I want to share something that gives me hope for the year to come: a weekly routine for getting the work done within set working hours. I piloted this schedule for two weeks before Winter Break, and it seems poised to do well for me in 2015, which seems like it could be my busiest year ever.
First: Why we all need set work hours
Once upon a time, Dr. Seuss’ publisher made a bet with him: “I bet you can’t write a children’s book using only 50 words.”
Most writers would have balked at the idea of undertaking a project with such constraints — Cat in the Hat, after all, had 225. But Seuss was a pro; he knew that constraints aren’t our enemy. He answered the bet with Green Eggs and Ham — one of the best-selling children’s books of the last century .
The point? Constraints can create breakthroughs we wouldn’t otherwise have had without the constraints in place.
This is an important point for teachers because we often balk at any constraints placed on us. What, you want me to teach the same curriculum as the person down the hall? Wait, you mean all of our students have to take the same unit test on the same day?
I’m not saying all constraints are created equal; if you’re an administrator or department chair who’s in charge of decisions that constrain other teachers, make careful decisions. You know this.
But we teachers can save ourselves a lot of stress by determining to promote the long-term flourishing of our students within some of the curricular or assessment constraints placed upon us, rather than constantly seeking to buck them.
This blog article, however, will take a different tack toward the constraints idea because it focuses on how I’m going to intentionally constrain my work hours when we head back to school on Monday. (Setting work hours is an idea I briefly discussed in my last post.)
Why I am personally motivated to live by set work hours
First of all, I want to continue doing things I got better at in 2014, largely through using set work hours:
- Being an engaged, joyful husband and dad. 2014 marked the start of weekly date nights with my wife (something we haven’t done since our first year of marriage), the entry into the world of our third little girl, Marlena, and the institution of new Stuart traditions like the family-dinner-thanksgiving-clapping game and the wrestling-around-on-the-living-room-rug-after-dinner game (the titles need work but the traditions are there).
- Being a more efficient, more excellent teacher. I got better in 2014 at figuring out what work is worth time and attention and what work just needs to get done with brutal efficiency. I’m still growing here, but I’m convinced that efficiency is key if I’m to remain engaged in my work and on the upward climb to Excellence.
In 2015, I also want to get better at two things — and this means forcing myself to do one thing much more frequently. Both of these are very important to me as a teacher who also writes and speaks for teachers.
- Improve my writing. I always wanted to be a writer, and I sort of stumbled back onto the passion through this blog and the beautiful community of teachers that have formed around it. And even though 2014 marked the release of my first traditionally published book, I see that I’ve got so much more room to grow. To become a pro, I need to do the same thing professional athletes do: work out every day. Toward that end, I’m placing a simple constraint on myself: publish blog articles every
MondayTuesday and Saturday. I need to do this because:
- I learn a ton every time I write, and a key thing that keeps me motivated to do the work of teaching is learning new things.
- I am a horrible judge of which of my blog articles will be the most useful to our community. The solution? Force myself to write more articles and leave the usefulness-deciding up to you all.
- Thanks to your answers on surveys like this one, your comments on my blog posts, and your interactions with me on Twitter and Facebook, I feel closer than ever to knowing how best to serve our small community of dedicated educators. You guys want to know how to deal with time scarcity, testing pressure, initiative overkill, skill deficits, and paperwork monsters. I want to write about those things.
- Improve my speaking and PD. My all-day literacy workshops (which I adapt for both Common Core and non-Common Core states) are easily the most well-reviewed and impactful things I do apart from teaching. While I’ve found that my writing can be powerful for isolated folks within a district, my speaking style seems to resonate with, empower, and encourage a much greater percentage of entire departments and districts. So from an impact perspective, every workshop I give is a win.
- To be totally transparent, workshops are also a great source of extra income for my family, and with goals like adoption, world travel, and philanthropy, that income is something we don’t take for granted.
In short, I need to write more and speak more so that I get better at both — and the number one way for me to do both of these things is to write more!
So here’s the thing: just deciding to write more and deciding to speak more doesn’t really matter all that much. It’s easy making decisions like this from the comfort of Winter Break and moderate caffeination.
As I’m learning in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, getting things done requires way more than motivation or drive — it requires habit. And that’s where my routine comes in.
My daily and weekly work schedule for 2015
(The following work schedule is an excerpt from my most audacious self-published book to date, Never Finished: Continually Becoming the Teachers We Want to Be & Staying Sane in the Process. That book launches on the 15th of this month, at which point its price will double.)
7:00-7:30am, or The Calm Before the Storm
Unless a student has an appointment with me, my door is closed during this time. Note: I allow myself to begin working as early as I’d like. I’m not a “get up psychotically early” kind of guy normally, so this doesn’t lead to me overworking.
Tasks for this time chunk:
- Final prep for the day’s lessons
- Write objectives on the board. Or learning targets, or essential questions — depends on what they’re called this year 😉
- Write and send an email or note of appreciation
- Review calendar for the day and week
- Tutor students (by appointment only)
- No email checking
7:30-11:50, or Flow
I teach periods 1, 2, 3, and 4, alternating between English 9 and World History.
