Productivity Strategies – Truth For Teachers Real talk from real educators Sun, 10 Mar 2024 16:29:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Productivity Strategies – Truth For Teachers 32 32 Productive morning routines: How one teacher creates intentional practices for daily success Sun, 10 Mar 2024 17:00:59 +0000 What if you created a “standard algorithm” for your day? Here’s what I mean. In my 4th grade classroom, a focus of my Math curriculum each year is the standard algorithm for double-digit multiplication and long division. I enjoy these instructional days because as a Type-A teacher, I like to solve multiplication and division equations … Continued

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What if you created a “standard algorithm” for your day?

Here’s what I mean.

In my 4th grade classroom, a focus of my Math curriculum each year is the standard algorithm for double-digit multiplication and long division.

I enjoy these instructional days because as a Type-A teacher, I like to solve multiplication and division equations with the standard algorithm.

Standard means the way most people do things, or the common way. Algorithms are the step-by-step problem-solving method for completing the given task. Therefore, a standard algorithm is a stepwise practice for solving a problem. I have a standard algorithm to start each day in my classroom. I have a stepwise practice for setting up my day for success.

Taking ownership of your morning flow

I have a practice of entering my room the same way each day. I have chosen each step in this entrance. I turn on one of the overhead lights and head to my desk. I turn on my desk lamp and place my lunch box under my desk. Next, I switch on the library lamp, and then the smartboard. I pick up the smartboard’s keyboard and mouse after switching the reading group tag that hangs on the keyboard’s shelf. I deposit the keyboard and mouse along with my backpack at the standing desk and log into my computer. While the computer is loading, I move to the nearby schedule to switch the schedule cards for the day of the week and special area class. Finally, I complete the full circle around my classroom by turning on the back counter lamp and hanging my coat in my closet.

You get to set the practice of this in your own room. Take ownership over the space and how you flow into it. Choose menial tasks that are both necessary and helpful. These are the first things I check off my mental checklist to feel success each day.

Tech shortcuts for efficient mornings

To prepare for teaching that day, I return to my smartboard and start opening all the programs I need. To batch this task, I have put all of my daily needed websites into one folder titled Morning: Pandora, GoNoodle, Google Classroom, Google Drive, Planbook. With a click on the folder, then selecting open all, I have all the websites open in two clicks! Not only did I choose the resources to group together, I have purposefully chosen this order. I want Pandora always open on the far left to easily access play/pause all day by both myself and my students.

Since making the decision to get rid of my PC for more space on my desk this year, I had to adjust my Morning bookmark folder. I use my smartboard for both instruction and my non-instructional tasks during my planning period as well as before and afterschool. So students would not see confidential information, I have a bookmarks folder for instructional items and another for my school email, Google Drive, and Class Dojo. I have two Google Chrome windows open and click “Morning Smartboard” to get all the instructional materials set and then click “Morning Teacher” to have my needed resources in another window.

To create a folder, I simply clicked on the bookmarks bar and selected “add folder”. I then decided which websites would be used daily and dragged and dropped them into this folder. (An alternative way to complete the same procedure would be having your needed websites open upon startup, found in the settings for Google.) I have made folders for not only my daily morning needs but also each subject area. When I am using a slideshow or resource for instruction for several days or weeks, I move that into my Morning bookmarks folder as well.

Your practice of opening each site separately can be streamlined. Choose which websites you need and even the order in which they are placed in the folder or startup list. This small change, using technology shortcuts, will save minutes and create another moment of success as you lay out your day.

My slideshow strategy for efficient morning meetings

Another resource I have in my Morning bookmarks folder is my Morning Meeting slideshow. I have three slides for each day in my Morning Meeting slideshow:

  • 1 – Welcome with morning routine and morning work directions
  • 2 – Morning Meeting with greeting, sharing, and activity
  • 3 – Morning message

Having the daily check-in directions displayed helps students to build independence, as I refer them to the slideshow as I spend time greeting students by the door.

I am so thankful for the duplicate option! I was able to duplicate these three slides to create an entire month, then duplicate the entire month to create each month of the school year! Although I have to adjust the dates or rearrange the activities, for the most part, these slides are ready for the entire school year after creating them in one year. The September Morning Meeting presentation always makes me thankful for my past productivity! Having all my extra introductions, procedural lessons, and classroom rules with my morning meeting procedures helps me to streamline planning during the dizzying rush of the beginning of the school year.

I look over my Morning Meeting slides when planning the upcoming week, update the dates, tweak the minor changes needed, and I am ready for the week. I can fill in the morning work ahead of time or each morning. I will rotate this slideshow in my Morning bookmarks folder on a monthly basis.

Your productivity can be increased with simple copy and paste. Take time to make a resource you can benefit from both now and later. Success sometimes means reusing and adjusting.

Achieving a “Tidy Inbox”

With my tabs all lined up and ready, I first go to my school email. From my backpack, I take my agenda, a combination of the list-making system from 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, and monthly calendars. I read emails with my agenda so I can immediately add to my calendar or to-do list then reply, file, or delete each email. I find “zero inbox” to be a lofty goal, so rather I shoot for “tidy inbox.” In order to do this, I do not look at email until I can give it my full attention with my calendar and to-do list present. Otherwise, emails get lost, requests get lost, dates get forgotten.

After getting the Morning Meeting slides on the one needed for the day, I move on to Planbook. I review my plans for the day. I adjust the schedule and write the lesson objectives on the board.

Strategic resource organization: Subject area copy bins

I gather the necessary resources from my subject area copy bins. I have spent planning time in previous days or weeks copying the upcoming items so I can be more prepared. If a copy needs to be made, I can do that right away if time allows or put it on my to-do list for my planning period. With my agenda still out, I can also see what tasks I have delegated to this morning or work ahead on tasks I have slotted in for the following day. The power of the one-stop agenda has allowed me to dump many of my worries into the weeks ahead and pressing to-do items into today, tonight, or tomorrow.

On some mornings, I arrive one hour prior to school and my morning process takes that whole time. On other mornings, I choose to leave home earlier to get more time in the morning for planning and preparation for the days and weeks ahead. Some afternoons, I leave right at contract time after just a quick clean up. Other afternoons, I spend time preparing for the day ahead, checking off some prep for the next day prior to leaving. The choice of the time to arrive or leave the classroom may be an area of reflection for morning success too.

Achieving productivity through thoughtful, intentional morning routines

Wikipedia states that “Practice is the act of rehearsing a behavior repeatedly, to help learn and eventually master a skill.”The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the noun practice as “the condition of being proficient through systematic exercise.”

My morning practices lead to productivity, both in the morning and throughout the day with my students. I have chosen repeated, systematic behaviors that are both necessary and efficient. My productive morning helps me feel in control of my classroom environment.

On a daily basis, teachers make so many decisions: countless adjustments to instruction, assessing and logging behaviors, responding to interruptions to the schedule… and teachers do not have control of many of these decisions. So every morning is your time to choose personal proficiency. Define the practices you need. Choose the practices that will make you successful from the start of your day. Repeat these practices until they are routine. Monitor and adjust your practices until they help you achieve mastery of your morning.


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How to select the BEST back-to-school ideas for you and your students Sun, 16 Jul 2023 17:00:41 +0000 There are so many different ways to start the school year–which ones are right for YOU? Those first days feel so important! First impressions matter! Being overwhelmed and trying to do all the things in those first few days is definitely not on brand for Truth for Teachers. Check out this guide to curate a … Continued

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There are so many different ways to start the school year–which ones are right for YOU?

Those first days feel so important! First impressions matter! Being overwhelmed and trying to do all the things in those first few days is definitely not on brand for Truth for Teachers. Check out this guide to curate a focused and enjoyable back-to-school plan.

Grab your notebook and pen (or however you like to plan), and let’s get started.

1. Identify what you want students to know, understand, and do

Know, Understand, and Do (or KUDs) are part of the Understanding by Design framework coined by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. This is a method of backwards planning used for academic units that can be applied in miniature form to the first days of school. Instead of planning backwards from a unit’s final assessment, you’re planning backwards from what you want the class to look and feel like for the year.

In the “know” area, write any absolute information students need to know early. This is about making the “hidden curriculum” clear for all students. This could be:

  • Key language you use to cue routines and procedures
  • Policies and rules
  • Locations of different items

In the “understand” area, write the “universal truths” that will guide how the classroom operates. This is about establishing school and classroom culture intentionally. These could be:

  • Identity statements that your whole school uses (e.g. “I am responsible.”).
  • Value statements that drive your class (e.g. “We co-create this class everyday.”).

In the “do” area, write things you want students to do in the very first days. This is about establishing the early habits that will become the bedrock of the class. These could be:

Caption: This is the first draft of my list. I added quite a bit to it later on, but I wanted you to have a visual for the process.

2, Identify what you want to know, understand, and do

Once you’ve envisioned what you want students to know, understand, and do, you need to create a similar list for yourself. We don’t plan enough for making sure our needs are met early and often in the classroom so that we can do our best work.

In the “know” category, you may list certain student information, for example:

  • Name pronunciation
  • Interests
  • Ideal conditions for learning
  • Motivational style

In the “understand” category, you may list the beliefs you need to hold to have a great start of the year, for example

  • I create what I expect.
  • There is plenty of time.
  • We are here to learn.

In the “do” category, you may list the actions you want to take in those first days. For example:

  • Talking with each student
  • Observations you want to make
  • Choosing carefully how you speak to individual students and the class
  • When and how you offer help
  • When and how you offer praise
  • Self-care activities (this and other activities could be during or around the school day, but they are still important to schedule for yourself).

3. Brainstorm and envision

This part is pure idea generation. List as many different ways as you can think of to accomplish your KUDs for students and for yourself. You can organize this by going line-by-line or just brain-dumping in a long list. There won’t necessarily be one activity for each item on your list. You will start to see ways in which several items cluster together. The important thing is to not stop at one idea. Generate lots of ideas.

This is a place where some teachers may turn to the internet for ideas. I like Tim Ferriss’ encouragement of an information diet–being selective about how much information you take in. I try to stick with what I come up with, just because it’s overwhelming to add ideas from all over the internet too. Sometimes I will search a specific favorite teacher website, which gives me a few high-quality ideas without sending me down the rabbit hole. The point is to have some options, not go on the hunt for the very perfect back-to-school sequence. School is imperfect. Best to accept it from day one.


4. Curate

From this giant list, it’s time to curate. Not everything from the giant list can or should be included. There are several questions I consider in the curation process.

  • Will it cultivate understanding? The knowing and the doing are pretty easy to get in a variety of ways, but featuring an understanding is deep, intentional work that is easily lost in service of knowing and doing. Build around the understanding first.
  • Is it enduring? I want students creating enduring products or prior knowledge experiences that we can return to throughout the year. I want mileage out of those first few days, and bonus points if I can pull the activities/products into a welcome packet for late-joiners to the class or into a back-to-school presentation for families.
  • Is it simple but high-yield? Gone are my days of elaborate pre-cutting and crafting to prepare a one-day activity before students arrive. Gone are my days of complicated directions (their brains–and mine–are still in summer mode). I am here for simple, non-threatening human connection from day one. I am here for finding out so much more by watching and listening. (For more ideas, check out the Ultimate Guide for Authentically Creating a Secondary Classroom Where Students Feel Safe, Connected, and Whole)

5. Schedule

Decide how many days you want to devote to “back-to-school” before starting your academic curriculum. This may depend on your calendar, the age of your students, and/or the activities you want to do. We start with a three-day week, and I teach high school, so I will start with those three days. We will revisit and add throughout the school year, so I am not trying to jam in every single thing those first three days. Most routines I teach naturally the first time the need arises. For more information on this, I recommend the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, which was my best teacher for scheduling all the routines I need to teach.

