There is never enough time for us teachers to do everything that needs to get done. But when I am honest with myself I wasted a lot of time during my planning time.
Since I do not want to bring work home with me, and I really can’t because I have a toddler, I have to make the most of my in-school time as I can.
- Know How Much Planning Time You Have Per A Day and Per A Week
How many hours per day do you have to plan? What times of the day do those planning periods fall? Do you like to come in early or leave a little bit late? Do you have any recurring weekly meetings that take up your planning time? All of these items are important to note, chart and plan for.
I use this simple Weekly Planning Period Organizer layout to help me organize my weeks. Because it’s digital I also don’t spend time rewriting recurring events.
- Plan Your Planning Time
Make sure that you have a plan for your planning time. Do not sit down during your precious planning period without knowing exactly what you are trying to accomplish. Minutes are eaten up as you think, “What was it I needed to do?” or “I had a plan in my head.” I was doing this all the time. Instead of getting important tasks done, I would grab a stack of papers to grade.
At the beginning of the week, I write down 2-3 things I want to get done each day. When I sit down to work I have a starting point, even if I adjust it. For some reason seeing the plan I wrote down focuses me more.
- Note Daily Tasks and Set a Time to Do Them
There are so many little things that we have to do every day, like…
- Grade homework (for me it’s usually spelling)
- Post assignments online (Yes, I had to do this daily before Covid-19 for every single assignment)
I hate taking time from my planning time to take care of these little things because then I don’t get my actual planning done. I like to assign a time to do them.
For example, as my math class starts their warm-up work I enter attendance and check my email for vital information only. Sometimes parents let me know about something big that happened at home that will affect my students’ day.
At the end or beginning of each period, I put the assignments online. This is usually happening while students write down the assignment we just discussed or are packing up materials from that class period. I keep them busy so I can get this little thing done.
Email is so tricky because it pops up all day and everyone thinks you can respond even though you are teaching and watching students.
Newsflash parents and administration, teachers are busy teaching the children.
Set a few times to check your email each day. You can let parents know that this is your policy and if they need a quicker response please call the office because you are focusing your attention on their children.
This is simply setting boundaries for your workday and your life. People may not like boundaries, but they will learn to respect them. I like to plan 2-3 times a day. The less the better.
- In the morning for vital information only. Maybe a student had a hard night or there is an important parent question. If it’s not vital I leave it for later.
- Maybe snack time.
- At the end of the day plan about 10 minutes for email. It might take practice to stick to a time limit where you can manage to send any emails you need to send out and reply to anything that has come in that day.
Don’t let email steal your planning time. Plan a time to check your email.
- Prioritize the Most Important Tasks
For each planning period, don’t look at that long list of “to-dos” and get overwhelmed. Instead, look at the list and pick the two most important “must-dos.” Hopefully, you will get something else done, but prioritize and do the most important items first.
As you work you will likely think of other things you need to add to your list. Write them done and return to your top priority tasks.
I have heard that some teachers like to start with easy tasks to feel a sense of accomplishment, but I think this is ineffective. I want to use my planning time for focused tasks that I need a good chunk of time to complete, not easy tasks.
- Estimate the Time Each Task Will Take You
I tell my students to estimate time per task all the time. I make them record it in their assignment notebooks, but have failed to do it myself. I am currently working on this skill. As I write my “to-do” list I put down how long I think each task will take. Or how long I will work on it that day before I put it aside to work on tomorrow.
For example, as I pick my two most important tasks I might see grading essays will take me 2 hours and reviewing IEP goals for the special ed teacher will take me 15 minutes. Clearly, I should start with the IEP goals, and then start the essay grading. I can then plan to finish grading the essays tomorrow.
Or maybe there is a day where I think my two most important tasks will take me 30 minutes total, so I will have an extra 20 minutes I can make use of in my planning time, so I pick a third task I hope I will get to.
