Organize to Simplify: Organizing Your Time and Creating Routines
We are half-way through the Organize to Simplify Summer series. Have you been keeping up with the posts? In case you missed one, here are the topics we've covered so far:
- Week One: Determining Importance
- Week Two: Lesson Planning
- Week Two: Planning with Understanding by Design
- Week Two: Planning for a Substitute
- Week Three: Organizing your Resources
Now let's talk about organizing your time. What does your typical daily or weekly schedule look like? Do you have set routines or does this week look dramatically different than last? I truly believe that one step in simplifying your life as an educator is to have routines and stick to them. Developing routines will help cultivate a positive classroom environment while decreasing your work load.
A few places to have routines:
1. The beginning of a day. Each morning, students should come in knowing what is expected of them - where to unpack, where to place their belongings, how to show that they are buying lunch, etc. Develop a list of steps students should complete as they enter the classroom that will help prepare them for success throughout the day. Provide morning work that engages students and prepares them for that day's work.
2. The end of the day. Have students complete tasks that help wind down the day and prepare them to leave. Writing assignments in agendas, collecting materials to take home, and completing classroom jobs are all ways to review the day's work while building responsibility for themselves.
3. While working in centers or stations. Do you use centers in your classroom? Many teachers do and have rotations down to a science. While the work completed in each station should change throughout the year, expectations for completing it, finding materials, behavior during, and transition to a new one should not.
4. While working independently or small groups. During my reading or writing workshop time, students were often responsible for working independently or in a group. In the beginning of the year, we spent several weeks learning the rules for finding the perfect work spot, choosing partners, maintaining a personal book box, etc. so that this flexible time went smoothly during the rest of the year. The more time you spend teaching these types of routines at the beginning of the year, the less behavior issues and lost time you'll have later on.
1. Your work load. Make a specific schedule of when you will plan, run copies, return emails, and contact parents. No more running around like a crazy person trying to run copies before the bell rings for your next class or staying three hours late to catch up on parent emails. Instead, set one morning each week to run copies for the following week and set aside specific days or nights to lesson plan. Create a schedule for sending emails each month just to check in with parents. Making phone calls or sending emails to 30+ parents is much more manageable when you schedule just four or five a week.
2. Your work day. Do you have set work hours? If not, I encourage you to create some. Set boundaries for when you will be in your school building and leave when your time is up. Although I hate mornings, I arrived in my building an hour and a half before school started each day. Honestly, it was brutal getting up that early, however I found that when I did - my productivity increased. Only a handful of others ever ventured in to the building at that time and so there were few distractions to deter me from getting work done. Plus, I found myself with uninterrupted time with the copier and laminator. That alone saved me enough time to make the getting up early more than worth it!
A few benefits of having routines:
1. Your students will thrive. Research shows that children thrive when they have boundaries, structure, and predictable routines. Predictability helps develop a sense of safety and security. I've found that even the most difficult students do well when they know what to anticipate each day.
In addition, routines allow students to have greater independence in the classroom. Rather than having to walk students through each part of the day, they learn procedures and then can work independently. This frees up a great deal of time for other important tasks, such as conferring and addressing group needs.
2. Your workload decreases. Rather than feeling pressured to recreate the wheel each week, having predictable routines enables you to focus on the content rather than the structure of your lessons or even your day as a whole.
3. Your memory improves. Ok, maybe in a round about way. When you have a structured daily routine, there's no more forgetting or guessing what's coming up next or still left to do.
Three ways to stick to one:
1. Determine importance. Like everything else we've discussed in this series, you must first decide what's important. It's much easier to stick to a routine when you know that everything inside of it is important. It isn't filled with "stuff" or fluff - just what matters to the success of yourself and your students.
2. Set boundaries. This was the absolute hardest for me to do. My work was never done, so I never felt that I could "turn it off." I went in early, took work home during the week, and spent much of my weekends working. Don't make the same mistake. Although our job is one of the most important, it is a job. And burning yourself out won't make you worthwhile to anyone, especially your students. Determine the work load you can healthfully handle that still leaves margins for relaxation and a personal life.
This includes setting boundaries for yourself at work. When you're at work, be at work. Resist the urge to get on Instagram and see what your bestie is up to. Unless it's your dedicated planning time, steer clear of Pinterest in search of an activity for an up coming unit. Unplug and utilize your planning periods and other breaks to get as much completed during your work day as possible.
3. Have an accountability partner. I have one amazing friend who first began as a coworker. We became fast friends after learning how much we had in common, including our lack of boundaries when it came to our teaching workload. Too many days we were the first to arrive at school and the last to leave. When we got together on the weekends, our conversations always landed on how overwhelmed we were and how we had to make a change.
After this went on for far too long, we decided to make a pact. We set boundaries for ourselves and wrote out steps for implementing change over each of four quarters during the year. She typed up a contract (in Comic Sans, mind you) and even came up with a few repercussions should one of us break the contract. She called it our What About Bob Baby Steps Contract (have you seen the movie?) and I printed two copies on bright green neon paper so that I wouldn't miss it at work or at home (in case the CS didn't get my attention!).
I'll admit, I wasn't perfect at sticking to the plan. However, it went a long way to grabbing my attention, forcing me to determine importance in my work life, and implementing changes. If it weren't for my accountability partner, I doubt I would have stuck to any of it.
So tell me, do you have routines that you stick to? What are they and what keeps you consistent in keeping them?
Next week is the last week in our series and focuses on organizing help. I hope to see you then!