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Mindset & Motivation, Productivity Strategies, Teaching Tips & Tricks, Podcast Articles, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Oct 24, 2021

The “Big 5” tips for teacher productivity to reduce overwhelm

By Amy Stohs

2nd Grade

The “Big 5” tips for teacher productivity to reduce overwhelm

By Amy Stohs

I’m talking with educator Amy Stohs about teacher productivity today. She has so many practical ideas and tips, and though she’s currently a 2nd-grade teacher in Northern Virginia, she’s taught both elementary AND middle school in a pandemic, as she previously taught 6th grade as well and in fact won Teacher of the Year in that position.

In this post and podcast episode, Amy is going to do a deep dive with me into one specific aspect of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program. It’s in our Full Year program for teachers as well as the Fast Track version because the “Big 5 Tips for Teacher Productivity” are overarching principles that are woven into everything we do in the course:

  1. Eliminate unintentional breaks
  2. Figure out the main thing and do it first
  3. Work ahead by batching and avoid multi-tasking unless the work is mindless
  4. Relax any of your standards that create unnecessary work to a level that no one else will notice but you
  5. Use scheduling to create boundaries around your time

I’m going to share each of those 5 tips here, and Amy will share what these principles look like in her daily teaching practice, and how she’s used these principles for the last few years to streamline and simplify her workload.

Listen to my interview with Amy Stohs!

Click PLAY or use the download button to listen later:

Sponsored by Defined Learning and 40 Hour Leadership

1. Eliminate unintentional breaks

ANGELA: Let’s take a deeper look at one aspect of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program that you found especially helpful during this past year when it seemed like things were changing all the time, and that’s a resource that I call the Big 5 Tips for Teacher Productivity.  The first one is to eliminate unintentional breaks. What did that look like for you?

AMY: Yeah, so eliminating unintentional breaks is one side of the coin to me. Eliminating unintentional breaks is really about getting distracted. I love some of your examples in the Big Five tips (in the audio and PDF) of like, “Oh, you just wander and see TV shows starting, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll just sit and watch this.'” Or, Just picking up your phone like, “Oh, let me see what else is here.”

But the flip side of that is creating intentional breaks and making time for real breaks for yourself so that you feel like you can get more out of yourself if you’re just giving yourself that time to actually break things up. Back when the pandemic first started and time was just a mess, I had no idea what was going on every day. It was just hours bled together!

I knew immediately what I needed to do. I just needed to break up my day. I set alarms on my phone of reminders like, “Did you go for a walk yet? Did you do something? Did you do the main thing? Did you …” Just little checks — switch task by this point. If you haven’t switched a task, switch your task now. I don’t have to do that right now in my life, because everything is busy, but it’s about creating those points of transitions and break time and allowing myself to not just get sucked into doing the same thing for a long time, but being able to still be productive. I’m not sure if that all makes sense.

It does. That’s an interesting aspect of it that I didn’t really think about, because when I think about eliminating unintentional breaks, I think about creating, and you mentioned this, creating an intentional break, so you can really enjoy it. If you say, “Okay, I’m going to set aside this time to sit down and watch this television show or whatever or go on Instagram,” that’s a lot more enjoyable than like, “I’m supposed to be doing this, but let me just check Instagram real quick. Oh, no. 30 minutes is gone.”

But what I also hear you saying is that you’re using these intentional breaks to create a structure in your day and to make sure that you’re not sitting for too long or when class is in session, make sure you’re not on your feet too long  — that you’re having these times that you’re checking in with yourself through these intentional breaks to make sure you’re getting movement, you’re getting food, you’re getting rest. Is that what you’re saying?

Yes, and all of that happened so differently. Throughout this year, I’ve had to keep adjusting what that looks like because when I was home teaching all day on my computer or just sitting at my desk, we had this little 15-minute break that was intended to be a screen break. I immediately got up and did the dishes during that 15 minutes or I did a load of laundry or I wiped down my bathroom. I used that time to get up and do something different. That’s not at all what I’m doing now. When I’m concurrently teaching now, that 15-minute break is a chance for me to just be quiet. I set up routines in my class where that’s a time they can eat a snack or read, and so that’s just a chance for me to sit and just be there and have a conversation maybe with the one kid that’s closest to me — so I’m looking during my workday for breaks.

