It took me a while to learn that as a teacher, the to-do list is never-ending.
In college, I could get my entire to-do list done. Therefore, it didn’t matter which item I decided to tackle first, second, or last. In the end, everything got done.
When I started teaching, I was always adding something new to the list. There is always something to do that will increase the effectiveness of the classroom. Therefore, when I tried to use my time management strategies from college, I started to flounder.
I would pick the fun to-do items first. Like making posters. Within my misguided system, it didn’t matter what I did first, right? Since everything was going to get done?
Um, no. I quickly learned that not everything on the list was going to get done anymore. Therefore, I had to start prioritizing the list and tackling the most important items first.
As I get ready for my ninth year of teaching, I find myself being lured by my old paradigm: “Oh, you have plenty of time to get everything done! It’s only July! There’s no need to waste time strategically prioritizing the list. Just start tackling it.”
So I’m having an intervention with myself. I am here to prioritize this list (and re-prioritize it every time I add something new to it!).
- Revise scope and sequence for all subject areas (5 hours)
- Correlate curriculum with state standards (5 hours)
- Create grading plan (2 hours)
- Set up shelves with curricular materials (8 hours)
- Revise reading long-term plan (2 hours)
- Revise writing long-term plan (3 hours)
- Create lesson plans for Week One (2 hours)
- Plan reading diagnostic and tracking (4 hours)
- Plan writing diagnostic and tracking (2 hours)
- Create print-rich environment (3 hours)
- Create line order and closet assignments (1 hour)
- Create family survey (1 hour)
- Call families to invite them to the orientations (2 hours)
- Create long term plans for science and social studies (2 hours)
- Set up system for observation notes (1 hour)
- Set up system for conference notes (1 hour)
- Create leveled book baskets and corresponding templates for tracking progress (6 hours)
- Create writing piece tracking sheet (30 minutes)
- Figure out math facts sequence (2 hours)
- Make math facts flashcards for home use (3 hours)
- Refill math facts work (1 hour)
- Create sight words work (3 hours)
- Prepare spelling curriculum (with high frequency words added) (4 hours)
- Prepare personal dictionaries (1 hour)
- Create system for goal setting and add to the calendar (2 hours)
- Fix word study sequence (6 hours)
- Make pocket chart for breakfast cards (2 hours)
- Make pocket chart for name cards (2 hours)
- Set up pen pals (1 hour)
- Create classroom jobs (60 min.)
- Create binder for published pieces of writing (30 min.)
- Set up system for graphing daily goal completion (2 hours)
- Set up handwriting curriculum (4 hours)
- Create a long-term plan for the Practical Life curriculum (4 hours)
- Create a system for shelf-cleaning (30 min.)
- Create a long-term plan for independent science experiments (10 hours)
- Create a plan for incorporating yoga instruction and silence games to increase focus and concentration (2 hours)
- Create a plan for holiday research to be done as a family project at home (3 hours)
- Chop white paper for fractions and time (1 hour)
- Create a plan for incorporating music instruction (5 hours)
After school begins:
- Assign reading partners for class and reading buddies for cross-class exchange (1 hour)
- Plan reading buddy lessons (1 hour)
- Get portfolios ready (1 hour)
- Add each child’s picture to the Published Writing binder (30 min)
- Set up professional development tracker (15 min)
So that’s more than 100 hours of work before school starts (and I’m sure I’ll think of new things to add to the list constantly). I’ll basically need about 10, 10-hour days. That’s doable.
We’re having a Meet & Greet tomorrow night with children and their families. I’m putting together phone magnets to hand out. I like to pass out magnets with my phone number, the school’s phone number, our classroom webpage, and our class values so families can stick it on their refrigerators and have easy access to it.
Directions for Making Your Own Refrigerator Magnets
- Design a sheet of magnets using the table option in Microsoft Word (or work from my template)
- Print the sheets on cardstock
- Either laminate the whole sheet and then cut or cut out each card and laminate it separately (I usually just laminate the whole sheet and then cut, since magnets get stuck on the fridge and pretty much left alone).
- Apply a piece of peel-and-stick magnetic tape (I’ve seen it sold at Office Max and Wal-Mart in the craft section)
I’ve decided to tell the First Montessori Great Story about the Big Bang on the first day of school. Part of me likes to wait a few days because I see the benefit of building anticipation and excitement (I just read all about it in Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning). However, I’ve decided to do it on the first day of school this year because I want to start the year with–you know it’s coming!–a bang.
I want them to realize that the entire universe is within their reach and that our three years together will help them uncover the tools within them that they need to explore their world.
