I love teaching. Like most teachers, what I don’t like is the seemingly endless administration that gets in the way of what I consider my real job. These are a few if the methods I use to try and keep up with all the ‘other stuff’.
Some of this is what I’ve evolved from David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ system, often shortened to GTD. I learned about it from Lifehacker so I’ve never actually read the book. I like the ‘basics’ version suggested by one of their writers in an article I stumbled over.
I get ‘stuff’ – jobs, information, questions – all the time. Most teachers do. To make it more complex, we might get them in person, by email, in a morning briefing, by a note in a pigeonhole… the list is endless. I try to funnel these through two routes, email (dealt with in a moment) and an open envelope in my ‘walking around’ folder. On a busy day the inside front cover of my planner also gets filled up. If it’s paper, it gets put in the envelope – if it’s verbal, I write it there. If it’s not written down, I figure, it probably never happened. Meeting in particular are a big source of jobs. I copy agendas (often emailed) into a pro-forma which helps me to define what I need to do afterwards.
Printable: Meeting Actions as docx
According to Allen, this collection of ‘stuff’ is your Inbox. It will contain all sorts of things, and the whole idea of using it is so that you have a safe place to store everything while you get on with whatever you were up to. The Inbox needs to get sorted regularly (once a day is good) and once you get a chance to get through it, everything comes out and is dealt with, one way or another. But how?
- As much as possible gets thrown out. Information about students I don’t need, trips I’m not going on, socials I can’t get babysitting for.. all in the recycling. The more clutter I have, the heavier my planner is.
- Jobs for me – things I actually need to do – get done if they take less than a couple of minutes, get put on my To Do list if they are one specific item that takes longer, and get added to my Projects list if they’re going to be ongoing.
- If I need to remember it, then the information – not necessarily the actual piece of paper – is transferred to my planner (time/date stuff) or my walking around folder. I use the dividers:
- Department (Science for me, naturally)
- Year Team (I’m a form tutor)
- Pupil information (SEN data, G+T lists, medical info)
- Committee meeting (I’m a representative from my department to a cross curricular committee)
- Marking (reminders of what I’ve taken in, when it’s due back, and where it is)
- Projects (ongoing jobs with lots of specific actions, each time one step is completed the next goes on my To Do list)
- Teaching (divided by teaching group)
My email works the same way; my Inbox gets cleared out daily and items are either:
- put in the Action folder, equivalent of a To Do list, which gets cleared weekly or whenever I have a chance
- put in one of a series of Archive folders which mirror those in my walking around folder
Part of the system is the Weekly Review, a regular ‘meeting with yourself’ in which you check the To Do list (what Allen calls ‘Next Actions’), turn lingering items into Projects, update your calender and so on. People seem to get very excited about their own interpretations of this system, but I must admit that so far it does seem to be helping me. During each review I type and print a weekly plan which helps to assign specific times for some of the jobs, such as marking or writing reports.
A few of these ideas are ones I now recommend adopting when I’m working with student teachers or those new to the profession. A valuable lesson is that an organisation method or filing system you intend to use short-term, as it’s ‘good enough for now’, will almost always turn into a long-term solution – or, perhaps, a long-term problem. One of the biggest issues for an average teacher, including myself, is that paperwork for the kids (worksheets and marking) often seems to get shuffled in with my own jobs. This is how paperwork breeds. I’m still working on a solution to this. In theory it should be simple – a portfolio with dividers, one section per lesson in a day, cleared out daily. In practice it doesn’t seem to work this way…