What’s nice about the Big Five tips is that it’s something that can bleed into work and home and everything, but it’s really just being mindful about breaks and your flexibility of scheduling. Look for flexibility. I built in a couple of little, five-minute buffer breaks in the afternoon that are not on paper. They’re not on my schedule or anything, but I know they’re there, just meant to be transitional times.

Yeah, I love that. I find myself taking more breaks now. I used to feel like I needed to sit and concentrate. If I’m planning something or I’m writing something, I need to sit down and don’t get up until it’s done. Discipline myself, sit there. But I found that I actually work better when I am thinking about breaks that allow me to do something different. So if I’m at home, like you’re saying, even just getting up to do a load of laundry, it’s giving your brain a break from the screen and a break from all of that problem solving and critical thinking, which is sort of like clearing your head for a moment and coming back to it.

Then also notice when you’re doing too many mindless tasks like that or too many things that are just not very satisfying. You’re cleaning up the kitchen or you’re straightening up things in your classroom, just stuff that isn’t super satisfying and noticing, “Okay, what’s a different type of activity I can be involved in, even just for a couple of minutes?” It really does so much good for my concentration and my focus. I thought that taking the breaks would make it harder to get back in, but I find that it really clears my head, especially if it involves something very different than what I was doing before. If the activity for the break is different from the activity I’m breaking from.

Yes, that contrast helps.

2. Figure out the “main thing” and do it first.

Yes, so the second tip in the Big Five tips for teacher productivity is to figure out the main thing and do it first. This is about noticing what’s most important in your day and making sure that it gets done, so if you run out of time, at least you have that sense of satisfaction of knowing, “Okay, the most important thing today, I did get done.” Tell us what that looks like for you and also how you figure out what the main thing is because I feel like that’s something that a lot of teachers struggle with. There’s so much on their plates or like, “I don’t even know what’s most important.”

Yeah, so when I think about my main thing, it’s like, “What has to happen? What has to get done today, not just because I want it to.” For instance, I would really like to go through and add commentary to all these different kids’ projects or I would like to respond to all of their flip grids today or something, but that’s actually not necessary. It’s a “nice-to-have”. Your main thing for me, it’s whatever is causing me anxiety, whatever I really want to check off my list. It’s like, “This is something that needs to happen.”

One thing that helps me a lot too is creating theme days in my to-do list. I have a theme day for just cleaning up my desk and wrapping up the week. I have a day for communication, a day for newsletters or whatever. I have a day for grading, a day for planning, a day for any task creation I need to do. Hearing that, you might think, “Wow, how intense and rigid is that to do these things. I wish I could do that.”

But that’s actually not what I do. I don’t actually necessarily do those things on those days. What it helps me do though is think about this has to happen sometime this week, so if I don’t do my grading this day, then I’m going to swap it out for something else, but I need to swap it out for something else that’s just as important. So my weekly newsletter is just as important —  if I want to focus on that now, I can. Or if I want to get ahead in my planning a little bit more because I don’t feel like grading today, that’s okay. But it does need to happen.

I have a theme for both work and home each day. It’s on my to-do list. It’s part of the template I print out, but it’s not necessarily exactly what I do that day, but it does help me know this is the type of thing that I’m going to need to do on a weekly basis. If my theme is grading, what is the one grading thing that I have to get done this week? Or if my theme is planning, what is the one thing I really need to make sure I have ready for next week? It really allows me to think, “What do I have in terms of time today? What can I focus on?” It helps me hone my focus and strategy, so it really helps me consider how much time I need to allocate to different tasks. Priorities have to constantly change in order for me to make sure that the main thing gets done.

If something comes up during the day and I realize, “Oh, that’s going to have to be my main thing, because the special ed teacher needs this paperwork for the meeting that just got rescheduled, and so I have to do it today,” priorities are always shifting. That’s why I like having the to-do list, because then I can move things around, and it doesn’t stress me out because it’s all there. It’s just a matter of rearranging.

