It’s not surprising that research shows that having adequate teacher planning time is an important part of our job. Adequate planning time has a direct effect not only on an educator’s quality of teaching, but on their level of job satisfaction as well.
But as any teacher will tell you, balancing time in the classroom with time to prepare for the classroom is not as easy as it looks.
One thing’s for sure: planning by the seat of your pants is not an option. With that route, you’ll find that the work will expand to fill all of your available time, including nights and weekends!
That’s why it’s important to mindfully approach making the most of your planning time. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your valuable teacher planning time.
Making the Most of Your Teacher Planning Time:
Sketch out all available teacher planning times.
First things first. You need to know how much planning and prep time you actually have. You need to know how much time you actually have available. This way you can make a schedule and make a plan.
Let’s say you have time before school, after school, during lunch and hopefully at least a 30-45 minute planning period each day. Create a planning template that clearly lays out these blocks of time. Be sure to block off weekly meetings, duties and other obligations.
You can use a self-created template, a store bought planner or calendar, your own binder system, or whatever works best for you. At the end of this blog post, I'll put a link to the schedule I use. I've made the freebie editable so you can add your own time slots and tasks.
Taking a look at the big picture is the first step in creating the space you need to sketch out a system for getting the work done that works best for you.
Set your personal priorities.
Are you a morning person who likes to get to school before everyone else and get work done with no distractions? Or maybe you need your morning time at home to take care of your family and have more leeway in the afternoon.
Do you prefer to use your lunch hour grabbing a quick bite and getting work done? Or do you need a midday social break to chat with your work friends?
All of these factors contribute to your sense of balance and happiness so it’s important to take them into consideration.
The best way to successfully tackle teacher planning time is to create a system that works best for you. You’ll be most efficient if you plan your prep work for times when you have the most energy to concentrate and really get work done.
Create a system.
Once you’ve clearly staked out your teacher planning times, take a look at all of the tasks you need to accomplish on a daily and weekly basis to make your days run smoothly.
Some examples include: planning for math and literacy centers, changing out book boxes, planning for small groups and center rotation, sorting through science resources, printing, copying, etc. Every teacher’s task list is a little bit different.
Now, assign time slots for each of these tasks onto your template. One teacher I know likes to color code their tasks for easy reference. Another created a system using laminated daily task cards. Again, the actual tool you use isn’t as important as the thought you put into relegating your time.
Be sure to leave a little wiggle room in your system. Maybe leave 2 or 3 available blocks of time in your weekly schedule as flex time. That way if something pulls you off track you can roll tasks over to a different block of time.
Once you create your system, do your best to stick to it.
It’s true: we all have days when it seems as if there are endless emails and phone calls to make. Maybe it's a meeting or particular situations that need attention. Whatever it is, try your best to stick to your system.
Do what you need to do to create a focused workspace for yourself. To you that might mean closing your door or silencing your phone. Maybe you need to close your classroom door or find a place to hide out and work uninterrupted.
If (I should say when!) you’re pulled off track, don’t despair. Take care of the interruption and then hop back on track. After all, when it comes to teaching it’s just to be the nature of the job to be all-consuming. Go easy on yourself and do the best you can.
Take time to reflect and make adjustments.
Look back each week and assess how your system is working. Celebrate any and all gains in efficiency and tweak anything that needs to be adjusted.
Just like starting a new exercise regime, you may need a little time to “get in shape”. But you'll find that the longer you work your system, the easier it will be to follow. You may even find that the longer you teach, the more spontaneous you can be when it comes to your workload.
No system is foolproof. But hopefully putting a little mindful thought into planning and protecting your teacher planning time will help you learn to use the precious time that you have wisely. To download a copy of the editable weekly planner page click here.