- Um… teaching
- Address limited student questions during hall breaks
- Sprint to get coffee or go to the bathroom during hall breaks
11:50-12:20, “Lunch” time
I am bad at eating lunch.
- 3 days per week, I tutor students by appointment during this time. My days are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday
- 1-2 days per week, be social with other colleagues for at least part of lunch
- Bite-sized tasks: grading a group of papers, doing email, responding to phone calls
12:20-1:20, “Prep” period
Ideally, this time is dedicated to what its name implies: preparing for future instruction. Meetings can sometimes contribute to this, but meetings alone can’t get it done. That’s reflected in the limits I place on my meeting availability below. Remember: we are professionals. Professionals aren’t incessantly available because, you know, they have work to do.
- A maximum of two meetings per week. I have one meeting with my grade-level team that happens weekly, leaving one slot for the impromptu parent meeting, administrator meeting, colleague meeting, or what have you. If someone requests a meeting (or just says, “Hey, we’re meeting”) after that two meeting limit has been reached, I just say, “Shucks! All the rest of my preps this week are booked — how about we set something up for next week or chat briefly after school?”
- Up to 30 minutes of “bite-sized” tasks (see previous section)
- Lesson planning, unit planning, course research, formative and summative assessment review, and next steps
1:20-2:30, Last class
I teach 6th hour.
2:30-3:30, Intentionally interruptible time
My goal with this single hour after school is to be available for impromptu meetings, student needs, collegial banter and such, yet at the same time to remain focused on maximizing the productiveness of the hour. Toward that end, I’ve started doing something simple: while I’m in my room during this time, I lightly play some classical music.
What’s up with the music?
- For the record, I know nothing about how to appreciate classical music.
- I feel like classical music in the background 1) makes kids a little less excitable (important for after-school) and makes colleagues a little less likely to sink into “Yo, I’m going to sit down in your room so we take turns providing counseling services for one another for the next 3 hours” mode (also important for after-school because we all feel like slipping into that mode by this point).
- Tutoring students
- Providing a productive work environment for students
- Phone calls
- Conversations with colleagues (ideally with a set purpose)
Enter “Dave is functionally gone from work” time
It’s 3:30pm. At this point, a lot of teachers go home. I don’t because I’ve been in the place where teacher work bleeds into everything, and so I no longer bring work home. When I go home, I want to relate, to connect, to just be. There is one exception to my “no work at home” rule: as you’ll see, on Sunday evenings after the kids are in bed, I do pre-week prep and any last-week stuff that didn’t get done.
However, simply staying at work doesn’t mean you get anything done. Many teachers stay at school until 5:20 like me, but they get next to jack done on a regular basis. The key, I’ve found, is treating yourself as if you’re gone. Shut and lock your door, cover the door window or dim the lights, and work on those most important things that must get done for you to get better at this job.
During my first years as a teacher and my first years at my current school, this meant planning and curriculum work. Now that I’ve been at my school and teaching the same classes for a few years, I use this extra time to develop myself as a professional reader and writer.
3:30-4:00 — “Social” reading
I read something in my stack o’ PD books for 30 minutes. I’ve written an article about how to read PD books, but in addition to the tactics I share in that article, during this block of time I’ve also started sharing any insights I gain from my professional reading on Twitter and Facebook. This is appreciated by my community members in those settings because it’s short, actionable or thought-provoking stuff that I don’t share anywhere else; it’s also useful for me because, scrolling back through my tweets and posts, I’m able to remember past insights gained from my professional reading.
4:00-5:00 — Write to publish
During this time, I write for one purpose: to help teachers become better and saner.
- Writing for my blog (remember: I’m aiming at a post every
MondayTuesday and Saturday)
- Writing for other blogs or publications (e.g., this year I want my work to appear in at least two print journals)
- Working on projects (e.g., traditionally or self-published books or starter kits)
5:00-5:20 — Sweep up, set out tomorrow’s work
I have one aim here: walk out the door feeling some semblance of, “Okay — today’s as done as it’s gonna get. Here’s what’s on for tomorrow.”
Weekly work schedule
Monday through Friday look like the schedule above — here are the exceptions:
On nights when I have to leave the house after dinner (e.g., every Tuesday I have a men’s Bible study I’m part of), I leave school by 4:55.
On Saturday mornings during especially insane weeks (e.g., in two weeks, I’ll have final exam grades to input), I’ll leave the house early (i.e, before anyone wakes up), head into school or to a coffee shop, and work until 11:30am.
On Sunday nights after the kids are in bed, I put a couple hours into feeling ready for the week or getting caught up on grading.
Those are my exceptions.
What’s your schedule?
I sincerely urge you to invest some time before break ends to start thinking about a schedule you can use to force you into greater efficiency, effectiveness, and sanity as a teacher and a human. Feel free to share your work or ask questions in the comments. Cheers!
1. Thank you to James Clear for first telling me the Dr. Seuss story.