Yeah, that’s an important thing to highlight. I move stuff around on my to-do list constantly. It’s the only possible way for me to get things done because some things take longer than I thought, some things are quicker than I thought. I get in there and I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t actually need to do all of that. I can actually just do this really simple thing and that’s fine.” Then I can move something up from my to-do list. Constantly noticing new things that come up and having to move things around, that’s a normal part of having a productive day rather than just creating this list that is immutable and you have to do it exactly how it is. That’s really not the idea.

The idea is just to see all of your tasks together, so that you can move them around and you can have that flexibility. I think having the theme days and tying that in with the main thing makes so much sense, because it’s much easier to figure out what your main thing is when you already know, “Okay, this is a week that I’m focusing more on unit planning or my theme for today is grading. I’m catching up on grading, so what’s the most important thing I need to grade?”

I also liked what you said about using those theme days, not as something that is super inflexible, but almost as a way to help you prioritize each day. If you know that you didn’t get to finish grading the stack of papers, but you have a grading day. Thursday is your grading day. It’s Tuesday, and you were hoping to get through the stack, so it’s like, “Well, I didn’t get it done, but that’s okay because I have these other things that are more important and I know that Thursday is my grading day, so that’s the day I’m going to get to catch up on everything.”

I feel like between the theme days and the main thing, it takes off that pressure of feeling like I have to do it all right now, I have to remember it all, I have to hold it all in my head, I have to keep playing this to-do list in my mind until it’s all done because it’s never going to be all done. If you don’t figure out a time, if you don’t find a way to map things out that works for you, it can just be really overwhelming. I think what you’re describing just sounds so much less stressful.

Yeah, I find it less stressful. Sometimes people see my to-do lists at work, and they’re like, “Wow, just look at that.” But it’s funny to me, because I’m like, “Well, it’s a little bit different than it looks on paper, you know?”

It is, and the thing is — a lot of people who don’t keep to-do lists, what they’re doing is they’re keeping it in their head and they’re forgetting things and they’re remembering and it’s popping back up like, “Oh yes, I was supposed to do this,” and then they go and do that thing. Then it’s like, “Oh yeah, I was supposed to do this,” and they go and do that thing.

What the to-do list really is doing is enabling you to write down things as you think of them and pick a time when it’s going to work. I might remember, “Oh, I need to call this X, Y, and Z.” I’ll say, “Well, I’m in the middle of something right now. I’m not going to stop and call them immediately, but I can put it on my to-do list. I know tomorrow afternoon, I’m also making other calls. I’ll put it there,” or “This is really urgent, so I’ll put it on the to-do list for this evening to make sure it gets done.” But I don’t have to stop and do it right away, and now I have all this mental bandwidth that’s freed up for the task I was supposed to be focusing on because I don’t have to remember to do this thing. It’s written down now.

Yeah, anytime I’m stressed, my first step is just to open up a blank page and brain dump all of the things that I would like to get done and all of the little bothersome things that I want to do, as well as big things.

Yes, I do the same thing. I know not everyone’s brain works like that. My husband, for example, would never do that. He would never make this long list of all the stuff he needs to do. But when your brain works like yours, Amy, or mine, it really does help, because it’s like, “Okay, now I don’t have to, it’s not all in my head. I have it written down. Nothing’s going to get forgotten.” I can look to see, “Oh, it’s actually not that much or this is way too much. Some of the stuff is just not that important. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to do that. That’ll get done in the winter. This I can do next spring. It’s just not that big of a deal. It’s not that urgent.” But just feeling like there’s all this stuff that has to get done — getting it down on paper or digitally — just out of my head, really helps.

Yes.

3. Work ahead by batching and avoid multi-tasking unless the work is mindless.

Let’s talk about this third strategy in the Big Five tips for teacher productivity, which is working ahead by batching and avoiding multitasking unless the work is mindless. What does that look like for you?

Yeah, so this goes back to the theme days too, like batching tasks together. My teammate and I set aside Thursday afternoons, and we just plan for the week ahead. We meet after school and knock out the template for the upcoming week, with the things that we’re plugging in. We often will be both looking at resources at the same time and being like, “Oh, look at this thing.” We’re doing almost all this virtually, so it’s like, “Oh here, I’ll screen-share this thing I found. What do you think? We should do this. No, we should save this for later. We’ll jot that down.” I love that.