How do you want back-to-school to feel?

The choice really is yours. As I said earlier, trust your instincts about the activities you include, but if you are looking for some inspiration, you can read what came from my planning process at Get Back to School with 8 Easy and Fun Activities for High School.


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The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Online Summit is coming soon Wed, 10 May 2023 17:00:30 +0000 The first virtual event entirely focused on saving teachers TIME! And the best part? It’s totally FREE! The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program is an online course first created in 2015 (with a total update in 2020), and we’ve now had tens of thousands of teachers complete the course. With so many different personality types … Continued

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The first virtual event entirely focused on saving teachers TIME! And the best part? It’s totally FREE!

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program is an online course first created in 2015 (with a total update in 2020), and we’ve now had tens of thousands of teachers complete the course.

With so many different personality types and teaching contexts, the amount of new ideas to spring out of the course was inevitable. I’ve always been impressed by the tweaks, offshoots, extensions, and transformations teachers have done as they’d made my ideas their own.

And now, I’ve finally got an awesome way to feature them and share their phenomenal work!

In the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Online Summit this summer:

  • 30+ presentations and roundtable discussions are included
  • Opening and closing keynotes by 40 Hour founder Angela Watson (that’s me)
  • All session presenters are current K-12 classroom teachers + 40 Hour members
  • No fluff, filler, icebreakers, or pitches: each session is just 15-20 minutes long
  • Chat with other teachers during the live sessions to get personalized advice

This event is entirely online, completely FREE, and beneficial for all K-12 teachers!

Some of our presenters will take you on a video tour of their classrooms to share organizational tips and classroom routines. Other presenters will screen share their way through tutorials of how they organize digital files, save links, manage assessment, or plan lessons. Still others will give a fast rundown of all their best timesaving tips for grading, differentiation, email, and more.

Learn more and sign up here.


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8 ways to adjust lessons for student needs WITHOUT planning everything last minute Wed, 04 Jan 2023 17:00:20 +0000 Advance lesson planning is the first and main step in reducing my work hours, and I believe it is the only way to end the cycle of falling behind on other work because there’s always urgent planning for the following day. And yet when I coach teachers on this, a frequent response is, “I can’t plan … Continued

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Advance lesson planning is the first and main step in reducing my work hours, and I believe it is the only way to end the cycle of falling behind on other work because there’s always urgent planning for the following day.

And yet when I coach teachers on this, a frequent response is, “I can’t plan that far ahead because I need to adjust to student needs.”

Adjusting to student needs versus planning ahead is a false dichotomy, and I’ve found that advance planning enables me to adjust to student needs far more effectively than planning lessons every night for the next day.

For example, imagine my 9th-grade world history students are struggling with a particular concept when teaching about the Industrial Revolution — communism versus capitalism. In last-minute planning mode, I decide to spend one more day practicing this concept than I originally meant to. Students get more practice, and the unit assessment ends up being a day later than it would have been — not a big problem.

But what if I take a similar approach often? If I add an extra day on a topic every other week, that’s 10 days in a semester — which could easily equal an entire unit! That’s 20 days or 4 weeks of school in a whole year – definitely a problem if I run out of time for that much of my curriculum. Sure, I can say my students understand communism versus capitalism — but what did they miss in those 4 weeks of instruction I’ve skipped or had to abandon?

In advance planning mode, I know exactly how many days I should spend on the Industrial Revolution unit to ensure I get through the whole curriculum, and how many days within that unit I have for communism versus capitalism. If I realize my students need more time on this concept, I can look at the big picture and make choices to meet this need without throwing off the rest of the year. I can look at the Industrial Revolution unit and see if there’s a topic coming up that I can spend less time on, or skills practice that I can combine with more communism versus capitalism practice.

I can look at the rest of the semester and decide to spend an extra day on this unit, knowing exactly where I will have to cut that day later on. I can look at my full curriculum and decide that since communism versus capitalism will come up again in two later units, I will use the assessment data from this unit to inform my instruction later, making sure to spiral back to what students misunderstood and build on what they did grasp.

When I have an advanced plan, I have many options, and I can choose among them knowing exactly what the consequences will be. When I plan at the last minute, every time I adjust for immediate student needs, I’m setting myself up to fail to meet their needs in the future, because I don’t have a clear idea of what the consequences will be.

Read about my advanced planning method here:

A peek inside one teacher’s lesson planning process (and how she streamlines to stay ahead)

Before getting into specific strategies, it’s important to reflect on your current practice. How much are you really adjusting to student needs when you plan at the last minute?

Be honest with yourself. I think it’s easy to use “adjusting for student needs” to justify to ourselves why we plan at the last minute when in reality, we’re just too busy to plan in advance.

Also, reflect on the ways in which you currently adjust to student needs or the ways you’d like to add. Brainstorm a list of the types of adjustments you make, so you can look for strategies to make those adjustments within the framework of a larger plan.

Needs that often prompt me to adjust my lesson plans

In my teaching, I often adjust lesson plans due to the following:

  1. Extra practice: some or all students need more practice on a skill or concept
  2. Reteaching: based on formative assessment, some or all students need more or different instruction to master a skill or concept
  3. Student interests: something comes up that students are super interested in, and I want to embrace and encourage that spontaneous interest in learning; or students in a particular class really enjoy a specific type of activity (for example, my 4th hour loves debates but my 6th hour prefers discussions)
  4. Differentiation: I need to modify instruction, assignments, or assessments to meet the needs of learners as outlined in IEPs, ILPs, 505 plans, etc.
  5. Time: an activity takes longer than I anticipated, or an unexpected event interrupts teaching
  6. Unprepared students: the activity I’ve planned depends on students having done some kind of preparation or homework

Strategies I use for last-minute adjustments to planned lessons

Below, I’ve outlined strategies to address each of these needs within the framework of advance planning.

Strategy 1: Building in buffer time.

Helps with: adjusting for extra practice, reteaching, or student interests

As described in my planning article, I start every semester by tallying how many teaching days I have and dividing those days up by unit. I start planning each unit by dividing up the days by learning target or topic. Whenever possible, I build in buffer time at these steps.

I might assign 80 of the 83 days in the semester to units, leaving 3 days as a buffer if I need to extend any unit. Or I only plan instruction and activities for 14 of the 15 days in a unit. I can also leave buffer time in a single week’s or day’s plans — I might know Tuesday’s activity won’t take the entire period, but I don’t plan anything else to fill the time.

Buffer time left at the end of the semester, unit, or class period can be used to meet many different student needs. Whether you need to take an extra day of practice on a concept like in my opening example, reteach a concept to a small group of students, or run with the conversation that got students excited or curious, you have time to do so without trashing your whole semester plan or curriculum. You can also designate specific buffer time for specific needs, such as including at least one reteaching day and one student interest day in every unit plan.

Strategy 2: Creating a standard student-interest activity.

Helps with: adjusting for student interests

One way to adjust for student interests is to include a lot of choices in learning activities — allowing students to choose a topic, group, format, or type of assessment. But what about those magical times when a specific topic comes up and carries the whole class away with fascination? How can we plan ahead to make the most of those times and not end up doing last-minute preparation? My strategy is to create a standard activity that can apply to any topic of interest.

In a history class, this might be a primary source gallery, where every student finds a primary source on the topic and we share them around the room, with a standard protocol for students to process and discuss the sources. I do a similar activity in psychology, with students searching for current research on a topic. I also do mini-inquiries, with students proposing hypotheses on a high-interest question, researching as individuals or small groups, and then sharing conclusions. This works well with current event topics, such as, “Why did Russia invade Ukraine?”

Other possibilities are Socratic seminars or student-led discussions. With each of these activities, I can have a template pre-made and all I have to do is throw in the specific topic that has sparked the class’s interest. Since we use the same format multiple times, students get familiar with the directions, so we can use our time more efficiently to get right to the good stuff.

Strategy 3: Incorporating self-paced days.

Helps with: adjusting for extra practice, reteaching, student interests, differentiation, and unprepared students

Last year’s Episode 252 introduced me to the Modern Classrooms Project, an approach to teaching that incorporates blended instruction (using videos), self-paced structures, and mastery-based grading. When I listened to Angela’s conversation with MCP co-founder Kareem Farah, I felt like I had come around a corner to discover something I’d long been searching for — a structure that can actually enable students to keep working on a concept or skill until they master it. I’m working on incorporating the whole Modern Classrooms approach in my classes, but for me, the quickest and easiest component to use is self-paced days.

A self-paced day is a bit different from just an open work day, with more structure for students. This year, I’m planning to have a self-paced day about every other day in my AP European History classes. I will prepare the lessons for the entire unit, and students will work through them at their own pace (with periodic hard deadlines to keep them on track). I can use the class time for one-on-one conferences or small group instruction, making this structure perfect for providing reteaching and differentiation.

The mastery approach of Modern Classrooms means students must master each lesson before moving on to the next, providing a structure for extra practice. I can incorporate optional lessons or one of my standard student interest activities for students who finish the required lessons quickly, to make space for students to pursue their interests. And students start a self-paced day from wherever they left off, meaning there’s really no such thing as an unprepared student. Students who have missed a lot of class or didn’t do the homework have the chance to catch up rather than being dumped into instruction they’re not prepared for.

You might be thinking, sounds great, but there’s no way I have time for that in my curriculum. So far, having worked on shifting my first 2 units to this model, I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to make every other day a self-paced day. I’m not really adding the self-paced days, I’m just rearranging activities. I already incorporate a lot of self-paced or small group work into my teaching. I frequently give students a task to complete individually or with a group and then call the class together to process what they did. It only takes a slight shift to turn the first part into a self-paced day and incorporate the follow-up for 2 or more lessons into the same instructional day.

Strategy 4: Spiraling content and skills (separately).

Helps with: adjusting for extra practice, reteaching, and differentiation

In my opening example, I talked about spiraling content. Spiraling in a curriculum means circling back to the same skills or content again and again, but each time, at a more advanced level – creating the shape of a spiral.

In a content-heavy class like social studies, a lot of content does not spiral – we learn the effects of the Industrial Revolution, and later the causes of the Cold War, and they’re not related or repeated. But core disciplinary concepts are repeated, such as capitalism versus communism, causes of wars, phases of a revolution, or characteristics of democracy. And these big concepts are the ideas we really want students to take away from our classes, so it’s worthwhile to spiral them.

It’s often easier to think of skills as spiraling. It’s easy to practice and advance the same reading, writing, and analysis skills as we move through new content. Even better, in a class like social studies with both, we can spiral content and skills separately from each other, and individually for students. The writing assessment for the Cold War doesn’t always have to be a three-paragraph essay. If most of the class mastered that a couple of units ago, I can make the Cold War writing assessment a five-paragraph essay incorporating primary sources. And the students who need more practice on a three-paragraph essay can be assessed at that level, allowing for differentiation.

When students are struggling with a concept or skill, I consider whether and when that concept or skill comes up again. Do I need to reteach or give extra practice now, or can I use the current data to plan for more effective instruction and practice the next time? In some cases, it may be important to reteach immediately — if the next concept builds directly on the current one, for example. But in some cases, I can plan for reteaching the next time the spiral comes around to the concept or skill.

