Five Ways Schools Can Help Teachers Prioritize

May 2, 2013

Brain To Do's!You have a lot to do.

I get it, because I do too. Here’s a little window into my ping-ponging brain to prove it (Enjoy!!):

Do I write this blog that’s due tonight? Answer thousands of emails? Prepare dinner for the evening? Vacuum the crumbs staring at me from the carpet? Order the shoes I’ve been coveting? Oh, wait, I need to call the dentist! Shoot, is that my mom on the other line telling me to look at my sister’s Facebook page with new pictures of her baby?!?!

One of the top challenges I hear from readers is prioritization.

You’ve learned to keep track of every single thing…but now how do you actually decide what to do first, second, third, and so on?

Let’s get back to basics and start with the very definition.

Prioritize (v): to arrange or do in order of prioritylearning to prioritize our assignments.

Prioritization is hard because, well. . . we are dealing with kids and colleagues and families we ADORE. To not give them all 110% in every single way we can feels like a travesty. I AGREE. I’ve been there. That said, there are only SO MANY HOURS IN A DAY and we cannot do everything perfectly!

There. I said it: We’re not perfect. It’s the dirty little secret that makes us hide in shame and not prioritize. But for our students and ourselves and our families, we have to learn to put some things ahead of others.

Five ways schools can help teachers prioritize:

  • Build a schedule to create real honest-to-goodness preparation periods, preferably in chunks longer than 40 minutes if you can make it work. Let’s face it: 20 minutes of prep is only enough time to go to the restroom, fill your water bottle and take a deep breath. Let’s have real prep periods that are only rarely taken up by administrative meetings and give colleagues quality time to work together in teams.
  • Have conversations with your staff to clearly articulate what is most important—and revisit this often. In a recent survey I conducted (unscientific though my methods may be), only HALF the teachers I spoke with said they had even had a conversation with a supervisor or coach about what to prioritize. They were left wondering, “Do I focus on classroom management? How important are those bulletin boards? Does data entry have to be perfect?” Let’s start helping teachers determine what actually matters most. In a few weeks, we will share some resources from principals who have really focused on getting this right.
  • Be incredibly judicious about the addition of new tasks, technology or requests. We can get swept away in the latest “thing”. . . whether it’s a better way to teach reading or some new software for error-analysis or revamped goals around family contact. Before you add something to a teacher’s workload, be a user yourself. Shadow a teacher and consider where and when he will fit it into his day. And remain open to considering what could fall away if you just have to adopt this new thing.
  • Outsource (at least some) of the administrative junk. What things are your teachers doing that they are not uniquely qualified to do? Making copies and charts and doing data entry are the two activities teachers cite as easiest for someone else to take on to free them up for planning, teaching, and evaluating. Can you find interns to help out? Family volunteers? Students?
  • Plan ahead, create clear protocols for “emergencies,” and make sure your teachers know who to go to for what. Things come up in schools. But some things that “come up” don’t have to come up. That last minute parent meeting? Requesting your teachers to call every home to drive up attendance at an event? Help ‘em out by publishing a calendar for the year and making sure roles and responsibilities for the administrative team are clear and public.

And teachers, here’s what you can do!

  • Determine your priorities and write them down—whether for the year, the month or the day. If you don’t know what they should be, ask a school leader to help you brainstorm.
  • Figure out how to achieve your priorities. If a clear priority for you is better family relationships, what steps will you take to get there? Break it down like Sharon did.
  • Keep your priorities alive. As Margie recently mentioned to me and all popular literature cites, start each day with the MOST important thing. You gotta just do it.

Prioritizing feels painful, no doubt about it. But we simply have to do it in service to our students, our schools and ourselves.

Together Teacher Discussion Question: Have you ever DE-proritized anything? What was it? How did you pull it off?