We just do it in one chunk. Sometimes this takes more like two hours, but it’s worth it, right? It’s so much better because we’re doing it at the same time and it’s a little bit more efficient and just jotting down the plan for the week. Then what I do after that is just add in a whole bunch of links to the slide show of like, “This is this link that I need to add in, this link I need to add in.” If there’s anything else I still need to do after that, I’ll just make a quick little to-do list for myself, just at the top of the slides of like, “I need to do these quick little things before we actually start teaching the next week.”

Planning, for me, if there’s one thing that you’re going to batch, have it be planning at least a week at a time. I found that this year, honestly, I couldn’t do more than a week at a time just with all of the changes. Things were constantly changing. The date of when I was going to be in person changed several times this year. It’s a new grade level to me. There’s just a lot this year. In the past, I would plan by unit, so I would plan at least a month at a time. I would always allow myself flexibility, so I would plan individual stations and small groups by a week at a time, but I would have mini-lessons and dates for assessments sketched out all pretty much a month in advance. That helps me a lot. I mean, if there’s anyone that’s still planning day to day or even every other day or something, the biggest shift I think that they’re going to feel is if they can just get ahead in their planning, because I can’t even express what relief I feel at the end of every week when I’m like, “I am set for the week. I’m ready.”

Yes.

All of those things are planned. I have all of the links in one place. It’s all there for me. I know that I’m not going to have to hunt down for it later. I’m not going to have to stress to find little extra things. It’s ready for me. That feeling of getting through a whole stack of papers or projects all at once is a great feeling. Batching gives me such energy of like, “I got through that thing.”

Yeah, and another thing, in terms of the avoid multitasking unless the work is mindless. One thing I’ve noticed this year is like the whole mindless work has been a little bit different. I talked about copying all those little links and stuff and posting to Google classroom, like “Here’s this thing that I need to attach and check off little names,” or, “I need to screenshot this thing and upload it. I need to add a Pear Deck drawing feature to these 30 slides.” It’s not that exciting. It is fairly mindless and boring, so that is something that I can do while I’m watching TV or while I’m listening to a podcast. I can make it a little bit more enjoyable by just embracing the fact that it’s a slow, slightly mindless task, so I can do that as I’m doing something else.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I do too. Because it does make the mundane and rote tasks feel more enjoyable. And just being mindful of it, as you’re saying, make sure that it’s a task that is mindless because if you need to concentrate and you’re trying to watch TV or listen to a podcast or an audiobook or something at the same time or switch back and forth between that and something else, it can make it take longer. Your point about getting ahead in lesson planning, I feel like it’s so huge. To me, that’s the biggest advantage of batching, of doing these similar tasks together rather than just doing a little bit each day. I mean, a simple example would be answering emails say three times a day, instead of each one as they come in. You’re batch answering that email.

But lesson planning, I feel, is a huge area for teachers where if you can plan that whole unit in advance, you’re not going to feel like every single night, there may be something else that comes up. You may have a sick family member. You may have a fun activity that you were invited to, a happy hour, sitting outside with the neighbors over a fire pit or something, and you’re like, “Man, I can’t because I have to go in and do lesson plans.” If you have worked ahead, then you don’t have that same day-by-day lesson planning hassle. Batching really is the way to do that.

I feel like that’s the way that teachers used to plan when I first started teaching in 1999. That was a normal way to plan, to have a whole unit at a time. I feel like it has fallen out of favor in recent years because there’s this emphasis on being very student-driven. I will see teachers say all the time, “How could I possibly plan for a whole month when I don’t know what my kids are going to need? I don’t even know what they’re going to need on Friday. How could I plan that far in advance?” I feel like yes, in an ideal world, absolutely. If you had two hours of planning time, every single day like teachers do in some other countries, absolutely plan, sketch out your unit, so you know where you’re trying to take kids. When you’re working backwards from the assessment — What do I need them to learn and then how am I going to get them there? — that’s important.

Sure, you could do a lot more of that if you had the planning time, but with the reality of what we’re working with, that’s just not possible. I think it puts an unfair pressure on teachers to be like, “Oh, in order for me to be responsive from kids’ needs, I can’t use my same lesson plans from last year. I can’t use anything pre-packaged. I have to create it all from scratch based on my students. I have to do it all the night before, because I can’t plan tomorrow’s lesson until I understand what they learned today.” I just think that is such an over complication of teaching. We have skills and standards the kids have to master by the end of the year, regardless. We have pacing guides. We have curriculum maps. Plan it out.

