Vanderkam writes of the benefits of planning out your week. Planning gives you a road map of what you need to get done for the week, allows you to plan tasks during optimal times (your most intensive tasks for when you have the most focus and energy), and can hold you accountable. On Sunday night, make a list of what you want/need to accomplish that week. Plan your big tasks (grading tests, writing an IEP) for when you have a big chunk of time that you can focus (before school, during a long plan block), then schedule your smaller tasks for intermittent times (sending emails before a meeting, making copies during lunch). For teachers, planning out your week can be critical to getting everything done and coming home Friday without a huge stack of papers to grade (or scrambling when you need to make last minute copies and, of course, the copy machine is broken).
You can’t be expected to hole yourself away in your room, never coming out for air. Be social with your colleagues, and take mental breaks from your work. Share pictures of your kids, talk about your fantasy football team, or discuss your weekend plans. However, avoid the black hole of time you know as “venting”. When teachers vent, it can be never ending, rehashing the same qualms about an annoying principal, student, or parent over and over, with nothing productive accomplished when the bell rings. If you feel the conversation headed that way, have a few good excuses ready to go (i.e. “Hate to cut out, but I need to hit the bathroom / fill my water bottle / grab a snack before the kids get back”).
Set goals and find a way to hold yourself accountable
During the school year, it’s very easy to get caught up in everything you need to get done just to survive (grading papers, parent phone calls, paperwork, etc.) and push aside the bigger goals you have for yourself. But without these goals, you never move yourself forward in your career and get closer to that elusive motivational concept of ‘mastery’. Take time to set some larger goals for yourself. Then each week when you plan, put on your list one or two steps that move you towards that goal.
Even more important, find an accountability measure. I’m lucky, my friend Talia is my accountability partner. We are both teachers, and both have goals to move beyond the classroom into larger roles within education. Together we share our goals, set time tables for accomplishing steps, and check in with each other to make sure we’ve both making progress. Knowing she’s posting her blog this week kicks my butt into gear so I post as well. If you don’t have a friend/colleague to do this with, is there a family member who is vested in your career development that will hold you accountable? Can you join a professional network? Or if you don’t have another person to turn to, can you find a way to hold yourself accountable (i.e. indulge in a grande latte only if you write that presentation proposal)?
Maybe you’re lucky and work at the school five minutes from your house. Unfortunately, most teachers I know work at schools a decent drive from their house. This means hours of our week wasted in the car (time spent not on work and not with family/friends). Is there a way you can make this time feel less ‘wasted’? I’ve begun enjoying listening to non-fiction books on tape. I could never get into listening to fiction books (there’s something about relaxing and envisioning the scene being painted in your mind that you can’t do driving in traffic), but non-fiction is different. I can think about the topics being discussed while driving, and I feel like I’m using the time to better myself instead of wasting it. My friend mentioned above listens to NPR in the morning and podcasts or Ted talks in the afternoon. What could you do to use this time better? Maybe you could listen to the news, and that will free up time in the evening you usually watched the news. Is there a gym close to work, so you can skip traffic early morning and get a workout in? When you’re frustrated by your commute, the feelings can linger the rest of the day. Finding a more productive way to spend this time can have positive implications for your work and home life.
Teaching can be exhausting. There are always things that could get done (more papers to grade, new lessons to create, new texts to find, etc.). However, if you don’t take your time when away from school to refresh, you’ll burn out sooner than you think. If you have kids, when you get home put your phone away, leave the house a mess, and focus on just being there for your kids. If you don’t have kids, when you and your partner are together, put the phones away just spend time together (make and eat dinner together, or go for a walk / bike ride, relax with a glass of wine, etc.). When your personal life is fulfilling, you are more productive in your professional hours.
Take time to organize / create a portfolio
You never know when an opportunity may arise. One thing I wish I had done more in my early years of teaching is keep an ongoing portfolio of my accomplishments. Carve out time every week / month / quarter to put together a portfolio of work you are proud of. This could be a website, a blog, or an actual physical collection of your best work. This could be student work samples, test scores, curriculum, etc. It’s easier to do a little bit as you go, then have an opportunity suddenly come up and to be unprepared for it.
In addition, keep your items organized. Save some time Friday to organize the handouts you gave the kids, the test you created, or the lessons plans you did. You’ll save time next year, and every year after, if you stay organized.
These are just a few ideas to maximize your weekly schedule. What strategies do you employ?