Prioritizing by Level of Effort and Amount of Time

Today, as I was leaving the building, I saw a first year English teacher who looked frazzled. When I said “hello” and asked how she was, she gave the common first-year-teacher look of overwhelm, frustration and helplessness. She told me that she had “so much to do” and didn’t know how she’d get it all done. So we talked about it.

By the end of our five minute conversation, she had prioritized her to-do list and created a timeline for completion (well ahead of her deadline). How did this happen?

1. She articulated the specific things she needed to address

2. We estimated how difficult it would be, and how much time it would take, to complete each task

3. She decided to do the tasks that would require the least amount of effort and the least amount of time first, followed by a higher level of effort but a relatively short amount of time, followed by the tasks with the highest level of effort that would take the most amount of time.

Because most of her tasks will be completed before she gets to the last category, she will be able to spend all of her time and energy on the most difficult and time-consuming task. Plus, she’ll have a sense of accomplishment going into that task because she will have crossed everything else off her “to-do” list.

How do you prioritize your to-do list?

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Daily 3’s: “Chunking” The To-Do List

Time management can be challenging for any one, but for teachers it can be particularly difficult. One of the strategies many people use for tackling a variety of tasks is “chunking”. Chunking breaks tasks into categories. In other words, rather than organizing a “to do” list by preps or classes, organize and complete your tasks by “chunking” like activities together.

My daily to do list used to be organized by class and looked like this:

1st period: Grade recent projects, call home regarding student x, review tomorrow’s lesson. Finalize rubric for next project.

3rd period: Grade recent projects. Finalize rubric for next project. Call students y & z. Solidify ideas for future projects.

Misc: Complete academic intervention forms, email guidance counselor

4th Period, 5th period and 8th period would have their own to do lists as well. That makes for a lot of lists!

Now I use task-oriented categories and limit each to 3 unless absolutely necessary. This way I can “chunk” like tasks together. It makes for a more organized list and a better use of my time. I use the following four categories for every list. I call it my “Daily 3’s”.

Phone calls: students x,y and z (turns out today I only had to call 1 parent)

Lesson planning: Finish rubric for next studio art project, finish rubric for next advanced art project, solidify ideas for future studio art projects

Grading: Period 4 project, Period 5 project, Classwork for periods 1&8

Misc: Complete academic intervention forms, email guidance counselor

What techniques do you use for time management? How do you organize your to do list?

Encounters from an IEP Meeting

Today I participated in an IEP meeting for a student who requires a 12:1 setting, except for my art class, where he is in a class of 34 – 14 of whom have IEP’s of their own. This high school student operates at a very low reading level and outright refuses to write a reflection upon completion of each project. This student enjoys art and thoughtfully completes the majority of every assignment. However, the reflection is worth 10 of 100 points and he has decided he would rather not earn the 10 points than write the reflection.

When I was just starting out this would have bothered me. I would have felt responsible to reach this student in every possible way, hoping he’d have a breakthrough and write a very short (guided) response to his work. As a more seasoned teacher, I have decided it is a battle I am not going to fight. In every other class (except physical education), this student is in a class of only twelve students and he is taught by a special education teacher. He has reading support services, counseling, and speech therapy weekly. I know better than to think that I am his only hope for a reading breakthrough and I allow his other teachers and service providers to be that beacon of light for him.

On the other hand, the school psychologist running the meeting (who has never been in my,or any other, classroom) had several suggestions for me as to how I might reach this student and inspire him to write about his art. Her suggestions were not enlightening. In fact, they were ideas I had tried with the student in the past, without success. But since she did not ask what I had tried and instead told me what she felt I needed to do, her comments were naive at best and condescending at worst. I had a decision to make. I could be offended or not. I chose not.

School psychologists, guidance counselors and others often have suggestions about how to reach a particular student or group of students. Sometimes their suggestions are good. Sometimes they aren’t. Oftentimes their suggestions are good but obvious. It’s easy to be offended when given unsolicited, obvious advice from some one who has never been in your classroom. It’s easy to become defensive and assume they must think you don’t know what you’re doing (or they wouldn’t offer such an obvious suggestion).

But it’s just as easy to take a deep breath. Recognize that the obvious suggestion is the only one they have to give, which points out their shortcomings and not yours.  Remember that you are a professional and don’t let the small things bother you.

It Begins…

The Balanced Teacher blog begins. After more than eight years of teaching, I finally feel that I’ve achieved balance more days than not. My stress levels are in check, my workload is manageable, my professional relationships are solid. And I have time and energy at the end of the day or week for a personal life. It wasn’t easy to get here and some days are easier than others. But I’ve learned a few things along the way and I want to remind myself of them – and share them with others.