As you’re saying, it’s an overview. It’s okay. Most likely I know I need to have the end of unit tests on this day, which means I have to have tests on this day, which means quizzes on these days. Okay, what are the activities that I’m going to do in here to help prepare kids for this? Give them practice — make sure they’re getting the direct instruction they need. You just map it out. At the start of the week, I used to spend Sunday afternoons spending an hour or two going through and just tightening things up and finalizing plans and maybe giving myself options, so it’s like, “Okay, if the kids seem like they’re getting it, give them this. If they don’t seem like they’re getting it, then do this review activity.” But there’s no way that I can envision a teacher having any semblance of work-life balance if you’re not planning tomorrow’s lesson until the night before. That is so much pressure.

Yeah, I hear that pushback too of like, “Well, teachers who plan that far in advance, they just aren’t good teachers, because they’re not being super responsive.” But to me, that’s why I have the structures I do. I have a reading and writing workshop model so that I can pull kids for reading strategy groups. I have the small group time embedded into it, it’s already embedded into my schedule, so that’s what I can change last minute if I want to. I can do different things with different groups.

For my small groups for math, I can change what I’m doing with different kids. For instance, after every math quiz, when I taught sixth grade, I had the quiz organized and grouped by different skills and standards. I had different parts, groups, so I would know that if they did really badly on part A. I would track their grades that way and look, because I also do standards-based grading. I would look and see, “Okay, this group of kids, they really need to focus on part A. This group of kids needs to focus on part B. Part C, everyone in the class did great. Awesome. This group needs to focus on part D. This group, they got pretty much everything right on the quiz, so we’re going to do an extension activity.”

That clearly wasn’t planned in my plan book ahead of time, because those small groups are flexible. I had to wait until they took the quiz, which had them take on Friday, and then I would do those small groups the week after. I had to wait until they took the quiz to be able to make those groups, but I knew what I was doing. I knew that the station with me for math was going to be that reteaching or extension activity regardless. I knew what I would have to do to reteach that skill, because I just taught it previously in the unit. I can figure out that one of the other stations is going to be them doing quiz corrections on their own. Then the other two stations can be games or an online program. I can plan ahead, but still be responsive.

That’s the same thing with reading and writing conferences. I can respond to kids in person with a workshop model. I can plan my mini-lesson ahead of time. I can plan my closing. I can plan that I’m going to be doing conferences during that middle time. I don’t necessarily know which kids I’m going to see or what skills I’m going to teach because I can be responsive at the moment in that one-on-one conference. I don’t have to have a plan in mind. I can know generally what I’m going to do without planning every moment. That’s still planning ahead and being ready to move forward.

Right, and for anyone reading this who is a new teacher or new to the district, to the grade level, to the curriculum, I’ll add the caveat here also that this does get easier with practice. The longer you’ve been teaching and the longer you’ve been teaching the same topics or skills or age groups, it becomes easier to predict. You can kind of tell like, “Okay, I know every single year when I teach fractions, half the class is not going to get it. Start planning the extra review activities … this is not going to go well.” There are certain things that you know you’re going to need to spend more time on.

You also get to know that you can start anticipating with kids too. You can already start to tell, “Okay, if the kids didn’t master this one skill, they’re really going to struggle in this other one.” All of this, with experience, you learn to be able to plan on the fly. If this is still hard for anyone who is listening, you are not alone. I think we’ve all been there. Amy, I know you switched grade levels from sixth grade to second grade, so you know what this is like, but it’s something to work toward. It’s a goal. It’s a goal to work toward to get to this place where you can anticipate and you have these structures in place, so then when the day comes, you can just say, “Okay, I already had this intervention plan for the kids who were struggling. The kids who were struggling can just take it away.”

Yes!

4. Relax any of your standards that create unnecessary work to a level that no one else will notice but you.

The next strategy is to look for innovative ways to relax any standards that create unnecessary work. What does that look like?