In my Montessori training, we learned to tell a rather involved story that incorporates a lot of experiments. When I was listening to the story during training, I found myself getting lost in all the digressions. I decided that I would tell the story more coherently, cohesively, and concisely and then do follow up lessons with some of the experiments that were in the original story.
I use a PowerPoint presentation to help me tell the story. Then I provide the same story in card form so the children can revisit the story again and again.
What are your thoughts about how and when to most effectively tell the First Great Story?
It’s getting to that point where I finally acknowledge that I won’t be able to accomplish every single ambitious item on my to-do list before school starts next Monday.
I’ve come a long way since I started my career in education ten years ago in 1999. I used to make my to-do list on sticky notes. Millions of them. Everywhere.
When I first started teaching full-time in 2000, I hadn’t yet realized that I couldn’t get everything done (I’ve always been overly-optimistic!). So, I naturally did what any other person listening to their id would do: I did all the fun things first.
My first year, I had the most beautiful posters everywhere. But I had terrible lesson plans…
Going into my eighth year of teaching, I have a very strategic, centralized action plan (thanks David Allen and Stephen Covey!), and I also have the self-awareness to realize that not everything is going to get done. As a result, I have to start prioritizing. I’m thinking about Day One and everything that needs to be in place to have an amazing Monday (next week!). Thankfully, I’ve done lots of the bigger-picture planning (vision, goals, assessments, etc.), so I can make sure to align all of my day-to-day stuff with the end vision.
So, um, I guess I better go get to work!
This year I decided to do something I haven’t done before: create an interactive calendar.
The idea is that I want the children to take ownership of our community and our classroom, and one way to do that is by co-authoring our days. They will be responsible for shifting the days of the month when the month changes, and they will add a variety of events to our calendar: birthdays, field trips, presentations that they want to make to the class, pen pal letter deadlines, reading buddy visits, etc.
The board started as an old chalkboard. Here’s how I transformed it:
- I asked some children and parent volunteers to clean the old surface.
- I used painters’ tape around all the edges to make sure I didn’t get any primer or paint on the floor (note to self: I should have also put down a drop cloth!).
- I then used a roller brush (with the smoothest roller attached) to add a layer of magnetic primer (which I secured from Home Depot for around $10).
- I followed the drying directions on the can and waited about 30 minutes before reapplying the next layer. In all, I had enough primer to do three layers.
- I let the surface dry for 24 hours and then used chalkboard spray paint to spray over the magnetic primer (note to self: buy chalkboard paint in a can rather than as a spray next time!).
- I measured out my calendar and put light chalk marks to approximate where I wanted to put the tape.
- I used a light blue painters’ tape from the teacher supply store to create the calendar grid. Wal-Mart sells a darker blue that is also very nice.
- I used my computer to print out the months, days, seasons, and dates in English and Spanish. I then cut out everything. You can download the template here. I used five different colors and fed them through the printer in a pattern. I ended up with a few mistakes, but if you print the entire document on five colors, it will all work out.
- I ran everything through the laminator and trimmed around the edges.
- I cut a roll of magnetic tape into pieces and attached them to the numbers. I used tape to attach the days of the week (since those are permanent). Because the magnets were on a roll, I had to bend each piece backwards to get it to lay flat. I put two pieces on each number, since the magnetic board has a pretty weak attraction.
Voila! When the children want to add events, they will use sticky notes and small magnets. I’m also going to make a magnet with every child’s picture so they can put their picture next to their birthdays, presentations, etc.
Let me know if you have any questions!
The ultimate measure of our educational system’s success is not who our students are or what they do in our schools but who they are and what they do in the world.
I’m at a charter school orientation offered by the state, and I just listened to a presentation by two agents from the United States Department of Education, Office of the Inspector General.
They talked about the importance of running charter schools ethically, and they shared several examples of school district and charter school fraud.
Honestly, it makes me sick to my stomach to think about school secretaries and charter school principals funneling money away from the public schools, so they can have a personal shopping spree at Victoria’s Secret. And then there are the superintendents and district employees convening on yachts to dole out multi-million dollar contracts.
One of the agents said about half the people he prosecutes go into their endeavors with ill intentions. The other half goes in with good intentions and then gets derailed by their own greed and the opportunity to satiate it.
When I hear about adults sullying the world with their actions, it reminds me again that our education system has to do more than teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We live in a complex, capitalistic society. We live in a world that elevates profit and often justifies the ends despite the means. We need to help our children develop an ethical sense of self. We need to help them develop an internal code of ethics that pushes them to distinguish right from wrong, even when they aren’t being directly supervised.
If we accept responsibility for educating our children to be ethical people, we will set them up to be ethical leaders in their 21st century workforces and communities.