One principle behind anything I write about here is to free up more time to have a life, as rigorous planning and teaching can eat up any free time you might have.
I often think that time management is an unspoken skill that is essential in teaching (what with PGCE students complaining about working until 1am etc each day). For me, all time-management comes down to the following tenant: do things at the right time.
The right time is decided by either fixing a task to a calendar, or by choosing a task from a list. If you combine this with the principles of Covey’s Importance/Urgency Matrix (read ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. Cheese-ridden title, and a bit twee in place, but well-worth your time), then you realise that judgement tempered with organisation is essential for time-management. To help me with my (all-too-human) judgement, I use Wunderlist.
Wunderlist is one of a series of free to-do list apps (with paid options) that I feel suits the needs of teachers best (at the moment).
How do I use it?
I use Wunderlist to:
a) Ensure that I have an easy record of everything I need to do.
I can add via my phone, tablets, computer. Quite simply, if I do not write something down, there is every chance that I will not do it (save putting on new socks each day…).
b) Divide school/reflective/personal tasks.
If I can complete the task quickly, then it stays in my inbox. Otherwise, I schedule a reminder and place it into another list. The biggest use of this is as part of my ‘Someday List’. Broadly speaking, this consists of tasks that, in the last few hours on a Sunday, I would not schedule. They are worthy, and usually of some importance – they would not get done if I scheduled them explicitly, though.
c) Have reminders pop up in free periods for me to address tasks for 5 minutes or so (like this!).
There are many things that I would not be able to do in the past. They would be too epic, or I know I would become too engrossed in doing them. Even now on this Sunday while the other half is shopping and entertaining, I find myself spending a little-bit-too-long on the interest projects that can take time away from essential things (such as planning observed lessons next week and buying new toothpaste).
d) Remind me to plan to return to various types of learning for consolidation.
Depending on the skills and criteria needed for the class, I can schedule a ‘return to’ list. So, be it a spelling or vocabulary, I can add a reminder for the start of the day to include a return to that skill/knowledge. I believe that even a timely 2-5 minute recap has tremendous worth (perhaps even an entire lesson months later when that knowledge has not quite ‘taken hold’.)
e) Remind me to take books in and mark on a regular basis.
I used to mark mostly on a Sunday: it was an epic day of watching football, marking and then hitting the gym. Now I have to mark around family commitments. In the UK, I would leave book marking for once per week. Now I mark each book at least once per two weeks. Realistically, this is enough time. Tuesday and Thursdays are my marking days. I schedule into my practice to take to books in (I know!) and another reminder to begin marking them. While this sounds OTT, a marking routine is remarkably easy to avoid with everything else on your shoulders.
f) To create SoW options so I can allocate content and tasks on a more flexible basis.
I have for a long time tried to find a balance between SoW that are flexible, and yet off substantial content. For me, having a list of the, say, 15-20 best Shakespeare tasks or points that I want to complete, and then ticking these off as I plan on either a Sunday, or before the start of the day, helps me.
I recommend the great book ‘The Full English’ for a list of suggested English tasks. So, for example, my students over the next week will complete paper-based comprehension and literacy based activities on Shakespeare. However, they will apply this knowledge via either interactive storyboarding via www.bitstripsforschools.com (check this out, a worthy site. I did a casestudy for NATE in 2008, and can direct you to some great practice); screencasting the scene like an IB interactive oral; use conventional dramatic techniques like tableau; or apply and consolidate their learning in one of currently 10 different task choices.
I have an idea of the lesson that will consolidate this knowledge: the type of activitiy will be left until nearer the time. Such an app like Wunderlist allows me to to this.
g) To share homework with students.
Students can use Wunderlist themselves: I can include homework on this. I do not believe in writing down a homework more than once, so I would do this instead as a one-off in terms of supporting students with extended essays.
In terms of doing this, it can be a great idea to model independent planning and time allocation to students who have either written an essay in one long gulp, or to those who have only ever written essays from essay plans before (and therefore perhaps lack the independent planning skills necessary for IB).
h) To allocate tasks with my team.
I have not done this much at all, especially as face to face is superior for communication, but Wunderlist as a way of linking a team together with deadlines is something I can see as useful.