This past year, that’s been a lot of doing what I know works, like read-alouds are good, having them write things on a whiteboard and hold it up for me works virtually, it also works in person. Reusing the same activities and games and structures, not expecting myself to come up with something new and different all the time or waiting for this perfect system to arise. Looking for things that are multipurpose. Looking for things that can be reused. Just taking a structure and reusing it and allowing it to be flexible.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, a bit of looking for ways to do things really well. Sometimes that is just like creating unnecessary work. If I’m looking for tech tools or an activity or a procedure that I’m going to teach, I want to look for something that’s pretty multipurpose. I’m not going to add something that is only useful for one time unless it’s a really special event. I’m making sure that kids are mostly successful with what I’m already doing before I start adding in new stuff, and then allowing myself to just test it out. I don’t have to wait for the perfect system before I just try it. I don’t have to think of every single possibility of what’s going to happen. I can try and plan ahead. But I don’t, I’m not going to know how everything will go until I actually do it.

When I was moving into concurrent instruction, I did really try to think about all of these things, but there was no way that I was going to anticipate every possibility. At one point, I did just tell myself like, “Just stop. You’ve thought about it. You’ve planned. At this point, you just need to learn from the mistakes that happen. You’re just going to have to live through it and see how it goes.” It goes back to embracing a growth mindset as a teacher of like, “I can do better each time. I can learn from things.” You can ask students for feedback.

It’s a lot about relaxing, some of your expectations that maybe you have, or these imaginary ideals of what you wish things were like. To me, all of that goes back to just relaxing your standards. I like that phrase that you say, “No one else will notice but you,” and trying to think, “Will someone else actually notice or will they not?” Because they probably don’t. Also, other people are maybe not paying as much attention to you as you think they are.

It’s true. Also, only we know what was in our heads. If you teach, if you had this idea, let’s say you were going to do this elaborate Bitmoji classroom for your students. They didn’t know you were going to do that. If you give them a hyper doc that just has plain text links, they’re not going to know that you were thinking about a Bitmoji classroom. The text links work just as well. For some kids, it might work even better. It may be actually easier to navigate and less visual clutter for them.

That could be a standard where it’s like, “I have to have this perfect classroom setup or virtual classroom setup or online setup.” But actually, the only person who had that whole thing envisioned was you. Families don’t know. Your principal doesn’t know. Your students didn’t know what you were thinking about doing. And you decided to simplify. All they know is the end outcome. If the end outcome works for them, then that’s a great way to just relax your standards and not create unnecessary work for yourself based on what you had envisioned. Because you’re not actually letting other people down. They weren’t expecting that of you. That was something you just had in your own head.

Yeah, and also one thing that I’ve told myself multiple times is, “I can say no right now. It doesn’t mean that I have to say no forever. It doesn’t mean that I can’t do this later or next year or just in the future.” I can just tell myself, “It’s a no for now.”

Yes, I love that. I keep a longterm to-do list of ideas or stuff that I might want to do one day. It’s really cool. Sometimes I go back and revisit stuff that I thought about years before. It ends up looking a lot different than what I had originally planned. But just knowing that if there’s something fun or creative that I’m excited about, but it just is not a priority, I have other stuff I have to do. Yeah, telling yourself it’s a no for now — love that.

5. Use scheduling to create boundaries around your time.

Good, so that leads us to the final aspect of the Big Five tips for teacher productivity, which is using scheduling to create boundaries around your time. This is about knowing that the job of teaching is really never done, and it will expand to fill whatever amount of time you allow. If you give it 40 hours or 60 hours or 80 or 100, you can work on teaching stuff for any amount of those hours, probably more than 100 hours a week, because there’s always something you could be doing. You really do have to create boundaries. You can do that by scheduling. I know you’re really good with scheduling. You’ve experimented a lot with that.

Yeah, so I mentioned my to-do list before. One thing that I did with the to-do list was I thought about the things that I want to do on the weekends and in the evenings, as well. I put recurring tasks that I want to happen. When I did that, I realized, “You know what? I’m filling up my Saturday and Sunday and my evenings with things that I want to do.” It’s not that hard for me to think about things that I want to happen during those times, and so when I did that, it automatically kind of compresses teaching to other hours.

