Once you decide when you're going to keep more notes, you'll need to find ways to preserve that time. This is no small feat for teachers and literacy coaches. We want to capitalize on the teachable moments in our classrooms, which means it's often hard to stick to routines. And unfortunately, others rarely see teachers' time as our own. Administrators cavalierly interrupt class schedules with assemblies featuring a talking mouse droning on about dental hygiene; colleagues stop in for a quick cup of coffee during the time they know your students are in music class; a parent can only come in for a conference during a time outside the designated conference period.
With that in mind, the following activities can help you take tentative steps toward establishing some boundaries around the time you set for taking notes and observing students.
1. Link when you take notes to your goals.
What time or times of the day make the most sense for you to take notes to meet these goals? List both potential times for notetaking and reasons why notetaking during this time is linked to your goal. Try to list a few times when you might take notes in your classroom.
2. Experiment with "In the Midst" and "After the Fact" notes.
Before you try to lock into a routine of notetaking, test out the different times of the day you listed for these notes. This may take a few days or a few weeks, but you'll want to explore which times of day and kinds of notes work best for your needs.
As you test out different times for taking notes, don't worry much about what you write. Think instead of whether or not you are able to take notes consistently during these times. After at least a few days of trying to observe and write about students during different times, ask yourself, what period was most comfortable for me to take notes? What might get in the way of me consistently taking notes during this time?
3. Initiate a ritual.
Poet Georgia Heard writes, "Where I write, and the rituals I create for myself there, are crucial for keeping the writing spirit alive in me." If you want to sustain the spirit of an active, questioning observer of your students, consider developing a few rituals that create a psychic "space" around the time you reserve for your notetaking. It might be moving to your desk to pull out your treasured favorite pen reserved only for your notes (and returning it to that spot after the notes are finished); it might be sitting for a couple of minutes at the rug area in your classroom as students go about their work, and thinking about what you'll write.
Think about what rituals might work for you. Is there a hat or scarf you might put on to let students know you aren't to be disturbed as you're writing? Is there a sign that needs to be posted on your door during a planning period, to let colleagues know only emergencies warrant a disruption?
Take a moment to list one or two rituals you could institute to encourage consistency in your notetaking routine.
4. Let colleagues and students in on your work.
If students and colleagues know you value the time you put into your notetaking, they will help you protect that time. Enlist the people who might infringe upon your notetaking as allies, carefully explaining the purposes of your notetaking. Once they understand why you need to protect this time, some students and colleagues will become protective of your notetaking routine. As you're beginning to establish the notetaking routine in your classroom, you'll also want to schedule at least a small number of class discussions explaining why you'll need time for notes and how these notes will be helpful to the classroom community.
5. Save a small amount of time each week to look at all your notes from the week.
Set aside just 10 or so in the early weeks of your notetaking to look over what you've written and flesh it out. You can encourage yourself to do this by using project planner paper, which provides you with that extra margin for additional jottings. At least a small part of the time you schedule for your notes needs to be for this reflection and clean-up. If possible, schedule this time with a colleague and talk together about gaps in your notes and how they might be filled.