my schedule, making it hard for me to get through with everything in an orderly fashion. It's great that you touched on this subject matter, because it definitely is an eye opener. How long do you recommend a schedule to be? Also, the fact that you give your readers courage to say no is interesting as well, due to the fact that it can get hard for me to tell others no at times. What is the easiest way to say no to a student without being so harsh?

Clara Galan's picture
Clara Galan
Former Social Media Marketing Assistant for Edutopia

Chelsea,
As teachers, we often find ourselves with heavily booked schedules - many of which include hours that go beyond classroom instruction. In my experience, it's important to focus on immediate tasks - daily schedules by the hour, and then have a lesson planner that lays out the week, the month, and the quarter/semester (depending on the structure of your school). Here's an example of the planner I used: http://bit.ly/1bfoJE4. You can write the title of the lesson with bullet points for each period of the day. Also, it's helpful in each small square to write the beginning and ending time of the lesson and location of your class (I was a resource teacher, so I had to move around to different classrooms). This is a less tech-savvy way of keeping track, but it helped me to write down reminders for my plans. In addition to this, you should keep a file of your complete lesson plans that state the standards and learning outcomes. Edutopia's Pinterest board is another great resource for fun tips on lesson planning: http://www.pinterest.com/edutopia/lesson-planning/.

Saying "no" to activities can be difficult, especially when you know that all of your involvement supports and helps students! However, you need to make time for yourself. You won't be the best teacher that you can be if you are perpetually exhausted and overworked. Choose a few extra curricular activities/clubs to help out with and make sure that you allocate enough time for grading, parent-teacher communication, etc. As it is when you are a college student, you have to focus your time on only a few outside-of-class activities, so that you still have time to study and turn in your assignments. I wish you the best of luck! Just remember, your most important learning experiences will come when you are inside the classroom. It's important to learn pedagogy, standards and lesson planning strategies in your education classes, but interacting with students and observing veteran teachers is the most helpful preparation for taking on your own class.

Teresa's picture
Teresa
Assistant Professor Prairie View A&M University

I completely agree with what you are sharing about learning from verteran teachers. What they learn in their classroom is a great foundation to build upon and observing and working with more experienced teachers will only make them great. I encourage all of my students to be open and appreciative off all experiences.

Teresa's picture
Teresa
Assistant Professor Prairie View A&M University

Mrs. Galan:
Thank you for writing this blog about time management. I am a professor of pre-service teachers and I used your post to teach my students how to blog. I wanted them to have the experience of learning from more experienced educators in hopes they will continue blogging and learning beyond my classroom. Continued professional growth is so important and I am a believer that some of the best learning takes place with your own colleagues and others in education. Your blog was informative and the advice is appreciated. Enjoy reading the comments from our "future teachers" and thanks for any comments you post.

Tiffany's picture

I found this article to be absolutely amazing!!!! I felt that this article was speaking to me and help come up with solutions for certain obstacles I am facing with time manage. Before, working in the classroom I used to think that I was organized and had good time management skills. Working with children has shown me that it is extremely important for me to prioritize, create task lists and give myself deadlines. This is one my goals I plan to work and have systems in place for the spring of 2014.

Jonathan Hunter's picture

"As much as we want to, we just can't do it all" I MUST GET THIS! This is an important fact that can so easily be forgotten. We can stress and worry about all the things set forth to be completed and we stress over things that just takes time. This belief takes time I believe to understand the thought. Thank you for this.

Clara Galan's picture
Clara Galan
Former Social Media Marketing Assistant for Edutopia

Well said, Jonathan! It's true - and once we accept that fact we can begin to prioritize. :) You're not alone - reach out to other teachers for support! :)

jasmine.lott's picture

I enjoyed reading your blog. This post will definitely help me during my first year as a teacher and as a mom. The last tip was something that I have trouble doing sometimes and will have to realize that I cannot do everything, especially with having a little one who needs me.

I wanted to ask you a question: Are there any additional advice you would give to new educators who are first time parents and want to maximize their time with an infant?

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