- Batch Like Tasks
You likely already practice some batching as a teacher. You make a pile of papers you need to copy and go copy them all at once. It saves you time copying everything at once.
If you can batch more during your planning time then you can save even more time. I like to plan my week for batching. Each day I have one task that I always do on that day of the week. It’s one way I prioritize. For example…
- Mondays – I free range on Mondays because there are so many holidays I don’t want to make it the day I plan with my co-teacher. I use it to catch up on anything I didn’t finish last week. This also reduces my stress on Fridays when I think, “I didn’t finish this.” On Friday afternoon I put it on my list for my catch-up time on Monday.
- Tuesdays – Plan next week’s math and science. This can be detailed lessons or an outline of the week.
- Wednesdays – Correct papers. This isn’t for the spelling homework I can finish quickly, but for the longer assignments that take time. I plan to have time to sit down and focus.
- Thursdays – Plan next week’s ELA and history. This can be detailed lessons or an outline of the week.
- Fridays – Collaboration and copies. I plan to collaborate with my team on this day. No matter what we do we will learn from each other and that is important. By reserving a day for it we’ve made it a priority. It looks different depending on the year.
- Maybe you have lunch together and talk. By sharing stories and talking you know what’s going on outside your room and get new ideas for your room.
- Or maybe you and another teacher each split the work so you plan literature centers and they plan math. On Fridays, you talk about your plans.
- Copies – See if either of these are possible for you.
- One school I worked in had a copy person come in so if I planned ahead they would make my copies.
- Another school I worked in had a copy parent. This parent came in once a week and made copies for the class. They can also cut out and laminate math game pieces or other things.
Batching like this may be a challenge for you, but it will make your time more productive. After some practice, it will become easy too. Just remember that when you batch like this you will have to be flexible and switch things around sometimes, thanks to things like fire drills or assemblies.
- Remove distractions
There are so many distractions when I am trying to get things done. It’s almost as if I am looking for distractions because work is work. I tell my students to remove distractions and am working on getting better at it myself.
Co-workers are a huge distraction. They are often well-meaning, but when it is one person after another suddenly my planning period is over. Plan the last 10 minutes of every planning period for your co-workers. When someone comes in to talk say, “I really need to get this done for so and so, can you come back at…” and give a specific time. Or you can offer to go to their room at that time.
If you have the same planning time every day your co-workers will start to realize this is your response and wait until that time to come talk to you. Or you can ask them to wait until the last 10 minutes of planning time to talk to you.
When it is time to talk help the conversation get to the point quickly. Instead of, “How are you?” Ask, “What can I help you with?” Save the friendly conversations for lunch or while you are together at a duty. The culture and community of a school are important, but your time to get work done is valuable too.
Move to a different location
Find a spot in the school to go do your work in. If no one can find you then no one can bother you. Only bring what you need to complete your two most important tasks. Well, maybe you should bring one extra thing to work on because you will get so much done.
Put your phone away and turn off your notifications.
Put your phone in a desk draw, turn it off, or silence all notifications. On your computer, there are websites that will block other websites. That is literally what I searched and several popped up. If you tend to click the Facebook or Instagram notification then this could be a solution for you.
Maximize your current computer tab or program.
When I am working on my computer I maximize my current computer program so that anything else that is on the screen is in the background unseen. It’s enough to focus my attention. It’s so simple, but it took me forever to think of it.
- Bonus Tip: Let It Go and Say No
Be protective of your planning time. It’s one of the most valuable tools you have as a teacher. Let the extra stuff go so you can focus and say no to requests that will make you less effective and productive. If it is something you want to help with then see if you can set a time that works for you. Maybe you can help with that at the end of your planning period, lunch if you want to, or the end of the day. It doesn’t have to be a flat-out no.
Productive planning time can improve our teaching and our home lives. If we get more work done at work, then we can leave work at work. We can have more balance in our lives because we can relax at home.
Click the link to my free Productive Planning Time Guide which is editable for your needs.