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A Day in the Life of a Teacher - Using a Planner For Optimum Organization

Meggin McIntosh

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Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now. ~Alan Lakein

Millions of people buy “calendars" or “planners" in late December and early January and vow that this is the year they will get organized. By the end of January or beginning of February, most of these planners are sitting on a desk or shelf. This happens because planners are a tool and like any tool, their purpose is to make a job easier. And, like any tool, if you do not know how to use it, it cannot help you.

Effective teachers know how to plan lessons and units. They have learned how to do so through experience, coursework, trial and error, mentoring, and workshops. Some teachers use paper lesson plan books, others use some type of on-line or electronic format, and others find that a combination of both formats works well for them. One is not better than the other because the best choice is dependent on the needs, personality, and style of the user.

The same goes for your planner - which includes - but is so much more than a calendar. Effective teachers know how to plan their days, weeks, and lives by using a planner system of some type. To learn how to do this well involves experience, coursework, trial and error, mentoring, and/or workshops. Regardless of whether your planning system is paper-based, electronic, or some combination of the two, here are key recommendations:

  • Have a planner (either paper or electronic). You don't think much of a teacher who doesn't plan lessons and units of study and tries to fly by the seat of his/her pants. ‘Nuf said?  
  • Get a planner that you love (the size, the shape, the paper, the format, the ease of implementation) so that you take pleasure each time you use it. You will have to take it with you to every IEP, parent conference, luncheon, faculty seminar, discussion with a counselor, etc. , so you will need a planner that meets your professional expectations in every setting. You also need to take it home with you every day and bring it back to school every day, so consider ease of transportation.
  • Maintain one - and only one - planning system. This doesn't mean only one calendar, but it does mean one system. For example, you may have a family calendar on the refrigerator at home, but if you don't have a system for making sure that family members’ activities get put on the home calendar and then also get calendared in the planner of one or both parents, appointments will be missed, kids won't get picked up from orchestra practice, or you run the risk of double scheduling.

Your planner can be used throughout all five phases of getting organized.

  1. Capture: When you have your planner with you all the time, you can easily go through the upcoming weeks or months that are represented and let your mind run free with all the thoughts and ideas related to upcoming events and responsibilities. Your planner helps prompt your thinking so you can empty your psychic RAM (David Allen's term).
  2. Collect: One of the containers where you can collect ideas from voice mail, other people, and your own head is in your planner.  If the idea, request, or voice mail involves calendaring, then you have your calendar right there in your planner and can immediately jot down the information you need.  
  3. Cull: Having a planner lets you carefully consider your incoming items and make a decision about what (or if) you will do something. Use the month-at-a-glance portion of your planner as the “storyboard" of your month and this will help you get the “big picture. " If you use an electronic system, print out your current and your future month or make sure you can see the month on your computer screen. Don't just look at your PDA because you do not really get a month-at-a-glance; you get lots of little vertical lines and dots on a screen and you lose the storyboard effect!
  4. Consciously order:  Using your planner aids in this phase of getting organized - both on the long-term and the daily level. When you get to the individual day and are consciously ordering your tasks for the day, look at your planner to help you think through what needs to happen and when. Consider your priorities and what the logistics are of the day, since you use both of those filters as you determine the order of what you'll be doing.
  5. Carry out:  “What gets scheduled gets done. " Schedule appointments with yourself to grade papers, to plan, to exercise, to read, to drive your kids around. . . whatever needs to get done. Schedule it.

If you love your planning system, hone your skills in using it using the suggestions in this article. If you don't love your planning system (or don't YET have one), then do a little research (read, surf the Internet, ask friends and colleagues what they use and how it works for them, take a class) and get a system that works for you. Plan your life with the care you plan your lessons.

Every moment spent planning saves three or four in execution. ~Crawford Greenwalt

Educators have the most influential positions in our society-and need every bit of support that can be mustered. Two resources that will help increase educators’ sense of peaceful, predictable productivity are Meggin's weekly emails:

**Top Ten Productivity Tips ( )

**Keys to Keeping Chaos at Bay ( )

(c) 2008 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph. D. , “The Ph. D. of Productivity"(tm)

Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc. , Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do via seminars, workshops, writing, coaching, and consulting.


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