Reader Mailbag: How to Be A Together Grad School Student

Sep 26, 2017

Here’s a great question that recently landed in the mailbag from Mekia L., a principal with KIPP DC, who had just started grad school! I know many of you are in the same boat!

What a great question, Mekia! I already know you are rocking out your Google calendar during your principal workday, but now you have a whole other thing to manage and organize!

Here are my tips for balancing work life and school life:

  1. Block time in your calendar! This should include every aspect of grad school. Not only your actual classes, but also your due dates, time to study, collaboration meetings with peers, and even travel time to class. Alison, a principal turned full-time PhD student, did the same here.
  2. Embrace the binder. Mekia knows her habits and preferences – and is clear she wants to take notes by hand. A binder with sections is a super idea; perhaps also consider setting up a digital mirror for each section so you can pitch the binder at the end.
  3. Set up a notetaking system! To take notes by hand, try modifying a Together Leader template to include: 1) Thinking notes, 2) Ask the professor notes, 3) Discuss with study group notes, and 4) Actions. Set these up in a quadrant. Include the date and class title, print multiple copies, and stash them in your binder!
  4. Go a little digital. Coursework can lead you to drown in paper, so consider using an app like Scannable (my fave!) or Office Lens to turn pictures into easily uploadable PDFs. While the binder is great for active study material, you’ll likely encounter other stuff you just want to be able to reference at some point.
  5. Create a separate bag. Now don’t take it too far, but one of the images that stuck with me most from my Together Teacher interviews was Sue H’s different bags for grading and planning. You probably already have a wallet or purse, workout bag, and lunch bag. But I could also see it being helpful to have a dedicated grad school bag to hold your meeting notes on a clipboard, your binder, your printed readings, and maybe a hole-puncher and pencil pouch. This way, you can easily grab-and-go when it’s time to study or head to class.

Mekia also sent me a few follow-up plans and pictures of what she implemented:

  1. Backwards planning. Mekia and her study partner met to create a backwards plan: “We paced out class sessions, study sessions, readings, and other deliverables. We created this first, and then we entered all of our study sessions and due dates into Outlook!”

2. Note organization. Mekia made a table of contents for all of her notes! What a smart idea to help her reference everything!

3. Binder Spruce-Up. Last but not least, she added dated sections (handwritten, thank goodness! I have rebelled against label makers!) for each class.


Yahhhh, Mekia! Best of luck with the juggling act!

PS And for those of you in the area, Mekia and I are conquered this together in April. Come join!