8 ways to stay ahead in lesson planning (without sacrificing student needs)

Strategy 5: Using mastery or standards-based grading.

Helps with: adjusting for extra practice, reteaching, differentiation, and unprepared students

Both self-paced days and spiraling work best in the context of mastery or standards-based grading. In the self-paced structure, students need to master a lesson before moving on, and the number of attempts it takes them to get there shouldn’t affect their grade, as long as they achieve that mastery (within reasonable limits, of course). If I’m going to spiral content like communism versus capitalism, then students’ level of understanding in the earlier unit shouldn’t count against them if they get it in the later unit.

Mastery or standards-based grading enables students’ grades to grow as their knowledge and skills do. I used a simple form of mastery grading in my AP Euro class for years with essays. When I first started teaching the class, it was quickly obvious that it didn’t make sense for students’ first essay attempts, which are frequently terrible by AP standards, to drag down their grades for the whole semester. Yet I also needed to give students accurate grades (not participation or “you tried” grades), and I needed them to pay attention to and care about the feedback (which many would ignore if the essay simply didn’t count in their grade).

In mastery grading, each new essay score replaced the last one, and at the end of the semester, I counted their last and their best scores. This structure enables extra practice, differentiation, and spiraling as I gave students practice tasks individualized to their level of writing at that time between each full essay. It enables reteaching, as I can give more instruction on any writing skill many students are struggling with. And if students are unprepared on a specific day or for a specific essay topic, they will have a chance to show their true skill level in the next essay.

Full standards-based grading can be more complicated, with the need to assign a score for each learning target, whether content or skills. It usually requires a completely different grade book setup, record-keeping approach, and type of assessment. This year I’m moving my AP Euro class to full standards-based grading for the first time, and I’m sure there will be a learning curve. I am super excited about this voluntary change, however, because I believe standards-based grading will work together with self-paced days to allow students to learn at their own pace more than in a traditional classroom.

Strategy 6: Planning for essentials only (the pandemic approach).

Helps with: adjusting for time

As teachers, time gets away from us for a variety of reasons — activities take longer than we expected (which is really a planning issue); there was a fire alarm or a student crisis, or we just keep having to add extra days and push the curriculum back. When I find myself in this position, I now return to the lesson of the pandemic years — stick to the essentials.

Whether it was totally asynchronous instruction in the spring of 2020, or A-day, B-day hybrid in 2021 (meaning I only saw students 2 days a week), I simply did not have the instructional time I was used to. Over the last few years, we’ve all had to strip our classes down to the absolute essentials — the core disciplinary concepts, the foundational skills for the next class, the bare minimum. I think this is actually a gift from the pandemic years — I’ve never been better at focusing on fewer things, better.

So when you find yourself out of time, identify the essentials, and cut the rest. Is there an activity that helps students learn, but you mostly include because it’s fun? Do they mostly learn that content from something else? Do you typically include four examples or four chances for practice — can you cut that back to two? Would you normally introduce a new topic with student reflection or discussion questions, but you can really get right to the instruction? None of these choices is ideal, but time is finite.

Strategy 7: Creating a differentiation toolkit based on common accommodations.

Helps with: adjusting for differentiation

Differentiation is a huge category of planning. Every student is an individual, with specific strengths and needs. However, we can still plan for a lot of our differentiation in advance, before even knowing our specific students, because while the students’ needs are varied and unique, many of the accommodations to meet those needs are not.

There are many reasons students struggle with writing in English, whether a learning disability, dyslexia, emotional trauma, missed school, or being a native speaker of a different language. But the accommodations that support these students are often the same — sentence stems, outlines, and checklists for writing tasks. So I can make a version of any writing assignment with those accommodations ahead of time.

On my World History teaching team, we’ve been creating a differentiation toolkit for every unit we teach. We have a short list of common accommodations and strategies that work for students with various needs. The toolkit will have a version of each of these accommodations and strategies based on the content for that specific unit.

For example, for students with intellectual disabilities, we often have modified versions of tasks with pictures rather than words, so the toolkit includes an image bank for all the vocabulary of the unit. We use drag-and-drop type activities with these students as well, so every unit has a version of that. We will always need to tweak these activities for certain students, but we can make the whole toolkit ahead of time, so we’re never starting from scratch on differentiation.

How to move out of the day-by-day lesson planning trap and think big picture

Strategy 8: Flipping days around.

Helps with: adjusting for time and unprepared students

This is a simple but powerful way to adjust for student needs, and it’s only possible in advance planning mode. When I have an entire unit planned out ahead of time, I can move the days around like puzzle pieces to find the right fit.

If a fire drill is scheduled for 3rd hour on Wednesday, and I don’t want it to interrupt the discussion, I can flip it with the activity on Friday. I use this most often when I’ve planned an amazing interactive activity that depends on students having background knowledge or specific preparation, and on the day, I find many students haven’t done the prep work. If I power through the activity, I will have students who are lost, disengaged, and simply not learning what they need to learn. Instead, I can look at my whole unit plan, and flip with a day that doesn’t require any student preparation. This would simply not be possible in last-minute planning mode.

You can plan in advance AND make day-to-day adjustments

Though I’m committed to advance planning as the best way to meet student needs and maintain work-life balance, I definitely still make day-to-day adjustments — I’m not a robot compulsively following a plan.

I plan ahead to include a warm-up or exit ticket, but I adjust the specific prompt based on how the class went the day before.

I plan ahead for a discussion or group work time, but I adjust the amount of class time for that activity based on students’ level of focus.

I plan source analysis with four sources ahead of time but decide during class how many sources to require, or how many to analyze together as a class versus in small groups or individually.

And sometimes, I simply have to push the end of the unit back a day.

The goal is not to create a rigid plan that never changes. The goal is to create a flexible advance plan so that when you need to change it, you can do so deliberately and effectively, enhancing student learning rather than sacrificing it.

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A teacher’s guide to pumping at work Wed, 02 Nov 2022 17:00:49 +0000 If you’re planning to return to work after parental leave and want to continue feeding your baby with your milk, you’re going to have to figure out pumping…and there’s a lot of logistics to consider. I have breastfed two children until we mutually decided to end the relationship, and I pumped through a full calendar … Continued

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If you’re planning to return to work after parental leave and want to continue feeding your baby with your milk, you’re going to have to figure out pumping…and there’s a lot of logistics to consider.

I have breastfed two children until we mutually decided to end the relationship, and I pumped through a full calendar year with both of my kids being fed only breastmilk (and then table food, when developmentally appropriate).

I was lucky to be able to nurse my kids directly when I was with them–but I have several friends who were exclusive pumpers for various reasons. I have also guided friends and colleagues through the process, and it’s become a passion of mine–making pumping feel doable in a profession where it seems impossible.

A few caveats up front:

  • For the sake of widest recognition, I will use the term “nursing” or “breastfeeding” throughout this article where applicable. I want to explicitly state that I know that there are some who are uncomfortable with many terms that are traditionally associated with breastfeeding and may prefer chestfeeding or bodyfeeding. My choice of vocabulary is not for any other reason than that’s what the majority of people will recognize.
  • I am also not going to address things like safe storage and increasing production, as there are plenty of better-educated sources for that information.
  • I am NOT pushing breastfeeding as the best or only choice in this article. I believe fed is best, and formula is a modern miracle that should be used whenever needed or wanted. But for those for whom nursing is a desire/priority, I want to empower you to know that while it can be tricky, it is doable.
  • I am NOT a medical professional, and none of this should be taken as medical advice. Always defer to what your medical care team advises.

I will organize this into two primary sections: the first, dealing with your mindset going into pumping while working in a school; the second being “hacks,” tips, and tricks I’ve learned in my journey, as well as those generously shared by colleagues and friends in person and in online teaching and breastfeeding communities I asked.

Healthy mindsets around pumping at school as a teacher

If you’re like many who work in schools, you got into this profession because you care deeply about people and your work, and have some tendencies towards selflessness and perhaps even martyrdom (guilty here).

The first, and the most important, thing you need to do is evaluate and adjust your expectations of yourself and the process.

Give yourself grace and space to think about what you actually want, versus what you may be feeling pressured to do (or not do!). Some of your friends or colleagues may have HATED pumping; some may have loved it. Some may have had great support, or none at all. You have to take your own context into consideration and be really honest with yourself.

Pumping and nursing are important and time-consuming jobs, and our society has so much guilt and pressure built into the decision to nurse or not, as well as whether to maintain that by feeding your baby pumped milk. Here are some considerations to take into account:

  • Figure out what you will need (space, time, coverage) and communicate that with your administration as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, and don’t back down at the first sign of pushback. Once you know your approximate return to work date, work with your administration to figure out a coverage plan if needed (or present one to them that you work out with teammates and/or friends at work–they will likely appreciate the effort and not being asked to do something else, and allow you the flexibility to figure it out).
  • Ask for help. Tell your teammates or collaborating staff members your plans and needs, and anticipate that there will be some people who won’t like your plans and needs. That is not your responsibility. This is one time when working in a female-dominated profession works in your favor — many school workers are caregivers to children outside of work, and either have experience trying to breastfeed or understand the huge commitment it is to pump while working. Ask for help. If you don’t have a dedicated space, ask someone who does if you can use it during down times. Advocate for a space that isn’t a bathroom — you deserve to pump in a comfortable, safe, and hygienic space. If you need a little extra time to pump at lunch or during recess, ask a teammate to take or pick up your class to give you those extra couple of minutes. Ask for people to accommodate your needs in creative ways (see suggestions below in the “Hacks, Tips, and Tricks” section if you need ideas). This is a lot of work, and it is valuable work, but it is almost impossible to do without a good support system.
  • Set and maintain your boundaries. If you have said that you will need to pump at x time, and someone asks you to break that “just this once”–stand firm. If your coworkers or administration pressure you to stop pumping before you’re ready, or complain that you’re getting “extra” time, or whatever–remind them that this is a medical need and you have both legal and human rights to feed your baby in the way that is best for you and them.
  • On that note — know your rights. Breastfeeding and work pumping laws vary from state to state; be sure to research yours and communicate that you know those rights. Involve your HR or union as needed if you encounter resistance.
  • Find others who are pumping or have pumped. Having a community that is or has been “there” is invaluable in the mental load of balancing a demanding career and a demanding period of your life as a parent. Just having someone to text when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed or excited about your pumping needs and process is a huge addition to your support crew.
  • Think about if you want to use this time to work, or NOT — either is fine! For me, I tended to use the time to catch up on emails, write lesson plans, and do other tasks I could do on my computer, so I wasn’t making more work for myself during non-contract hours. For some people, however, they need pump time to be “down” time, where they can relax to allow a good letdown. There’s no right or wrong answer. You may want to focus more on the pumping part until you are comfortable with it, then move to a more productive time–or not!
  • If you are having someone cover your class or post, be sure to give yourself enough time to get to your pumping space (if it’s not in your own space), get set up, have a solid pumping session, and clean up. Stress decreases milk production, which is the opposite of the goal. Ask your coverage to give you a 5-minute buffer on either side of your planned pumping session to account for these transitions so you’re not feeling rushed.
  • It can be helpful to reframe this as a medical need, both for your baby and for you. Of course, if this is your family’s plan for feeding your baby, then your pumping time is not optional–it is how you are getting your child’s sustenance. You can also get a clog or mastitis if you are unable to pump on a regular schedule and fully express your milk; these can cause illness and extreme discomfort. Keeping pumping framed as a medical necessity can help you feel more comfortable advocating for yourself and being clear and direct with your needs.
  • Finally: give yourself grace. Not everyone responds well to a pump, and there’s no way to know until you try. If pumping is causing you excessive levels of stress, or your milk production drops, or you just don’t want to anymore, give yourself the space to change your mind. It is not a failure of any kind. Again, formula is a medical marvel, and if you need to use it, either to supplement breastmilk or as the primary or only source of your child’s feeding: that. is. great. You are an excellent parent no matter how you end up feeding your child. Fed is best. You are a person, too, and your health and happiness are also important to your child’s life.

