From many tasks accomplished, we asked our Choice Literacy contributors to share just one — the way they were able to save time this year. What follows is a compilation of their best advice in different realms of literacy leadership. Perhaps there is a nugget in here that will help you prioritize and plan in the coming months.
Third grade teacher Aimee Buckner finds planning in two week stretches is a new strategy that has worked well:
I used to plan only three days ahead or so, with the idea I was being more responsive to student needs. But as I get to know my students and their learning habits, I have found that by planning farther in advance — even an outline sketch — I actually have time to be more responsive to their needs day by day, because I'm not thinking about what I need to do next.
Teacher and author Joan Moser was always hunting for professional books that had gone missing, until she came up with a new system for keeping track of them:
It seemed as though I was always searching for my professional books which I had loaned out. I am sure my staff got sick of me sending out an e-mail, "Has anybody seen . . ." So this year I decided to make a category on my PDA, "Book Loans." Each time a person borrows a book from me, I pop it in my PDA. No more frantically looking for books or dealing with my aging brain, trying to remember who I loaned things to!
Debbie Miller always had the best intentions of sending thank-you notes, but never found a spare moment to write them:
When I'm working in schools, I always tell myself that when I get home, I'm going to write thank-you notes to all the wonderful teachers that I've gotten to work with, especially those who share their classrooms — and kids — with me. But when I actually DO get home, I find myself focused on home (this is a good thing!) and also the trip that's coming up next. Those notes never do seem to get written. So now, instead of feeling guilty about it, I take note cards with me and either write them in the airport over a cup of coffee, or even on the plane. It's actually relaxing at the end of a busy two or three days, and I go home feeling like I've honored teachers and children in some small way.
Curriculum support and grades 3/4 teacher Franki Sibberson found that spending some time building professional relationships with colleagues during the summer actually saved quite a bit of time once school began in the fall:
We started "Summer Chats" last July. As a staff, we decided to talk about writing workshop during one chat, reading workshop during another, and word study during the last one. We met at someone's house, read articles, watched video clips, and informally talked about the topics. Since we were all relaxed and happy to see each other over the summer, it was a nice way to have good conversations that continued throughout the school year. We started many whole school conversations, and I started a lot of conversations with individuals and small groups that guided my work during the first semester of school. So, even though that wasn't the purpose, those conversations carried our learning together forward through the year.
Literacy coaching coordinator Shari Frost found that the "burning issues" portion of her meetings with literacy coaches was burning through too much of their time together:
We start our literacy coaches meetings with something that we call "Burning Issues." We'd go around the room and have the coaches talk about the challenges that they have encountered in their work. Well, I am sure that you can imagine what happened. Either the burning issues took over the entire meeting or only a couple of coaches got a chance to talk. Now we have the coaches get together in small groups to share their issues and problem solve. We end the session by having one group share one of the topics discussed.
Professor Ruth Shagoury finds the teachers she works with have great ideas for snatching a moment of peace and quiet in the midst of stressful or rushed periods in the classroom:
Often, events occur in the classroom when what we want most is a few minutes of time to take a deep breath and regroup — and buy ourselves the time we need to decide how to proceed. One of my early mentor teachers gave me a tip that has served me well for many years: In the midst of class, ask the student to "Write about how you're feeling about what's going on in the classroom right now." This terrific prompt has helped me to calm a contentious discussion, deal with politically incorrect comments from a student, find out how the class really is reacting to the relentless questions of one young classmate, and given me a moment to collect my thoughts and answer that impertinent (and important!) question: "Why are we doing this?" When you are unsure how best to proceed, it's a great idea to ask students to take out a piece of paper and write their thoughts about the current classroom climate, discussion, or question being considered. You not only get to break the mood and buy yourself some reflection time, you also have a handful of data from your class to help you plan your next steps.
A first-year teacher recently gave me another wonderful tip for buying time in the classroom. She takes her second graders on a vacation . . . in their minds. "Okay, everyone! We're going to take a few minutes and go on a vacation! Where do you want to go? I'm going to go to the beach. I'm going to close my eyes and take my vacation with the warm sand under my feet and the sunny skies . . . close your eyes and put your heads on your desks. Let's go!" She reports that they love to take their vacations-and there's no punishment-type stigma to putting your head on your desk for a few minutes to give your teacher a chance to regroup, even if it's to escape to a little mental retreat in Mexico or hiking in the woods.
Author and literacy coach Gail Boushey found reorganizing her notebook for observations of teachers reduced not only the time she spent scrambling to find materials, but her level of stress:
My notebook that I carry into all my observations and meetings with teachers, what I call my "coaching pensieve," has organized me this year. (I borrowed the name "pensieve" from the Harry Potter series, since the notebook is my "receptacle for holding memories," too.)
I was searching for a way to keep track of where I was going, who I was working with, and what I was doing with each teacher. I had no system, which made my brain work in overtime, constantly worrying I would forget where I should be or what I should be doing. I had been using the pensieve in my classroom before becoming a literacy coach, but it took me about two years of coaching before I saw the connections between organizing myself in the classroom and organizing myself in the school. All of the pieces are in one spot: a yearlong calendar for appointments, a teacher checklist to date who and when I met with teachers, sections for frequently used reference materials such as the CAFÉ Menu and the launching charts for the Daily Five. The last part is a section for each teacher where I can write down my notes of conversations, work in classrooms, and next steps. With everything at my fingertips, I can carry the binder around, knowing I have the resources I need.
Principal Karen Szymusiak finally found a way to make her to-do list seem less overwhelming every day:
At the beginning of the year I purchased a spiral notebook with the spiral on the top (good but not necessary). On the first page I begin making a list of things I needed to do. Usually, the list was so long that I often didn't know where to begin.
I got some colored sticky arrows (you can see through them) – very small about 1/2" x 1 1/2". I put 5 or 6 of these sticky arrows at the top of the page. Then I looked over the list and picked out what needed the most of my attention that day and placed an arrow horizontally in the margin next to the item. At a quick glance I could see what I needed to get done without being overwhelmed by the whole list. I can remove the arrows when I have finished the "to do" and put it back at the top of the page or place it next to another "to do" on the list. I can rewrite the list (leaving off those items I have completed) every couple of weeks. This has helped me prioritize, and it has helped save time because I am not fretting over my entire to-do list.
Literacy specialist and coaching coordinator Jennifer Jones finds planning with colleagues across schools for professional development has saved her an enormous amount of time this year:
This year I connected with three colleagues in my department, and we planned and facilitated professional development. What a timesaver that has been. First of all, from a planning standpoint, just having multiple brains to work with was genius. Not being the only voice during a full afternoon was also great. We worked well with each other, and it made so much more sense to pull the people from our buildings together and co-facilitate than for each of us to reinvent the wheel at each of our sites to deliver the same message. The teachers were able to meet teachers from other buildings, which led to a plethora of ideas and oodles of sharing.
Finally, a bonus tip from Aimee Buckner that gives you permission to have a bare (but beautiful) bulletin board once in awhile:
I have one large bulletin with a colorful mural painted on – the portrait has an outdoor theme. That way, if I'm 'between' bulletin boards or have taken down charts to make room for new ones, the room doesn't look bare. I've also started using fabric on my hallway bulletin board, saving time from having to constantly change the background.
We hope the time it took you to read this article is saved in triple by the time you free up from trying a couple of our time-saving tips.