Organize to Simplify: Determining Importance
I've always been an organizer. At home and at work, I could never function well until the space around me was uncluttered and organized. I live by the mantra, "Everything has a place and everything in its place." In fact, before starting work today, I completely reorganized my work area. New bins for sorting papers, holding books, and even a little mini colander for holding sticky notes and flags.
I realize not everyone comes hard wired this way and for some, living in organized chaos is much more comfortable. However, I'm firmly convinced that the job of teaching can be made so much more manageable if organization is incorporated into each aspect of your daily routine. It will take some grunt work in the beginning that will force you to question "what's always been done," but I promise it will be worth it in the end.
For years, I struggled to find balance between all that was demanded of me as a teacher and having some semblance of a personal life. Being a perfectionist, everything I did had to be "just so" and I was never satisfied with "good enough." That way of living nearly led to burn out after just a few short years of teaching. After all, we weren't meant to work 70 hour weeks and go days at a time without decent rest. I knew something had to give, but I wasn't willing to give up my process for fear of being left with less than my best.
I spent several weeks in reflection - examining my daily and weekly routines, taking notes on what I felt was most important about different aspects of my job, and scribbling ideas of what could change. When something worked well, I made a note and when I realized a routine I loved wasn't best for my students, I made another note. I spoke to a respected colleague and a fabulous mentor who gave advice about what worked well in their classrooms and then thought of ways those ideas could be used in my own. And most importantly, I implemented changes that transformed my way of life.
I can't promise that organizing your teaching life will make the job of teaching easy. Nothing can do that. Instead, I will say that organizing can make your job easier - simpler.
Over the next five weeks, I'll focus on five areas in which organization can transform your practice. My hope is that you will journey through each step with me examining your old routine and making a new one. I challenge you not to wait until August to start thinking about next year. Start now while the school year is fresh in your mind and you're able to reflect on what went well and what could use some tweaking.
A common theme you'll notice among the posts is "Determine Importance." As teachers, we're inundated by lists of things to cover, to do, and roles we're supposed to be. It seems there is never time to get it all done and we fail to be everything to everybody, although we often try. If we're going to organize with the goal of simplifying, we must first decide what's really important. Your first response may be, "It's all important." But, I guarantee that there are things we do out of habit that really aren't all that important or even necessary. If you take the time to step back and reflect on all the things you do in a typical day, week, unit, and year, I'm sure you can come up with a list of things that can be removed from your routine. It's time to purge anything that isn't purposeful, necessary, or leads to success.
Each week I'll include a resource that hopefully will be useful for you in this organizational process. Today, it is a simple questionnaire that asks you to reflect on the school year you've just finished. It will help you identify areas that worked well and might serve as models for areas that need adjusting next year. Spend some time reading and answering the questions. Then keep your sheets close by to use throughout the series.
I would love to hear your thoughts as we work together each week. After completing these first few pages, come back and let me know what you've learned about your routines. What works for you? In what area do you want to see improvement?
Next week we tackle one of the biggest challenges for teachers - lesson planning.
Here's the link to the first post to get you started.