Hacks, tips, and tricks for teachers pumping at school

Here’s the nitty-gritty of what to actually DO and PREPARE for pumping while working in schools. You’ve got your pumping schedule worked out, any coverage needs taken care of, and your pump, but how do you actually make this work?

Here are some hacks, tips, and tricks that either I or a colleague or friend that I have talked to in person or on social media teacher and/or breastfeeding groups can share:

  • Consider using a company like Aeroflow or Acceleron to help you know which pump(s) are covered by your insurance; these companies can also help you know if your insurance covers replacement consumable parts (like duckbills or membranes) that wear out over time. Using flexible spending accounts is another way to help pay for spare parts.
  • Don’t feel like you have to start pumping right away (if your baby is latching and feeding at the breast without issues — again, I’m not a medical professional!). However, a week or two before you plan to return to work, get acquainted with the pump, practice putting it together and taking it apart, and so on. One ‘hack’ I learned that served me very well was to pump on one side while the baby nursed on the other–this helped my body associate the feeling of a letdown with the sensation of the pump, so when I was pumping without the baby later, that connection was established. This is also a great way to start building up your “stash.”
  • Get a second set of all removable parts — flanges, tubing, bottles, chargers/power cords, adapters, rubber/silicone membranes or duckbills, bottles, and so on. There is literally NOTHING worse than getting all hooked up and realizing you don’t have a tube to connect to the pump. I left my second set of parts at school, and just washed and sanitized them after school, leaving them to dry overnight. It’s one less thing to have to remember to bring with you.
  • Get a cooler that fits the pump system bottles/containers that you are using, and the specially-designed reusable ice packs. Of course, you can use things you already have, but these help ensure that your precious expressed milk will be less likely to tip over, fall out, or leak, and will keep it cold until you can get it home.
  • Set yourself up for success with a system for remembering to bring bottles to and from work, cleaning and sterilizing parts, etc.: Post-its in strategic places, setting everything out the night before, phone alarms, whatever works for you.
  • Store your pump parts in the fridge in a large Ziploc bag or plastic food storage container between pumping sessions. This will save you a LOT of setup and break down time during any midday sessions.
  • If you don’t have access to a personal fridge, see if someone in the building does and who can share. Even a small dorm-sized fridge can usually hold a larger food storage container with parts and a few pumped bottles of milk.
  • Measure your nipple size and get appropriately-sized flanges for your pump. This can GREATLY increase your output, and many people are not best fit by the default flanges that come with the pump. Look online for guides on how to measure and what your nipple should and shouldn’t look like in the flanges.
  • Try using nipple cream on either your nipple or the flange for a better seal. The better the seal, the more effective the pump is.
  • Consider wearing a nursing cover while you are pumping if you are concerned about being walked in on, or if you plan to pump during meetings. This can also help you not stress about the amount you are pumping, as stress decreases your letdowns and output (just be sure to check in on the bottle’s fill after a few minutes if you’re a high producer or have a fast letdown–that’s not a fun surprise!)
  • Get creative with your options for when to pump. Think about if there are ways for you to attend meetings virtually if they coincide with your regular pumping times.
  • Bring one of your baby’s worn pajamas or onesies to smell and look at pictures and videos of them. This can help trigger a letdown.
  • If you don’t have a space of your own, see if you can hang thick curtains or set up a private-ish space, and then use a nursing cover. One suggestion was to put your “mom working — do not enter” type sign over the keyhole of your pumping space, so that people with key access don’t ignore other posted signs. There are also many people who love wearable cups/pumps — look into it if you’re interested!
  • If you have to go on field trips, look into a manual pump that pairs with your electric pump–these often share parts, so you can use some of your spare parts for this. Plan to ask for chaperones or other staff to help cover you to go pump, even if it’s only to relieve discomfort. Learn how to express milk manually for if you’re ever in a pinch.
  • Dress to facilitate pumping. I wore a nursing bra every day with a spaghetti-strap tank over it, then a shirt over that. Then, I could pull up my shirt and pull down the top of the tank without feeling like I had to get completely undressed to pump. Additionally, look for a string-style nursing bra — this can clip on over your clothes and holds flanges in place so you can still pump more hands-free without having to change into a full pumping bra.
  • Try not to stress about supply fluctuations — your body will go through lots of stages. Look into “hands on pumping” and supplements for when your ovulation and menstrual cycles start up again to help combat some of these fluctuations.
  • Look up “power pumping” and/or pump an extra session on the weekends if you need to have enough supply for the coming days.
  • Find microwave steam-sterilization bags. This made cleaning parts so much easier — I would wash my parts at the end of the day (having put them in the fridge between sessions using a large plastic food storage container), then use the steam sterilizer bag to sterilize and let the parts dry overnight. I took parts home on weekends to do a deeper sterilization at home, too.
  • Take care of yourself! Eat regular meals and snacks and keep yourself hydrated. Have a stash of easy-to-grab snacks and water and explain to students, as needed, why you’re snacking.

There’s a lot to take in here, but the main point is this: if you want to pump and work in schools, it IS possible. It takes a little creativity, a lot of persistence and determination, teamwork and support systems, and some trial and error … but you can do this.

And no matter how you feed your baby — you are doing such a great job, and this period won’t last forever.

Congratulations, and happy pumping!

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Ending the late work debate: try issuing students a “credit score” Wed, 19 Oct 2022 17:00:12 +0000 With late work, it’s tough to find the balance between offering empathy and encouraging accountability. Here’s what I discovered when I experimented with a different approach. The problem I had with late work There seems to be an ongoing debate that teachers engage in — what to do about late work. Dealing with late assignments … Continued

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With late work, it’s tough to find the balance between offering empathy and encouraging accountability.

Here’s what I discovered when I experimented with a different approach.

The problem I had with late work

There seems to be an ongoing debate that teachers engage in — what to do about late work. Dealing with late assignments can range from moderately annoying to absolutely overwhelming, and there are many schools of thought about the right way to handle it.

There is the zero-tolerance crowd that insists this type of policy prepares kids for the real world. There are those who impose a grade penalty for each day an assignment is late to encourage accountability.

Then, there are those who count all late work for full credit because the goal is to assess mastery rather than speed. While I fell into the final category, I struggled for many years early in my career trying to find something that worked for my students and for me.

How I found a better late work process

In my quest to find this holy grail of late-work policies, I looked towards the “real world” argument, despite my opposing viewpoint. I determined that, in the “real world,” turning something in late, like a water bill payment, would not immediately result in one’s water being shut off. In my mind, this was the equivalent of a student earning a zero for a late assignment.

The truth is that companies do not want to shut off their clients’ water, they want the payment owed, just as I wanted my students’ work to be able to assess their level of mastery. So what happens in this scenario when the bill goes unpaid after a short grace period? There may be a fee placed on the account, and the failure to pay may be reported to the credit bureau. Thus, the idea of the classroom credit score was born.

The late work solution that I use in my classroom

I decided to input a grade into my grade book for a student’s “credit score.” I taught a mini-lesson on what a credit score is, what it does, and why it matters in the “real world.” I told my students that in the real world, they all start with a credit score of nothing because they have to prove themselves to be trustworthy, but for me, they had already completed this process by showing up for class, participating, and because I just liked them in general.

I started every student off with perfect credit or a 100% grade. From there, if they turned in their assignments on time, their “credit score” stayed at 100%. If an assignment was turned in late, I would grade it for full credit, because again, it was always my goal to assess student mastery, and I wanted their assignment grade to reflect that. However, their credit score would be reduced by a predetermined amount (see variations for options on this element).

At the end of the grading period, students had the opportunity to view their credit scores and “petition the credit bureau” to have something removed from their scores. If students showed improvement in their ability to turn in work on time over the course of the quarter, they could earn points back.

Why this late work system works for me and my students

This system accomplished multiple things:

  • Students had an incentive to complete their work on time to keep their “gifted” 100% score in the grade book.
  • Assignment grades reflected student mastery to both students and parents rather than a score that reflected when the assignment was turned in.
  • 504 and IEP accommodations were easily adapted into this system.  Students could be exempted from the credit score altogether, and/or their “grace periods” could be longer to allow for extended deadlines.
  • If I knew that a student was having a difficult time for any reason — family issues, mental health struggles, etc, I immediately suspended the credit score system for them and worked with them to help them get back on track.
  • Even after turning in late work and having a reduction in their credit score, students had an incentive to improve, knowing that they could earn those points back at the end of the grading period.
  • Late assignments could not “tank” a student’s overall grade. If a student was turning in “A” and “B” work consistently, even if every assignment was late, there were a finite number of points they could lose. Therefore, that student might be earning a low B due to the consistent late work, but they would not end up failing the course. This system provides accountability without being overly punitive.

Variations on this late work system you can try

Over the course of many years, I have utilized this system in several different ways, so my hope is that the following variations might help you to see how you might implement this system within your own classroom structure, regardless of grade level or content area.

  • Primary students: I would not include this system as a grade because developmentally, students are still acclimating to school. I would include the idea of following directions and learning classroom norms and procedures as an element of being a reliable classmate. To reinforce this concept, I would compliment students often on their progress in this area.
  • Intermediate students: I referred to this system as a “reliability score,” rather than a “credit score.”  The overall message was the same, but understanding what it means to be reliable and the benefits of displaying that character trait were a little more concrete and developmentally appropriate for this age group. The grace period and score reduction can also be adjusted
  • Secondary students: When teaching middle school and high school students, I transitioned into the credit score system.
  • Advanced students: Depending on my students’ needs, I would adjust the predetermined score reduction for late work. In a high-achieving honors class, the penalty may be heftier because of the expectations of an advanced course placement.
  • Struggling students: For classes where many students struggled with executive functioning skills and confidence, I would make the reductions very small and give more opportunities to earn points back if students used their planners, used their binders correctly, etc, to build good habits and to help students realize their own agency.
  • Differentiation: For the chance to “petition the credit bureau,” I have used many methods.  For stronger writers, I have asked them to write a formal business letter with argumentative strategies. For struggling writers, I have used fill-in-the-blank forms, Google Forms, an audio/video options where they could explain how they’ve improved, or just a quick one-on-one conference with any student who wished to make their case. As the head of the credit bureau, I gave points back as I saw fit based on effort and improvement.

Outcomes of this late work system

In the decade or so that I implemented and refined this credit score system, I witnessed several things. Students who were used to failing because they struggled to turn things in on time learned that I cared about their learning. I would continue to follow up with them about assignments because I wanted to see their progress.

For some, it took time to understand that they could pass my class even if they had a rough start to the quarter or semester, whereas, in the past, they would have given up because the hole they had dug was too deep to climb out of.  Because the emphasis was placed on completing the work, students who may have opted for the zero before were now completing important practice and assignments, meaning their overall scores went up because they better understood the content.

