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The Importance of Prioritization

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!).

  1. Revise scope and sequence for all subject areas (5 hours)
  2. Correlate curriculum with state standards (5 hours)
  3. Create grading plan (2 hours)
  4. Set up shelves with curricular materials (8 hours)
  5. Revise reading long-term plan (2 hours)
  6. Revise writing long-term plan (3 hours)
  7. Create lesson plans for Week One (2 hours)
  8. Plan reading diagnostic and tracking (4 hours)
  9. Plan writing diagnostic and tracking (2 hours)
  10. Create print-rich environment (3 hours)
  11. Create line order and closet assignments (1 hour)
  12. Create family survey (1 hour)
  13. Call families to invite them to the orientations (2 hours)
  14. Create long term plans for science and social studies (2 hours)
  15. Set up system for observation notes (1 hour)
  16. Set up system for conference notes (1 hour)
  17. Create leveled book baskets and corresponding templates for tracking progress (6 hours)
  18. Create writing piece tracking sheet (30 minutes)
  19. Figure out math facts sequence (2 hours)
  20. Make math facts flashcards for home use (3 hours)
  21. Refill math facts work (1 hour)
  22. Create sight words work (3 hours)
  23. Prepare spelling curriculum (with high frequency words added) (4 hours)
  24. Prepare personal dictionaries (1 hour)
  25. Create system for goal setting and add to the calendar (2 hours)
  26. Fix word study sequence (6 hours)
  27. Make pocket chart for breakfast cards (2 hours)
  28. Make pocket chart for name cards (2 hours)
  29. Set up pen pals (1 hour)
  30. Create classroom jobs (60 min.)
  31. Create binder for published pieces of writing (30 min.)
  32. Set up system for graphing daily goal completion (2 hours)
  33. Set up handwriting curriculum (4 hours)
  34. Create a long-term plan for the Practical Life curriculum (4 hours)
  35. Create a system for shelf-cleaning (30 min.)
  36. Create a long-term plan for independent science experiments (10 hours)
  37. Create a plan for incorporating yoga instruction and silence games to increase focus and concentration (2 hours)
  38. Create a plan for holiday research to be done as a family project at home (3 hours)
  39. Chop white paper for fractions and time (1 hour)
  40. Create a plan for incorporating music instruction (5 hours)

After school begins:

  1. Assign reading partners for class and reading buddies for cross-class exchange (1 hour)
  2. Plan reading buddy lessons (1 hour)
  3. Get portfolios ready (1 hour)
  4. Add each child’s picture to the Published Writing binder (30 min)
  5. 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.


Montessori First Great Lesson

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?

The Neverending Story (Er, “To Do List”)

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!

The Push for National Standards

A report conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in conjunction with the Kingsbury Center, revealed that a school making adequate progress in one state would be considered failing in another.

This situation is yet another illustration of how I agree with NCLB in theory but not in practice.

I love the idea of creating a vision (i.e., standards), planning assessments that measure achievement of the vision (i.e., standardized tests), and then aligning instruction with the assessments.

However, if states are left to their own devices to create the vision and the assessment, they also have the liberty to dilute expectations for their children (ahem, Mississippi, I’m looking at you).

Creating national standards would also save a lot of money. Just imagine how much each state spends to develop and revise their standards. Then multiply that by 50.

Plus, families are more mobile these days. National standards would ensure more continuity from state to state.

Finally, we would have a clearer and more accurate picture of which states are letting their students slip through the cracks.

The Tampa Tribune says:

“I know that talking about standards can make people nervous,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently.

“But the notion that we have 50 different goal posts doesn’t make sense,” Duncan said. “A high school diploma needs to mean something, no matter where it’s from.”

Every state, he said, needs standards that make kids college- and career-ready and are benchmarked against international standards.

Foreign Language Instruction Should Be a Priority

An article in The Washington Post illuminates the benefits of even 30 minutes a week of foreign language instruction at the early elementary level.

I read it and thought, “No duh.”

Think about all the complex and amazing mental processing that goes into learning another language. Second language instruction should be happening as soon as our kids enter school, and our goal should be fluency.

This concept is not new. Look at major European countries and their approach to foreign language instruction. When traveling, I am always so impressed by the sheer number of people I meet from other countries who fluently speak multiple languages. I am often dismayed by how self-centered and egotistical we Americans can be when it comes to learning a foreign language.

The 21st century is an increasily globalized world. Foreign language instruction helps students in myriad ways. It:

  1. Broadens their perspective of other cultures and deepens their understanding of the globalized world.
  2. Makes them more competitive in the 21st century workforce.
  3. Fosters brain development that helps lay the foundation for all other subjects.

It shouldn’t be relegated to 30 minutes with a teacher who teaches from a cart.