Let’s face it: teaching is a time-consuming job. Preparing lessons, grading student homework, emailing parents, attending faculty meetings, talking with your supervisors … the list goes on.
You can easily find yourself working more than 60 hours a week! As a result, it’s important to make effective use of your planning period so you can cut down on the work that you have to do at home.
By incorporating at least a few of these tips, you’ll learn how to best utilize your planning period and won’t waste any of the precious time that your administration gives you to prepare for teaching.
5 ways to make planning period for teachers more efficient
1. Have a plan
General George Patton used to say, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” To make sure that you accomplish something during your planning period and don’t end up wasting time, you need to figure out … well, what exactly it is that you want to do! Even a somewhat last-minute plan is better than nothing.
Don’t waste five minutes trying to figure out what to do. Write down a couple tasks that you want to accomplish. If you have time, it would be even better to number your tasks. I’m the type of person that if I don’t write something down, it doesn’t get done. Thus, I find it helpful to have a dedicated notebook where I list my planned activities for each day on a separate page. That way, I can quickly add tasks that I need to accomplish, check them off, review completed ones, add tasks for a couple days in the future, and so forth.
Writing down my tasks for the day gives me a better idea of how busy my day is going to be. When a third of the page is filled, I know that it’s going to be a long day. That helps me to mentally (and literally) prepare.
2. Get easy tasks done first
People work differently, so this might not be the best tip for you, but I’ve found that I personally work best if I give myself a sense of accomplishment and knock out the easy tasks first. I’ll load attendance or assignments, send a quick email to parents, do grading that I know is going to be very quick, read a couple pages from a literature book I’m teaching, or anything that’s going to take me just a couple minutes. By getting the small stuff done first, I can significantly reduce the length of my to-do list, which motivates me to keep on pushing through the rest.
You should make sure that you accomplish at least something during your planning period. Even if you end up spending the majority of your time sending emails, at least that’s something productive, and you won’t feel like you wasted the period trying to figure out what to do.
3. Rotate tasks if needed
Some people enjoy teaching because of the variety — every day is different! If that’s the case, you may be more effective if you mix things up and complete different tasks on different days of the week. But if you do, be sure to plan those out in advance, too.
For example, you could work on lectures for your history class on Mondays, email parents and do any additional research on Tuesdays, create homework questions on Wednesdays, grade on Thursdays, and lesson plan for the next week on Fridays.
Figure out how you best work, and adjust your planning period accordingly. If you need something different every day, that’s totally fine, but plan for those days and allow yourself to get into a routine. That will help you get things done.
4. Get into a routine
They say that it takes 21 days to create a habit. If you’re persistent about making the best use of your planning period during the first three weeks of school, you’ll establish a good habit that will last throughout the year. Although it might be tempting to “wing it” during the first couple weeks of school — “this isn’t so bad!” — and waste your planning periods, it’s definitely not a good idea.
My head of school always emphasizes the importance of focusing on discipline and developing good habits during the first two or three weeks of school. She says this gives the students and faculty a sense of order so they know what they’re supposed to do. And when people don’t know what to do, they default to less productive habits. Training yourself to get work done during your planning period during the first few weeks of school will be the routine that you fall back on when you don’t know what to do in the middle of February.
5. Stay focused
As a teacher, you have to make hundreds of decisions a day, so you probably always have a lot on your mind. When you sit down to email one parent, you may remember another parent you need to email, or that one student you’ve been meaning to talk to but haven’t been able to yet, or that one thing you need to remember to tell your spouse when you get home from work. Non-school-related tasks like household chores and personal responsibilities can also keep you pretty busy. It can be tough to shut all of that out! But having a piece of paper or a notebook to keep track of all this chaos will help you stay focused during your planning period.
If something comes to you while you’re working, just jot it down in your notebook and revisit it later. By writing it down, you allow your brain to focus on the task at hand and won’t have to worry about remembering everything at once. Plus, this may encourage you to get through your work faster so that you’ll be able to check off that one small thing that’s been bugging you.
If you’re struggling to stay focused, try listening to music, drinking some hot tea, or taking a short walk through the halls to clear your mind. Also, remind yourself that by staying focused during your allotted time at school, you can save yourself a couple hours at home. You’ll really appreciate that on the weekends or even during an evening or two!
Teaching is tough — but effective planning makes it easier
While you can never hope to cover everything during your designated planning period, you can at least utilize it effectively to take full advantage of the time by planning, getting simple tasks done, and staying focused. Make it your goal to create a habit of using your planning period well from the very first day of school, and you’ll easily set yourself up for success.