While I wish the credit score policy meant that I never received any late or missing assignments, it does not possess that kind of magic. It did, however, help me find a more balanced way to hold students accountable while also affording them the compassion they needed while trying to figure things out.

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The Team Check Up: 10 principles for building a more efficient, effective teaching team Wed, 24 Aug 2022 17:00:07 +0000 Coworkers can make or break any job. In education, our teaching teams can make our jobs easier and more joyful, or harder and more stressful. I’ve worked with teams where we brought out the best in each other, divided up work efficiently, and enjoyed our work together. I’ve also worked with teams that didn’t deserve … Continued

The post The Team Check Up: 10 principles for building a more efficient, effective teaching team appeared first on Truth For Teachers.

Coworkers can make or break any job. In education, our teaching teams can make our jobs easier and more joyful, or harder and more stressful.

I’ve worked with teams where we brought out the best in each other, divided up work efficiently, and enjoyed our work together. I’ve also worked with teams that didn’t deserve the name, where the other people teaching the same class made my job more difficult. I’ve seen teams that seem to multiply the members’ time by sharing the work, and teams that suck up the members’ time with never-ending meetings.

What I’ve learned from my various team and co-teaching experiences is that it pays to explicitly discuss the functioning of the team. You can’t just hope for a well-functioning team; you have to plan for it.

Whether you are on a large grade level or common course team, or a co-teaching team of two; whether you have worked with this team for years or have been placed together for the first time; whether your team is already pretty functional or super inefficient — this team checkup can help you make this the year your team brings efficiency, inspiration, and joy to your job.

A Foundation of Trust

Trust and assuming the best of each other are the essential foundation for any well-functioning team. I worked with a team several years ago where we were constantly arguing about what to teach — in history, there are endless events and examples, so there are tons of decisions to make.

Our meetings were often debates about the value of assessing students on different examples of imperialism or Cold War policies. However, no matter how much we disagreed about these specific decisions, we trusted each other. Our underlying assumption was that we all wanted to support student learning, so we could always resolve these conflicts with compromise.

I’ve also seen situations where there is no trust and no assumption of good intentions. I’ve seen teachers who assume their colleagues have ulterior motives for their decisions or that they’re trying to make them look bad. I’ve seen people agree in meetings, and then go off and do things their own way. I’ve seen people who believe their colleagues are ineffective, and so can’t recognize anything good those colleagues do. I’ve seen colleagues who don’t speak to each other unless absolutely necessary or avoid discussing the real issues on their team. In this type of situation, not only are students not getting the best possible learning, but these teachers are miserable at work.

If you are working with a team with a history of mistrust and assuming the worst, I think that needs to be addressed directly. It might be in a general way: “We have not always trusted each other to be professionals or to do the best thing. We’ve made assumptions about each other’s motives that were not positive. We need to acknowledge this and work to change it. Can we all agree to start by assuming the best of each other? No matter what someone does, we will assume it’s because they believe that is best for student learning. Can we start there?”

Depending on the details, you might find it necessary or helpful to get more specific. Individuals might need to talk about the specific harm that has been done. A restorative circle can be an effective approach for that type of discussion because it gives every person an equal voice. Whichever approach you use, every team member needs to be honest with themselves about their assumptions, and genuinely work to give them up. If you continue to believe, “This person can’t change,” or, “This person doesn’t work hard enough,” or, “This person can’t be trusted,” the team will never be able to move forward.

The steps of this check-up work best when there is a foundation of trust. And as long as the need for trust has been openly acknowledged, I believe these steps can also help build trust in a team that has been struggling.

Step 1: Reflection

The first step is to reflect on how the team has been working. What is going well and what are the team’s successes? Be as specific as you can with successes – which students have shown improvement? Which units or lessons have been made more effective and more engaging? Which assessments have been more aligned with standards? In what ways has the team made everyone’s job easier? What have you learned from each other?

Next, reflect on what hasn’t been going well. What is frustrating members of the team about how it works? What takes more time than it should? Where does the team get bogged down, and what never actually gets done?

If you’re doing this check-up with a brand new team, this reflection can be based on past team situations. In other teams you’ve worked with, what went well and what was difficult? What would you like to repeat or avoid in this new team?

Step 2: What are your district requirements?

Clarify the district or school requirements for your team, in terms of what is required for all teachers to do the same way. For example, in my high school setting, common course teams are required to have common assessments based on common learning targets, and the same grading policies; we’re not required to have exactly the same daily lessons, assignments, or materials. It’s helpful to explicitly state the requirements with the entire team; don’t assume that everyone knows the district policies.

Step 3: What are your team’s non-negotiables?

Next, discuss other aspects of your work that the entire team will do the same way, that go beyond the district requirements. What does your team expect everyone to do the same, and what is okay for people to do differently? It is essential to make this explicit, to build trust and streamline decision-making.

If one teacher assumes the whole team will give the same assignments, and another teacher alters or skips an assignment, it’s easy for the first teacher to interpret that as a lack of teamwork, or bad teaching, or deliberate disrespect. But if all team members have agreed, we don’t have to always give the same assignments, it nips the problem in the bud.

Items to consider for team non-negotiables (assuming they’re not district requirements) include:

  • Dates and format for assessments
  • Grading and late policies
  • Assignments that go in the gradebook
  • Differentiated and modified assignments and assessments
  • Day-to-day planning

Step 4: What are your personal work styles?

Once the teaching elements that need to be uniform are designated, it’s time to acknowledge that you’re all individuals. Everyone deserves to work in a way that enables them to do their best and maintain their work-life balance. I suspect this is a step many teams never discuss, and that can so easily lead to misunderstandings and resentment.

For example, I had a colleague who frequently had new ideas for the next day’s lesson in the evening and sent off an email at 8 or 9 p.m. with her exciting new plan. However, one of my strict work boundaries is that I do not check school email after I leave for the day. So I never saw her emails until the next morning, when it was often too late for me to change my plans. I had to actually say to our team, “I don’t check school email after I leave for the day, usually around 4 p.m. It’s one way I maintain my work-life balance. So anything you send after that time, I won’t see until the next morning.”

With this contrast in our work styles out in the open, we could agree that we didn’t need to do the same thing every day. If my colleague had a great new idea she wanted to try, that was fine, and it was also fine for me to stick to the original plan. Without this conversation, it would have been so easy for her to resent me for ignoring her emails, and for me to resent her for infringing on my evenings.

As another example, while teaching from home during the pandemic, I found it worked best for me to do any schoolwork I needed to complete over the weekend, first thing on Saturday morning. It felt great to get schoolwork out of the way immediately, and it was the best way to ensure I had a true mental break from work for the rest of the weekend. However, when I shared a new or updated document with my team on Saturday morning, this made one of my team members feel guilty that she hadn’t done her part of the team work yet.

We had to discuss the fact that we had different work styles, and that my Saturday morning emails were not a judgment pushing her to get to work. We had a meeting where each team member laid out when we prefer to work, and affirmed that everyone’s preferences were fine, as long as work got done when it was needed.

In the course of this discussion, we also decided to change our weekly meeting day. We had been meeting on Fridays to plan the following week and divide up the preparation tasks, but this made some team members feel obligated to work on weekends. We found that by meeting on Wednesdays instead, we created a longer cushion of time for team members to do their preparation, allowing everyone to work at their preferred times and protect their weekends.

So for this step, have a conversation about when and how each team member prefers to work, and how that will affect the team. When do you prefer to do planning and preparation work? When do you prefer to grade? When do you check email? How far ahead do you prefer to plan? What is your tolerance for last-minute changes in plans? What are your boundaries around work – when do you not work? When do you not check email? Acknowledge everyone’s personal preferences as valid, and figure out how to schedule work as a team without infringing on these preferences.

Step 5: What are your overall teaching & learning goals for your class or grade level?

Now it’s time to discuss the team’s goals for the actual teaching you share. It might seem strange to put this after several other steps — shouldn’t goals be first? However, I think it’s important to acknowledge the team’s parameters and boundaries first. It doesn’t make sense to set goals that don’t fit with district requirements, or won’t be possible based on team members’ boundaries. Steps 2 through 4 give your team the framework you are working within, ensuring your goals are compatible with that framework.

The goals you set as a team will vary widely depending on your district requirements and curriculum, and what kind of team you are. I’ve taught 9th grade Global Studies for a long time, which is a subject where we have tons of decisions to make about what to actually teach since literally all of human history falls in the scope of the class.

Our team set two goals to help us make those decisions: 1) to teach history that helps students appreciate and understand other cultures and parts of the world, and learn not to be ethnocentric, and 2) to teach history that helps students understand the context and causes of current events. When we disagree about what to teach, we can come back to these big-picture priorities and choose the content that best furthers these goals.

Here are some questions to help your team consider your goals:

  • What are the overall objectives for this class, subject, or grade level?
  • What do we want students to take away from this class at the end of the semester or year?
  • What do we hope they remember 5 years later?
  • How will we prioritize content versus skills?
  • What priorities will we use to make decisions about teaching and learning?

Step 6: What’s your meeting schedule and communication plan?

Here is the time to make some practical decisions. When will your team meet? I think for most teams, once a week is a reasonable meeting schedule. If your team decides to meet more often, I recommend designating specific tasks or decisions for each meeting, to ensure the meeting time is worthwhile. It’s important to take every team member’s schedule into account in this step.

At the high school level, we can have one team member who only teaches this shared class, while other team members also have two or three other classes to plan and prepare. The shared class cannot take up a disproportionate amount of these teachers’ prep time. Be thoughtful about when during the week the team meeting is scheduled, like in the example I gave in Step 4.

Will you meet at the beginning of the week, the middle, or the end? Are you planning for the upcoming week, or are you planning a week ahead? Maybe you can designate one meeting a month to do the overall planning for the month, and then weekly meetings are for creating materials and discussing student needs. Be clear about the reasons for your meeting schedule and goals for each meeting.

Another aspect to consider is who needs to be included in the team meetings. Is it a meeting of content or general education teachers, or are there special education and other support teachers who need to be there? Maybe the special education teacher needs to attend the meeting every other week, and the alternating weeks focus on content decisions. Be sure the meeting schedule includes every team member in a productive way, including special education teachers, English language teachers, speech/language teachers, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and paraprofessionals.

Next, make a plan for communication between meetings. I’ve seen teams where there is a designated meeting once a week — but the team members check in with each other informally so often, they really end up meeting every day, and all their prep time is absorbed by the team. That is not an efficient or respectful use of people’s time, especially if teachers have different numbers of classes or subjects they’re responsible for.

Is the team’s primary channel of communication going to be email? Email is quick, but can also be disorganized — have you ever wasted time trying to find which email chain contains the information you need? Consider a shared document, so all discussion is recorded in one place.

On my Global Studies team, we have a shared planning document for each unit, and we use comments to assign who is updating something, to make suggestions for changes, and to indicate when a document is ready to copy or post for students.

Another team at my school uses a shared spreadsheet as a to-do list. Every lesson is listed, and there are columns for who is updating it, the deadline, and notes. Then there are checkboxes for creating the presentation, creating the video, creating the homework, and posting the materials for students. This is a very efficient way for the team to communicate about what is done and who is doing everything. Whatever the method, discuss with your team how you will avoid using up all your prep time with inefficient daily checking in.

Step 7: What are your meeting norms?

