At Elm City Greenfield, Expeditions Spark New Passions

on March 30, 2016

Marc Michaelson is a regional superintendent for Achievement First in Connecticut. 

Fifth grader Jaliese confidently walked up to the fire marshal. She smiled and presented her firm’s floor plans for the Elm City College Prep Middle School expansion...

Not Just Words on the Wall

on March 23, 2016
Injy Sullivan is the principal of AF East New York Elementary.  I had the pleasure of going ice skating with some of our awesome students and families recently. It was amazing to watch how our students interacted with fellow skaters and each other...

Photography Expeditions: The Teacher Edition

on March 16, 2016
New Haven photographer Chris Randall visited Elm City College Middle's Greenfield campus and will be working with students on an exciting expedition. Read on for a selection from his photo essay (you can find the whole thing on I Love New Haven) and...

A Reflection after the Storm

on March 09, 2016
Hallie Slamowitz is an academic dean and special services coordinator at AF Linden Elementary. I want you to look at the two pictures in this post.  Both were taken two days after January’s massive snowstorm.  One is from the street in front of a...

Meet Our Team & Family: Tanya Kolb

on March 04, 2016
Tanya Kolb has been a teacher at AF Bushwick Elementary School for nine years, where she currently teaches first grade. We sat down with Tanya to learn more about her experiences. Tell us a bit about yourself: I grew up in Miami—both of my parents...

Building a Community with Town Hall

on February 24, 2016
Kelley Fournier is an operations associate at AF Hartford Elementary Academy. Walking through AF Hartford Elementary Academy early on a Friday morning, there's an unexpected quiet in the hallways and classrooms. But when you walk by the gym, you...

Meet our Team & Family: Anne Johnson

on February 17, 2016
Anne Johnson has been teaching at AF Amistad High School for nine years. She shares the wonder of biology with her students and has huge aspirations for all that they will accomplish in the years to come. We sat down with Anne to learn more about her...

An Afternoon with the Science Explorers Club

on December 09, 2015
Kat McKim is the Director of After School Programming at AF East New York Elementary and shares this story about the joy of one of the clubs at her school. At Achievement First East New York Elementary, learning doesn’t stop at the end of the...

Teacher Voices: Building Relationships in the Classroom

on December 02, 2015
Erin Thomas is a teacher at AF Crown Heights Middle School and recently shared her story on the Center for Transformative Teacher Training blog.  Building relationships with my students is the crux of the culture in my classroom. My students know...

Open Letter: "Why Are We Worth Less?"

on November 18, 2015
In an open letter to the Connecticut General Assembly first read at the #FightForFairnessCT March in Bridgeport, AF Amistad High freshman Anthony asks for fair and equitable funding for the state's public charter school students.  Dear Members of...

Making the Most of That Prep Period: Creating the Right Climate

This is the second in a series of monthly posts by AF’s Chief Talent Officer, Maia Heyck-Merlin. She recently wrote a book called The Together Teacher: Plan Ahead, Get Organized, and Save Time!

Part 2--Making the Most of That Prep Period: Creating the Right Climate

Now that we have focused on how we can shift our own behaviors to better use our prep periods, let’s shift to discuss the external environment—our beloved colleagues, our workspace, and our materials. Again, none of these things will magically recover hours in your day, but if we can learn to save precious minutes, then we are lugging less work home!

1. Don’t be a “Penelope”.  Who is Penelope? Good question. Penelope is a fictional teacher invented by the team at Amistad Academy Elementary School. She was invented during a role play illustrating how to have a difficult conversation with a colleague who wants to chat during an entire prep period. This can be a tricky situation, especially when you like the people you work with, so now Amistad Academy Elementary has language teachers can use when they find themselves interrupting precious work time. Teachers can say to each other, “I’m feeling really Penelope right now” when they want to come into a colleague’s room to chat. This gives a teacher the freedom to respond with something like, “I have to get these materials prepped, so can we talk later?” Does your school have common language that allows you to nicely say, “I really need to get some work done?”

2. Design a separate workspace. After surveying teachers about what would improve their lives, AF Brownsville Elementary wanted to create a social teacher area and then a separate workspace. Teachers can head to “Café Brown” – where they can do work, talk, eat and copy things. Kids are allowed in there. If teachers have serious work to do, they can head to “Hard Word Café” – where they work, eat and copy. Kids are not allowed to join. While Hard Word Café is not totally silent due the photocopier and teacher collaboration, teachers can enter and work without distraction. If your school doesn’t have space to do that, create an “office” in your supply closet or the back of someone’s classroom. No one can find you and you can grade papers quietly. Where in your building can you really maximize your prep periods?

3. Set your desk for success. Many of us sit down to finally start working (after the bathroom break, water refilling, and a breather), only to find that our hole puncher is missing, we don’t have our favorite grading pen, or the resources we need to write the unit plan are in the teacher resource room. We then have to jump up, race to another location to secure the materials and risk getting ambushed by someone else’s emergency or sucked into a fun conversation about what happened on Glee last night. Now, I’m not saying to just be an anti-social robot that ignores your colleagues, but I want you to be able to make the most of the limited “free” time that you have. Take time to stock your desk for your common prep period activities. Make sure your planning resources are nearby, your printer is hooked up and working and your student data is available. What materials do you need in your teacher workspace?


None of these tricks in isolation will help you get more done at work, but if you train your brain to think, “protect the prep at all costs!” you may find that you are able to take a little less work home each evening.