March 16, 2012 17:03 Age: 6 yrs

Making the Most of That Prep Period: Emergencies, Procrastination and Distractions!

Category: News, Maia Heyck-Merlin, Home

This is the first 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 1--Making the Most of That Prep Period: Emergencies, Procrastination and Distractions!

Let’s describe what happens to most of our prep periods. You talk to one student right after class, race to the restroom, stop to fill your water bottle, pop into a colleague’s classroom for a “quick” chat, check your email and your favorite blog, and then—wait, the kids are back already?! How on earth did that happen? At the end of the day, you find yourself lugging a backpack of papers to grade or progress reports to write or parent phone calls to make. If you want to better maximize your limited free time, or maybe work less during evenings and weekends, read on to find tips that work!

  1. Make it Bite-Sized. No one writes an entire unit plan during a prep period, so stop writing “unit plan” on your to-do list, avoiding it like the plague and checking your email. Instead, break down your to-do list into smaller pieces, a tactic used by teachers at AF Amistad High. Their teacher to-do lists have things like “Write Unit Three aims sequence,” “Create Unit Three scope and sequence,” and “Design Unit Three assessment.” That is work you can chew on in a 40 minute block. Take a look at your to-do list. Are there any tasks that you can shrink down to size?
  1. Urgency, Not Emergency. Unpredictable events confront teachers every day. We tend to make everything an emergency to solve right now because we can be so helpful. . . Oh, that behavior issue?  Well, I’ll talk to the student after class. Does a colleague want to borrow some of your supplies? Pause, evaluate and ask yourself: does this need to happen right now? Is there a more efficient way to solve this problem? At AF Brownsville Elementary, they say, “We have urgency, but it’s not an emergency.” Maybe that challenging student gets a five-minute conversation, and then has to sit beside you and write an apology to her classmates while you grade papers, and then you can review the letter in the last five minutes. Are there any situations when you fall into this trap?
  1. Batch Process. Nilda Velez, a teacher at AF Bushwick Middle School, has carefully planned out her preps so she tackles lesson planning work on Mondays and Tuesdays and handles departmental and coach responsibilities on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This way she is not bouncing around her prep period spending five minutes on this and five minutes on that, without completing anything. She picks one thing and focuses on it until it is done. Now that you have broken your to-do list into smaller pieces, can you divide them into categories and focus on one category in each prep period?

While none of these ideas will magically give you hours back in your busy day, each one will help you reclaim a few precious minutes, and that time adds up!