With your meetings scheduled, it’s time to plan for those meetings to be efficient and effective. Establishing norms can make a world of difference in how well your team uses your meeting time. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Who will make the agenda, and what format is useful?
  • Who and how will you take notes during meetings?
  • What routines should be part of your meetings? For example, starting with a celebration or bright spot; checking the last agenda or to-do list; a specific type of opening or closing.
  • Are there specific tasks or decisions to complete as specific meetings?
  • How will you ensure every team member has a chance to voice their ideas?
  • What norms do you need to ensure the team stays focused and efficient?
  • How will you deal with it when the team gets off task?

Outside of meeting norms, it’s also good to talk about your norms for when you have a problem or disagreement with someone. Is the expectation that you go directly to that team member and discuss it with them? Is it acceptable to discuss the issue with someone else on the team or outside the team first? Should the issue be discussed with the entire team?

In episode 188, Angela talked about the secret rules we have for other people’s behavior — the conscious or unconscious assumptions we make about how people should behave, which are not explicit and not shared by everyone. This situation of what to do when you have a problem with someone is an example she gave in the episode. When we judge others’ behavior based on our secret rules, we set ourselves up for conflict and misunderstanding, because we’re holding people to a standard they don’t even know about. Making the team norms for dealing with problems explicit can prevent so many misunderstandings before they start.

How to (finally!) stop being annoyed by personality differences

Step 8: What can you divide up, and what do you need to let go of?

In my experience, the ideal team is one where we share enough of our day-to-day plans that we can divide up the prep work. With common assessments, we can have one person update the assessment for this year, and then separate people create any modified versions we need for specific students.

We can take the three examples we’re going to teach in imperialism and have one person prepare the materials for each. When we taught virtually in the spring of 2020, and basically everything had to be adapted for the new reality, this ability to divide up the work in my Global Studies team kept us sane. If your team can’t divide up some of the prep work, I think you’re doing more work than you have to.

But dividing up the work also means you have to let go of things. You might have to let go of formatting preferences, font choices, or file naming systems. You simply can’t expect everyone to do these details your way, nor is it a good use of your time to change the font of every document your team members make. You might need to let go of more substantial aspects as well. Maybe you wouldn’t have phrased the question that way, or chosen that particular text, or had that number of practice problems. But is the difference worth the time it would take to redo it yourself? Is the team version good enough? Is it a minimum viable product?

The more you can use the work of your team members as it is, the less time you waste. And if there are issues with the materials someone creates that you think really do matter, that could affect student learning, then discuss it directly as a team, so the team has some shared standards for materials.

Something I think every team needs to let go of is the need to be exactly the same every day, in all aspects of teaching. Such uniformity is simply not realistic; teachers are individuals, and every class of students is different. Activities will take different lengths of time; one class might get super interested in a topic and spend lots of time on it, while another class breezes through.

No one should make a habit of breaking the team’s non-negotiables, but the team should also acknowledge it might need to happen sometimes. If there is a fire alarm or other emergency during one class, it might not be fair to give them the same assignment. If one teacher has taught the class for years while another is brand new, it’s not realistic to expect them to spend the same amount of time on every lesson. Set your team parameters, but be realistic and flexible about them.

Step 9: Advocate for your team at the school and district level.

Your team functions within many larger systems, including your school and district. Make sure that your team is advocating for what you need to be effective. Every team that is expected to collaborate should have designated common planning time within the work day.

Without this basic requirement, it puts the burden on the team to find a time to meet, which can be super challenging when team members have different schedules and responsibilities outside of work. Administrators might say it’s difficult or impossible to make this time, but if collaboration is a priority, then shared planning time should be a non-negotiable aspect of the schedule.

Another point to advocate for is consistent teams from year to year. The steps I’ve outlined here are not easy to discuss and resolve; it takes time to develop an effective working relationship, and if the team changes every year, it will simply never happen.

Finally, it’s important for your school and district to give clear and reasonable guidelines for teams. Administrators need to be explicit about their expectations for commonalities across teams, like the ones I listed in Step 2. If your school gives no guidelines, but your team can be criticized for teaching differently, you are being set up for failure. Ask all the questions you need answered for your team to be successful and efficient.

Step 10: Check up on your team regularly.

One conversation is not enough to keep your team running smoothly year round. This team check-up needs to be an ongoing process. I recommend doing the whole check-up at the beginning of a new school year, and at that time, plan a few points throughout the year for reflection and adjustments.

Halfway through the first semester (or 9 weeks into the school year) is a good time to check in with the team to see if the plan is working for everyone. It’s essential to check in at the end of a grading period or any time people’s schedules change, since meeting schedules and other details might need to be adjusted. And the end of the school year is a good time to take notes about what worked and what didn’t, before those details are forgotten. Tend to your team with care, the same care you give managing a class of students, and it can be a source of inspiration and enjoyment at work, and balance between work and life.

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Changing schools as a teacher is a real challenge—here’s how I eased the transition Wed, 20 Jul 2022 17:00:11 +0000 This year I changed schools. Full stop. That sentence is tiny but mighty. I had been teaching for eleven years; the last eight years at the same school, same grade level, and in the same classroom. To say I was content and comfortable at my job was true. I was meeting my professional goals and … Continued

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This year I changed schools. Full stop. That sentence is tiny but mighty.

I had been teaching for eleven years; the last eight years at the same school, same grade level, and in the same classroom. To say I was content and comfortable at my job was true. I was meeting my professional goals and in positions of leadership.

But to say I was meeting my personal and family needs at that placement would be untrue. As Angela Watson asked throughout the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek course, “Are you moving closer to living the life you want to live?”

Leaving my school and comfort zone was one of the toughest decisions I ever made. Through 40 Hour, though, I learned that I have to make decisions that prioritize my work-life balance. Most of the course taught me to make “small changes that add up to big results.”

All the small mindset shifts I made through 40 Hour lead to a big result: a new job.

I resigned from my tenured position, left my grade level chairperson post, and stepped down as the union rep for my building.

I accepted a position at my home school district that put my priorities as teacher, wife, and mom first. I made the choice that decreased my commute, put me at the same elementary school that my children attend, and allowed me to invest my time into my community school.

Even though I joined the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club almost five years ago, I find it still applies every year.

The foundation of my 40 Hour Teacher Workweek success story is two things: designing a classroom that facilitates productivity, and the list-making system.

Designing my classroom to facilitate productivity

Changing jobs drove me right back to my 40 Hour Teacher Workweek materials. When I started my first classroom, I had countless hours to invest in the setup and wanted to spend my own money. However, ten years later, I had more time demands as a mother of three and a desire to spend as little of my own money as possible.

I dove into Week One of the course: “Design a classroom that facilitates productivity” for the fifth time. I have listened to this lesson every year before school starts, including twice the year I started the course. The number of times I have relistened, reread, and re-annotated this lesson speaks to the power and importance of this first lesson in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek. I was able to set up my new classroom with productivity at the forefront of my mind.

On my first day being introduced to my new classroom, I simply looked around. I took pictures of the space and inventoried the supplies and furniture. I made a quick map of the storage spaces and layout of windows, doors, and bulletin boards.

The second time, I reset the room. I moved all the chairs and bookshelves to one area, leaving all table space available. I took every book, craft supply, and file out of their current storage and stacked them in groups on the tables.

This is usually where mid-project regret syndrome sets in, as you look over the “mess” that you just made of your space. However, I knew a reboot would put my new classroom on a path of productivity.  I analyzed the supplies that were left to purge what was outdated or not needed. I asked my administrator what was required to stay and what could be moved to other new teachers or put in basement storage.

Then I made a plan. I went home and took the time to look at my map with the required and available furniture in mind. I prioritized the space by thinking: “What supplies will kids need to access? What supplies will I need to access every day / often / rarely? How can I track what supplies are used versus not used throughout the year to further streamline this space?”

The days of putting my plan into action were radically different than my first classroom setup. I got rid of all furniture that did not fit the needs of my classroom including my teacher desk! This meant setting boundaries around what was going to be in my classroom.

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I advocated to my administration about reducing the amount of furniture while compromising on keeping required furniture from a previous Donors Choose project. I maintained the book bins used in my last classroom while spending money on bookshelves to better fit the classroom library. I purchased plastic bins to better store and access my personal book collection. I considered these investments in my mental health as this self-running classroom would benefit my productivity.

After cleaning, a few decorations, and the addition of plants and lamps, my new classroom has received compliments from colleagues and administration for having an open setup that focuses on student learning.

Once the focus on the physical space was done, I was able to free my mental energy to focus on my new students and planning.

Using a prioritized list-making system

It has been vital in this new placement to work in a way that does not cause me to burn out. I use the list-making system to keep on task.

At the beginning of the year, I bound a year’s worth of the 40 Hour program’s weekly to-do lists into a planner, with monthly calendars in between. The Weekly To-Do Lists are listed as “The 40 Hour Foundations” for this program and are definitely foundational for my life. This planner goes everywhere with me!

I store my curriculum maps inside the back cover and take all my meeting notes right on the list. If the meeting results in a task to be completed, I write it on the calendar and corresponding list. Whenever an email comes in with dates to remember, I write it down on the calendar and corresponding list then delete or file the email. I have been able to maintain a clean inbox!

In the back of my planner I keep a list of supplies that I have run out of or find lacking. When budget season arrives, I reference the list to best utilize the money allotted to my classroom.

Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks or unsure of what I should be working on, I notice that I have not been as diligent about my list. As Angela says, “You must get information out of your head and onto a list.”  I take a moment to return to the list and calibrate the needs of that moment and that day.

Everything else can be put on to-do lists for the upcoming days or even next week. I can feel the focus shift whenever I make diligent use of the list. This is also a way I take control of my weekend time with family fun or household chores.

I have yet to track my hours because I do not feel overworked. I have made my family a priority and left work at school most nights. The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek has become a way of living for me. I hear Angela’s words about lowering my expectations or batching tasks or giving kids ownership.

What is your reason for not joining? What is your reason TO join?

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My journey to the 40 hour workweek (and how task-batching saved my teaching career) Wed, 13 Jul 2022 17:00:22 +0000 As a (somewhat) veteran teacher, I often think back to life as a struggling first-year teacher. I’ve spent my entire tenure in the education profession serving students from low-income backgrounds. My students are systemically low-performing, as education so often takes a back burner to the struggles of securing their basic, everyday needs. This took quite … Continued

The post My journey to the 40 hour workweek (and how task-batching saved my teaching career) appeared first on Truth For Teachers.

As a (somewhat) veteran teacher, I often think back to life as a struggling first-year teacher.

I’ve spent my entire tenure in the education profession serving students from low-income backgrounds. My students are systemically low-performing, as education so often takes a back burner to the struggles of securing their basic, everyday needs.

This took quite an emotional toll on me, particularly as an already overwhelmed first-year teacher. Transcending the incredible obstacle that was the achievement gap I encountered with the students entering my classroom each day proved its own unique challenge that I’m not sure I entirely grasped in my first few years.

These students needed so much more than even a veteran teacher could easily give them, and I remember the mounting guilt that began weighing on me as my first year wore on. I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough. There was never enough time for everything that needed to be done, and it still just wasn’t enough.

task batching teaching

Why I joined the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program

But before we get too far in, I want to give you a little bit of background on my situation. I teach two math preps, Pre-Algebra and Algebra I, to eighth-grade students. The school in which I began my career is also the school at which I had done my student teaching. The teacher that mentored me was moving to a different school, and I was to fill her classroom.

