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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Transparent Time Management

It is that time of year when we all run out of time. The curriculum gets crunched with concepts we want to cover before vacation and our classes are interrupted with a hundred different events. The secret to holiday sanity and good instruction is to slow down and use transparent time management.

It serves our students well if we take a few moments in the last two weeks before vacation to look at what we really want and need to teach before the long holiday break. I try to winnow it down to one or two big ideas and then keep some refresher lessons in the holding pen in case there is time. I also map out a game plan for what I want them to do over vacation to keep the learning active. But, the whole plan starts with good time management.

With the crunch of standards and state assessments time is becoming, for me, one of the single most important factors to manage well in my class. My students, for the most part, do not come in the door with good time management skills. I have significantly more students who have difficulty focusing on one task for longer periods of time and I find that even I am more easily distracted. It is not tough to teach time management if you make your planning and class structure more transparent. It is OK to let the kids know why you have the lesson structured in a particular time sequence. Showing them how you manage time is letting them see a model of how they can structure their own time. In staff development this is called “triple track presenting”. This is where the technique the presenter is using is part of the instruction because the presentation includes a short discussion on the technique and why it is being used for this piece of content. In that context teachers can learn how to use a new teaching technique along with some new content. It works for staff development and it works in the classroom.

There are a lot of time management helps on the web. In the 90’s many folks used Franklin Planners. These came with a host of time management tools for teachers. They were prices and aimed more for business than teachers. There are more online tools available now and I would start with a good calendar where you can not only write daily events but also a day to day to do task. I needed someplace where I could archive my list and keep track of what I was doing each day. This is a very personal decision so take your time and find a calendar that fits your style. I like the week at a glance models best but they all come in all sorts of formats. I use one calendar for all. I tried keeping a personal calendar and one for school and found it was taking rather than saving time. So, I suggest one calendar you can carry around.

I do have a large calendar on the class wall and now in my online world as a “gadget” on my homepage. I update the online calendar but in the face to face world have a student keep the calendar on track. Have them follow whatever plan you have for posting date information.

My preference is to schedule the fun and important first. So, birthdays and special events go on my calendar in bright green. I put assessments and school scheduled curricular events in another bright color. My large class calendar has a week or month at a glance and a “today” list. At the start of a face to face class it is good to talk about the today list or if you want a weekly list that is fine too and gives you an opportunity to think out loud and give input to your class about what needs to be at the top of the list.

I love to prioritize so that the most important things get done. Time management web sites will tell you that you need to do the thing you would most like to put off first. I do that and always feel better about the rest of the schedule when that one chunky item is crossed off.

I know, you are wondering how I make the decision about what concepts to teach before vacation and what to leave off. That decision is based on what is “sticky”. Those concepts that either have a good application to vacation activities or that have a tendency to stick with the students even when practice is infrequent are good targets for me. This year I will cover the periodic table. I have asked my students to make a periodic table of some item that means holidays for them. Some are doing food, some candy, one gifts and another winter sports. That means that whenever that student encounters that activity or some item from their table they stand a greater chance of remembering the trends they learned when they constructed their table.

The best sites to begin with to track your time gives a list of 20 great ways to reclaim your time.
http://zenhabits.net/reclaim-your-time-20-great-ways-to-find-more-free-time/

My list is more on the simple side of time.

  1. Schedule some think time each day. This time is free time to sip a cup of tea and give thought to your work without structure.
  2. Schedule what you love to do so that each day has some joy.
  3. Delegate as much as possible. This helps students and colleagues feel more a part of your life. It does not matter if this delegate does not do the task as well as you. It takes less time to tweak a task than to do the whole thing yourself.
  4. Learn to say no.
  5. Go to fewer meetings. If your district requires them ask if they can be done using an online meeting platform or a wiki or a threaded discussion.
  6. When someone comes in to waste your time and you feel yourself getting frustrated excuse yourself to the bathroom.
  7. Disconnect from the grid and your cell at least once a week.

You may not have lots of free time when you begin to manage yours. What you will have is a little more peace in your life. That, especially this time of year is a precious commodity.

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