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.
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