The other 8th-grade math teacher was also leaving the school, and his job was being filled by another math teacher already employed at the school moving up to eighth grade from sixth. Both of us were new to teaching eighth-grade math, and while I had more experience in that capacity than my new partner, neither of us had ever really tackled the curriculum in its entirety before.

I am very fortunate that the district in which I work provides a lot of assistance in managing the curriculum, including providing us with a curriculum pacing guide that takes our state standards and breaks them down into units with pre-established testing deadlines that are consistent for all middle schools across the district. They also provide tests to be given at the end of each unit, something I was very grateful to have in my first year.

With both of us new to eighth-grade math and hardly a resource between the two of us, we had a very tough go of it in the beginning. Finding the time to put together lessons, grading, and just helping all the students that needed help began to fill up my calendar faster than I could plan it.

I finally found a rhythm … prepping one day at a time.

I would spend hours, just making sure that I had everything ready to go for the next day. I may have been exhausted at the end of each day, both mentally and physically, but hey, at least I was ready to go, right? I was finally managing to put band-aids on all the holes in my boat, and I was starting to think that this must be how all teachers were doing it; I thought that I had finally figured it out.

However, by Thanksgiving break of my first year, I was reaching a breaking point. It started to dawn on me exactly how much time I was spending at the school, and how much time was being taken away from my family.

On a whim, the Friday before Thanksgiving week, as I stopped at the sign-out sheet, I added up all the hours I had spent working that week and was in shock.

I had spent 65 hours working that week.

I still to this day have the picture of that sign-out sheet saved on my phone to remind me to never go back to that.

During that week, I was paid for 40 hours of work.

During that week, my school got 25 hours of work out of me for free. That’s a part-time job!

That was 25 hours of missed playtime with my kids.

That was 25 hours of missed movie nights with my husband.

That was 25 hours of hobbies, dinners, and bedtime stories that I gave away for free.

Something had to change. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but something had to be different if I were going to continue as a teacher.

Over Thanksgiving break, I saw a Facebook advertisement for the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program. I remember wondering how I would possibly find time to squeeze one more thing onto my calendar, but a quick glance at that sign-out sheet photo convinced me that I should give it a chance. After all, the Fast Track program was only 6-weeks, right? I could do that.

Little did I know how that 6-week program would start me on a pathway to completely changing my life, both as a teacher and beyond.

One of the most impactful things I carried from that Fast Track program was the concept of batching. Batching is such an amazingly helpful process that I use it in every aspect of my life, even outside of my classroom. To simplify, batching requires that you group like tasks together to improve your efficiency at doing them. It makes sense when you put it plainly, but as simple as it sounds, it really does work!

Coming from the day-by-day prepping that I had been doing prior to my entrance into the 40 Hour program, the idea of putting off some tasks in place of others that seemed less important chronologically really terrified me. I was worried that I would finish one day and not be ready to go for the next, so I fought trying it for a few months.

Once everything evened out over Winter Break, however, I decided it was time to take a chance on 40 Hour. The results were a game-changing process that I still use today to help me build and execute lesson plans efficiently.

Change #1: Batching my lesson planning

I begin my prepping by laying out a unit calendar. At this point in my teaching journey, I batch plan all my units for the quarter, but when I first began batching, I only mapped one unit at a time. Both ways work, so if you’re testing the waters with batching, try prepping for just one unit.

To plan my units, I use the reverse planning process in which I put my testing deadline on the calendar first and work backwards from there. So, the very first things on my calendar are the testing days and any days where we might be off from school or have other activities that could affect the amount of class time that I have that day.

I always build in review time right before the unit test, so I put that in next. I give my students two review days: one study guide day for individual study and one review game day for whole group study. Once I have those three days on the calendar (one testing and two reviews), I see how many days I have left in the unit. I then take that number of days and divide by the total number of sections in the unit. From there, I adjust for when those days don’t divide evenly or for any sections that I feel may need more or less time.

Once I have the timing planned out, I start filling in generalities. I start with the first section and assign each day a general task about what kind of thing I would like to do that day: notes, practice, quiz, etc. At this point in the planning process, I am not putting any specifics on the calendar. By keeping things general, I can plan faster because I don’t have to spend the brainpower thinking through every detail about what I want to do. I complete this process for each of the sections in the unit until the entire unit has been planned out. This is what a general unit plan would look like for me:

After I have the general unit plan down, I take one section at a time to set out the specific tasks for that section. I give details about what standard(s) the notes might be over, what type of practice I’m doing that day (whiteboard, worksheet, etc.), and anything else I feel like needs to be specifically mentioned for that unit.

This is where the “thinking” comes in, but I still don’t deep dive into the specifics on what I need to do to make each of those lessons happen. We are just planning. One of my favorite parts about the batching process is knowing that somewhere down the line, there’s a place for everything, so when those creeping feelings of “but what about…” come in, I can easily shake them off because I know that there’s a place in the process for that.

Once I have all the specifics on the calendar, my unit plan will look like this:

After all the specifics are done, I have a complete, usable calendar that I can take to the next task I batch: planning my to-do list for the week.

Change #2: Prioritizing tasks with a weekly to-do list

To create my weekly to-do list, I go through each day for the upcoming week and write in the specific tasks that need to get done for me to be able to teach the lesson for that day. While my planner’s to-do list page has sections for high-priority tasks and other tasks, I use a three-section system that makes more sense to me with my two preps: Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and General tasks.

If it’s something that I need to do, it goes on the list. I make sure to write down anything and everything that I need to do for the upcoming week, to make sure that I don’t forget anything. (Don’t trust yourself to just remember it! You think you’ll remember, but you won’t!)

My weekly to-do list will look something like this:

I add dates to each task to remind myself when that task needs to be completed, and I list them in order chronologically according to those deadlines. I love digital planning and appreciate the ability that I have with my digital planner to be able to move tasks around to re-prioritize them as needed as new tasks arise.

Even though my tasks are listed chronologically, I like to tackle them in order of completion speed. This isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone, so if it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s completely fine! For me, I like to tackle the easiest to check off tasks first as a motivator. I love watching stuff come off my to-do list, so I get rid of the easy stuff first to help me build momentum to tackle those harder tasks I’m not looking forward to.

During this step, anything that would take me five minutes or less to complete, I finish first. Things that are a quick check of a particular resource or a simple Google Classroom post; stuff that doesn’t require a lot of time to remove from the list.

These small tasks are also batched: all the Google Classroom posts completed at the same time (thank you Google for the “schedule to multiple classes at once” feature!), check all the notes or quizzes saved in Google Drive at the same time, etc. You would be surprised at the amount of time you save when you’re not traveling back and forth between various web pages and waiting for them to load.

Change #3: Identifying my Main Thing each day

With all the small tasks out of the way, everything left on the list is going to take a bit more time to complete. It is these remaining tasks that become my Main Things for each day in the upcoming week. I assign myself one Main Thing each day and schedule it into the biggest time slot I allotted for the day to ensure that there is ample time to complete the task in its entirety. I also make it a priority to ensure that there are no interruptions during this time, allowing me to work more efficiently because I won’t have to restart my thought process each time there’s an interruption.

As Main Things are completed, I make sure to keep everything organized in Day of the Week folders, which are my catch-all folders for masters, answer keys, copies, and anything else I need to teach that day’s lesson. These folders are kept in a hanging file box behind my desk where they can be easily accessed to help keep me organized and on track for the week.

Change #4: Batching my material prep and copies

Once all my big tasks are completed, I will know what things I need to make copies of, so that is one of the last things that I batch. I easily save myself an hour each week making the long trek to the copy room only once instead of waiting in the inevitable copy room line five different times each time I find something new I need copies of.

I also like to schedule copy room visits after school, as I have found that most teachers tend to make their copy room trips in the mornings instead of after school. When there’s no copy room line, this is normally a quick task that takes me less than 10 minutes, something that can easily be completed within my remaining contract time at the end of the school day on a Friday. I can also use more than one copier at once, which saves me even more time.

Once all my copies have been made, I immediately put them in my Day of the Week folders, which I take to the copy room with me. This helps me to keep all my copies organized and in the correct place for the correct day and saves my desk from clutter.

Change #5: Batching my daily instruction boards

The final task that I batch is my “boards.” These are the daily instructions that are displayed on my SMART board every day when students come into class. These let them know what supplies they will need for the day, as well as the day’s agenda and a list of upcoming due dates for them to be aware of. I save this as the last task that I have each week to allow me to take a complete look forward at how the next week is supposed to look.

One of the things that worried me about batching when I first started was wondering how I would be able to keep track of what I was doing each day if I wasn’t doing it all together by day. By saving this daily checklist for last, it allows me to regroup after batching all my tasks and view my week, day by day, to get a sense of how the week will run. This also allows me to run a final check to make sure that I have everything absolutely finished and am completely ready to go for the upcoming week.

And seriously, hitting the “x” button on that final daily instruction board feels like Christmas. It feels amazing to know that I’m not just ready for one day at a time, I’m ready for a whole week. I often think back to that first time I ever contemplated batching tasks. I had so many reservations that I now know were unfounded, so many fears that were fallacies. It has now become so ingrained in the way that I teach, I really can’t imagine doing it any other way. The more that I batch, the more efficient at batching I become, and the more time that I save.

Prepping used to be a huge ordeal for me as a first-year teacher. Now, with all these resources and a wealth of new knowledge at my fingertips through the completion of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program not just once, but several times (Fast Track, Full Year, and now proudly in the Graduate program!), I proudly tackle all my planning and lesson building in mere hours each week. I have gotten so much time back, and not just time, but energy, mental focus, and life!

I have so much more time for the kids I felt so guilty that I couldn’t help. I am giving so much more of myself now because I have so much more of myself, and I am choosing to give it. I have taken on coaching my school’s Science Olympiad team and even been gifted the opportunity to be the team lead for the best team in the world. And I would not have been able to do it, continuing to struggle through my teaching journey the way I had all those years ago, when I first stumbled across 40HTW.

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek and the published works of Angela Watson and those on her team have truly saved my teaching career.

Teaching is a long game. It’s a marathon. We knew that when we signed up. We knew we would be in the business of planting seeds. But I never really thought about that in terms of how it related to me as the teacher.

I’m in the business of planting seeds, but I can’t just do it for the students. I need to be the seed planter for me. While the fruit is important, the planter is too. Without the planter, there would be no fruit. It is just as important to take care of the planter as it is to plant the seeds. You have to do those things now that are going to make tomorrow easier for you. You HAVE to.

We are present in one of the hardest times ever to be a teacher. If we as a profession want to survive this hard winter to freely plant seeds again, we have to take care of the planters. You have to take care of the planter. The field needs it now more than ever.

Take care of the planter.

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5 teacher organization systems that save me time and restored my sanity Wed, 29 Jun 2022 17:00:58 +0000 I am obsessed with systems, pretty organizers, and having a clean living space. I am a self-proclaimed Type-A perfectionist, an oldest daughter, and an Enneagram 2. Cleaning and organizing are built into my DNA. I have been this way as long as I can remember, and I love it. I just knew it would be … Continued

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I am obsessed with systems, pretty organizers, and having a clean living space.

I am a self-proclaimed Type-A perfectionist, an oldest daughter, and an Enneagram 2. Cleaning and organizing are built into my DNA.

I have been this way as long as I can remember, and I love it. I just knew it would be the same when I started teaching and had my own classroom!

The cleanliness and basic organization systems made their way into my classroom immediately. However, keeping up with the systems of organization in a high school classroom was exhausting and overwhelming.