There are only so many spots in my to-do lists that I can fill up with stuff because that’s the time that I’ve allotted, so pushing myself to schedule the other stuff too, to not just schedule work, but to schedule the other things and allow work to fit around other priorities I have. If I want to go drive somewhere and take a long hike or something like that, I’m allowing myself to have the whole day of Saturday where I’m not doing any work. I usually don’t work on Saturdays. Then on Sundays, I basically only look at my to-do list for the upcoming week and maybe I’ll do like other side jobs, but I don’t do teaching work for my classroom. I like to know which nights I’m going to work longer and which ones I don’t.

It’s hard because there were a few weeks this year where I did work really long hours, but they were transitional periods right at the beginning of the year, and then when I really was transitioning for, when I was planning on transitioning to in-person teaching and then that got moved and I had to switch classrooms in the building, so I had already set up my classroom for in-person teaching one way. Then I had to switch classrooms and set up a whole different classroom and rearrange everything.

Yeah, there were a couple of weeks where I was working longer hours, but longer hours for me is 50 to 55 hours. That’s a really intense, long week for me. I’m okay doing that every once in a while when I know that I’m investing that time. It’s going to be helping me out later. I’m putting that time in now so that I don’t have to stress and I don’t have to keep working those long hours. That whole like use scheduling to create boundaries around your time works on multiple levels. It works within a day. Then it works within a week. Then it works within a season. It works thinking about an entire year too.

Yes, and I found, for me, it’s a very flexible process. I usually start, I mean, I’ll have goals for. like quarterly goals and things like that. But usually what I do is at the start of the week on Sunday, I look to see, “Okay, what are the days that I’m going to be working late? Am I going to be working on evenings? Am I going to have a whole day off?” Like you said, I love to hike, so if I’m going to hike, I don’t want to come back and get on the computer afterwards. I want to just feel that bliss from just being outdoors, and so I’m like, “Okay, what day this week? Look at the weather. Look at my schedule and pick. Okay, this is going to be the afternoon for that, and I’m not going to schedule anything.”

I take it on a week-by-week basis just based on what else is going on, based on the temperatures, and all that sort of thing and plan out my week, think about what are the fun things that I also want to do, and set aside time for those and then fill in the workaround that. It’s like, “Okay, well, it’s supposed to rain on Thursday and I don’t have any other things going on. That would be a good time to really tackle this project.” I tend to look at it week-by-week. Then I can be flexible. If Thursday comes and I don’t want to do it, I can move it around. I mean, that’s the great thing about working ahead and not doing stuff the day before it has to be done. You can be flexible. You can say, “Well, I’d plan to do it Thursday, but I actually don’t want to, or this other thing came up and now I can’t.” I can be flexible with it. How does the flexibility piece work for you?

Yeah, definitely very similar to that of thinking about what can I do when and allowing myself to change my mindset this year a bit more. In the past, I got really good at using my planning time effectively. I had an hour and I used that hour really well, doing exactly what I wanted to get done during that time.

This year I just … I can’t. I can’t use my planning time the same way. It’s just an afternoon. It’s only 30 minutes. I usually don’t get that whole 30 minutes by a long shot. It’s like this 20-minute timeframe where I have to go be not in my space. It’s just different — I need to rearrange my day in a way that makes sure I can get other things done. I have to, there’s no point in me being frustrated about the way that I wish my planning time was or getting frustrated about how, well, my school hours changed this year, even what time we start and end is different. There’s no sense in me being frustrated about that. I can just be a little bit more flexible in changing my routines as to how is this best going to help me use what I have.

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Amy Stohs

2nd Grade

Amy Stohs is currently a 2nd grade teacher in Northern Virginia. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2019 by her coworkers while previously teaching 6th grade. Her passions include great books for all ages, the workshop model, Responsive...
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Discussion


  1. Another wonderful episode!
    Thank you for sharing these tips, Amy.
    Thank you for your amazing work and dedication to us as teachers but also as human beings, Angela. Your work is honest, deep, helpful, insightful and with a holistic approach,
    Your work has been a lifesaver in my life.
    Always follow your heart and soul not the voices of others whose opinions come as daggers to the heart.
    You are amazing, no flattery intended.
    Namaste, sister.

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