Systems that made sense in my apartment for one did not translate well to a space for multiple groups of 28 students each day.

I was frustrated that students were not as invested in my organization and appearance of perfection so I spent too much time trying to clean up and reorganize every day. I was spending valuable time cleaning and reorganizing things every day after school. I was driving myself crazy with the expectation that my classroom could look perfect at all times and be a welcoming space where students could be themselves.

I was drowning in bad systems and was struggling to “find the light”. I also had no idea how to organize and manage my electronic files – this was a new world and I was not adequately prepared!

Enter The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek! I am still working to develop a good work-life balance and setting reasonable expectations for myself. However, the SYSTEMS I learned from Angela during the program, and the systems I created during and after the course, have completely changed my organizational practices.

As Angela says throughout the course, it does take extra time to put these systems in place at the beginning of the year; however, the rest of the year will be infinitely better once you have good systems in place. The best part is that the systems are easy to replicate each year and the work at the beginning becomes easier and faster.

As I went through the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek, I decided I needed to work on better systems in the following areas:

  1. Email inbox
  2. Electronic files
  3. The folder system
  4. Student supplies/resources
  5. Teacher desk area

My hope in sharing some of these systems is that you find something that makes your own organization a little bit easier! Let’s dive in!

1. Systems for my email inbox

In a perfect world, I would reach “inbox zero” every day. (If you are laughing as you read this, then you know how ridiculous it is for me to expect to meet this goal daily and do my actual job of teaching.) While I have yet to get to inbox zero on a daily basis, I have reorganized my inbox so I at least know what I am looking at each day.

I make sure to check my email before school each day and at the end of school each day. I do a quick scan for “need to read” emails — the teacher absence list for the day, reminders about emergency drills, etc. — and quickly read them, make a mental note, and delete them. A big step to getting rid of clutter is deleting emails I no longer need.

When I have time to read and respond to emails, I use the following guidelines:

  1. If I can respond in less than five minutes, I do it immediately and then delete the email or file it to a folder.
  2. If a response is required from me but it will take more than five minutes, I leave it marked as “read” and in my inbox. We are asked to respond to student and parent/guardian emails within 24 hours so these will be addressed during my prep period or in the evening.
  3. If no response is required but I need to save the information, I file it.
  4. If the email doesn’t require a response but I need to do something with it, I move it to my “to do” section — this is cleared out every 36-48 hours. This is where I put things like surveys for student diagnoses, 504 and IEP feedback forms, forms I need to fill out for the district or building, etc.
  5. Emails that have virtual meeting links or instructions for an upcoming event (prom, Homecoming, a pep rally, etc.) get “starred” and are sorted into a special area of my inbox so I can quickly find them on the day they are needed. As soon as the event or meeting is over, I delete the email.

My filing system for emails looks like this:

I have a few more categories but that should give you a good idea of what it looks like. Twice a semester I go back through all of the files and delete anything that is no longer needed. Taking the time to organize my email a few times a semester makes it so much easier to find important information.

2. Systems for electronic files

I put this off for so long because I knew it would be an involved process and I was not sure the return on investment would be great. Eventually, I gave in and spent a day (yes, a whole day) going through every file on my school laptop.

EVERY. SINGLE. FILE. It took a long time … BUT it was absolutely worth it! I had duplicate files, outdated information, incorrectly labeled files, and more.

Take a day to look at each file and decide the following:

  1. Do I still need this? — If not, delete it! If yes, go to the next step.
  2. Is it labeled correctly? — Make sure the title of the file quickly tells you what the item is.
  3. Is it in a place that makes sense to YOU? — If not, move it!

Here is a comprehensive list of folders I use:

Within a folder, you need subfolders. This is especially important for organizing course content. Here is what the subfolder for unit one in Sociology looks like:

All of the times needed for each lesson are in the subfolder. It is so easy for me to prepare for lessons now. Additionally, if I have a sudden illness or emergency, putting together last-minute sub plans is so much easier.

This organization step took a lot of time and, honestly, it was not the most fun day I have ever had!

I can promise you that this investment of time, energy, and thought will absolutely make your life easier. Once you put in the initial time, do future you a favor and do little upkeep as you go. If you get rid of an assignment because you found something much better, delete the old one. Add new assignments to your folders and label them using your system.

I spend one day in June and one day in December doing upkeep to make sure everything is updated. Commit to doing this and you will definitely save yourself time – and sanity – down the road.

3. Systems for folders

Despite being a digital native, I am a big fan of hard copies and papers. I do better when I see things in front of me. I am also more likely to use resources available to me when I have a hard copy. This means I need a good system of organization because I have a LOT of papers.

The Folder System is a bit of a misnomer because it also includes binders. I have a binder for each class. I keep a copy of an updated roster (including preferred names and pronouns) and a seating chart. Each student completes a “Getting to Know You” sheet on the first day of class and I keep those in the binder as well. These sheets help me plan which school events to attend and how to best support students. I reference them at least once a week.

I ask parents/guardians to fill out a sheet with their preferred contact information and ask them to brag on their students a bit. These help me have more positive parent/guardian communication because I know what they are most proud of when it comes to their students.

This is also where I store copies of 504s and IEPs with highlighting and notes on how to help these students succeed in my class. Student growth data is also kept in the folder so I can quickly access it any time I need to provide a parent/guardian, counselor, administrator, case manager, or specialist with information.

Again, this takes time to set up for each class at the beginning of the semester; however, my communication with families is so much easier, and I am able to better support students once I have the binder for a class done.

I use folders to keep track of pretty much everything else. I have a set of folders that are always within arms reach when I am working at my desk.

On my desk is a set of folders with the following labels:

  • Read → anything I need to read goes into this folder until I read it
  • Make-up Tests and Quizzes → assessments for absent students go into this folder after I put their name, the date of the assessment, and their class period on it
  • Short Term Need → pep rally seating charts, multiple-choice answer keys, etc.
  • Retakes/Redos → students are permitted to revise tests up to 80% and this is where I keep track of folks who need to complete the revisions
  • To-Do → anything that I need to do goes into this folder

The read and to-do folders get cleared every week. The others are reviewed every week. If I no longer need something in the short-term need folder, it gets recycled. Students who still need to make up or revise an assessment get a reminder.

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek also talks about batching tasks. I have a set of folders that say “copy”, “edit”, “file”, “sign”, and “office”. As I get papers/items that fall into those categories, they go into those folders and I am able to batch those tasks and complete them more efficiently.

I also have additional folders for the budgeting paperwork I need to do for the speech and debate team and several folders for school and district handbooks, committee work, etc. You can easily adapt a similar system for your own building, district, and extracurricular commitments. Having all of this within hand’s reach of my desk makes it very easy to access what I need when working.

4. Systems for student supplies and resources

I would love to promise you that a good system for storing student supplies and resources means a student will never again ask you where to find tissues, a pencil, or tape. Unfortunately, I would be lying if I said that.

However, I have found that keeping all student supplies together makes my life easier and helps students get what they need faster. The system is not “cute” but it is functional and I can always quickly see what I need to restock.

From left to right:

  • Folders holding copies of handouts and assignments for absent students – the folders are sorted by class period and I paperclip each student’s materials together and label it with their name and class period
  • Lined paper and plain white paper
  • Tissues and hand sanitizer
  • Rulers
  • Little plastic drawers that hold highlighters, White-Out, pencil lead, big erasers, index cards, paper clips, and Post-Its
  • Pens and pencils (students are welcome to take these and keep them as needed)
  • Hole puncher, stapler, tape, and pencil sharpener
  • In-class set of textbooks
  • Colored pencils and markers

I am fortunate enough to work in a district that has the financial resources to provide students with necessary supplies if they do not have or forget their own items. This makes it so that I can have a policy where students are welcome to take these supplies whenever they need them. They do not need to ask and they know they can get up while I am teaching and quietly take what they need. I make sure everything they need is within sight and accessible.

At the end of each day, I take a quick glance and restock anything that is low. This is also helpful when I have a substitute because all student supplies are readily available. I recognize that my situation is very different from many schools throughout the country and I would encourage you to find a way to make student supply needs easy for YOU within the school and district in which you teach.

5. Systems for the teacher desk area

We spend so much time in our classrooms and I think we all deserve a space that is functional and provides a welcome working environment. I do think teachers should take a little bit of time to create a space for themselves in a room in which they spend so much time. I am also someone who does better and is more productive when I like the space in which I am working.

I have already covered the folders and binders on and near my desk. In addition to those materials, I have my own stapler, scissors, tape, Post-Its, staple remover, hall passes, index cards, pens, and pencils. Students know these are my supplies and are not for them to use. It helps keep my desk clear and organized, even when the class is busy working on a project

On my desk, I keep a notebook where I keep track of any important communication or action items that day. I make note of parent/guardian communication, administrator/counselor emails, paperwork filled out, etc. This is something I do quickly at the end of each day to serve as a backup if I ever need to provide a record of communication or show a task was complete.

On my desk, in addition to general office supplies, I keep extra chargers for student laptops, a box of supplies for substitutes (Post-Its, paper clips, hall passes, pens, pencils, and highlighters). One addition to my desk in the past few years has been a bag with personal care items in it. I keep a comb, bobby pins, a toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, lotion, stain remover, deodorant, wrinkle remover, hair spray, Tylenol, Tums, hand sanitizer, and oil-removing sheets. This way I can quickly prepare for parent/teacher conferences or freshen up as needed.

The most important thing I keep in my desk is my “happiness folder” – kind notes from former students and parents that lift your spirits on difficult days. The working surface of my desk has pictures of my family, copies of the U.S. Constitution and other important documents, and other items that make me smile. I highly recommend making your desk YOUR space so that you feel inspired and ready to work when you sit down.

Behind my desk is a table with two large organizers. This is where I keep the binder for each class, teacher editions of textbooks, my planbook, folders that help me organize grading, etc. My emergencies/emergency drills folder is directly behind me with a pen attached to it so I can always grab it and go when needed. This table also has disinfecting wipes and a mini first-aid kit with bandaids, ointment, and gloves. Again, the idea is that anything I need to see and find quickly is visible.

One of the best decisions I have ever made is getting a rolling cart with 15 drawers – the drawers are color-coded in sets of 3. For each class I teach, I use a large drawer and two small drawers. The large drawer holds extra copies of every handout and assignment. The top smaller drawer holds upcoming assignments and assessments. The bottom smaller drawer has papers I need to pass back to students.

When it is time for a class period, I know where everything I need for that class is located. This system alone – which takes very little time to set up – will save you so much time! I am not a super handy person and I was able to build it by myself so I have faith in everyone else!

While this is not an all-encompassing guide to teacher organization – there’s so much more to unpack, from Google Classroom to storing examples of student work for future years  – I am hopeful that you now have ideas to implement in your own spaces. Most of these systems are based on things I have seen other teachers do that I then modified to fit my needs.

Take some time to experiment with different systems and determine what works best for you. I can say, without a doubt, that 40 Hour Teacher Workweek helped me figure out that I needed better systems in my classroom and I am saving so much time now that I have good systems in place. This is truly an area where your return on investment is absolutely worth the investment of your time and energy.

Happy organizing!


Amazon List of Teacher Organization Tools

Spotify Playlist for Cleaning/Organizing

Want to learn from other 40 Hour Teacher Workweek members?

22 classroom systems that make my teaching easier

12 secrets of teachers who trimmed 10+ hours off their workweeks

How to work ONLY your contractual hours as a teacher

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