Stress Soothers | Part 2 - Productivity & Planning

Psst!! Did you miss Part 1?? Check it out by clicking here.

Welcome to Part 2 of the Stress Soothers Series!!

Each Tuesday in March, I'm bringing you tips & tricks to beat that almost spring slump and re-energize your teaching. Today is all about you and getting stuff done. (...and some new stuff that's posted for FREE in the resource library!!)

Part 2 - Productivity & Planning

When I used to look at my weekly schedule, I sometimes felt like my head could explode. Color coded this and abbreviated that can make a whole lot of sense in my brain, but often times I would sit down to make sense of it all, plan a couple of lessons, and then realize my 30 minute prep (ok, 20 after I waited in line for the staff restroom...) was gone.

Over the last several years, I've come up with a few things that make those little nuggets of time really count. Although I don't have an hour or two that is blocked for planning on a daily basis, making sure I really take advantage of each and every moment almost makes it feel like I've had a dedicated chunk of my day to get organized and prepared. 

Here are three tips to help you maximize your productivity and feel ohsogood about your planning skills.

Tip #1 - Start the year with the end in mind.

Now, before you click away thinking girrrrrl please, it's already March, I really believe this is something you can start no matter where you are in your year or curriculum.

Before each school year begins, I take some time to reflect on where my kids ended up in my sequence the previous year, and how far I *think* I can get them by the end of next year. I set up a yearly calendar that breaks down into weeks, showing everything from scheduled programs, to breaks, to weeks I know will be a wash because of conferences or other things that might be scheduled on my campus. Then I pencil in concepts about where I think they will fall throughout the year.

Do I follow this plan nomatterwhat?!

Um, no. Because: #reallife. Things always come up (assemblies, testing, renovations, etc) that set things off kilter here or there. Plus, there are times that my first graders just aren't ready to learn do by the end of April, because each class year to year is very different. The idea of this master long-term planning schedule is that it gives me a roadmap and sets goals for my year. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail. (I read it in a fortune cookie, so it must be true?)

So how does this work if you're, say in the middle of March? Well, you re-assess and revise your plan throughout the year. My campus is on a trimester system, so I check in at least twice a year to see where I am in my goals and revise what I want to accomplish in the upcoming months.

Since we've just closed out our second trimester, I'm going through this process right now--checking off concepts I think my kids have mastered (not just those that I've "covered"--there is certainly a difference!) and mapping out the remaining weeks in the year. Give it a try. I promise you'll feel much more calm and collected if you have an overarching plan in place, even if you're just starting now.

(If you're looking for a truly awesome long-term/short-term/lesson planning book, I can't recommend Rita Klinger's Lesson Planning in a Kodály Setting enough. Even if you don't consider yourself a Kodály-inspired teacher, there are invaluable nuggets of good stuff in here, worth way more than the $25 it costs.)

Tip #2 - Give yourself a week at a glance, but process out your lessons.

From that big yearly or trimester-ly plan, it becomes so much easier to plan lessons. I can see exactly where I've come from and exactly where I'm going, and the guesswork is gone. Admittedly, I go in spurts with how detailed my lesson plans are. I start off the year super gun-ho and ready to write in every piece of processing and sequencing that my kids will need, and by this time of the year I end up with bullet points of activities for each grade level.

Anyone else guilty? Bueller??

I will say that having that abbreviated list on my music stand makes transitions from one activity to the next A LOT smoother than when I have to sift through a bunch of scripting I have written out. However, I do know that when I don't take the time to process out my lessons, my Friday lessons are way more awesome than my Monday lessons.

When I skip the grunt work, my Monday kids get the rough draft of my lessons and my Friday kids get the polished version.

Now I know that there will always be adjustments when you're in the moment because: teaching real children real things in a real classroom. But is it really fair for us to roll in on Monday without taking the time to be thoughtful and reflective for all the kids? Take the time to "script" your lessons. You don't have to write "and then the teacher says..." etc, because that's just not authentic. But having some idea of exactly which steps you'll take in what order will make your lessons much more effortless when they actually take place.

Then give yourself a bulleted list. You won't even need to look at your scripting because you'll have processed it out so thoughtfully in the first place.

Tip #3 - Stop saving #allthethings for Sunday nights.

Whenever I scroll through social media on a Sunday night, I just about die laughing because I see so many friends and colleagues doing exactly what I too have fallen a victim to: planning, printing, laminating, copying, grading, arranging, and all the other music teacher-ing responsibilities as fast as possible before the week starts.

Together, we can end Sunday night anxiety.

No, but seriously, there's a better way to get ready for the week. And it's all about being proactive rather than reactive. I think of it as "zoning" your days. (I first heard about this on a podcast--but truthfully, I listen to so many I couldn't tell you which one!!) No matter what day of the week it is, I know what types of tasks I should be accomplishing in order to be ready for the week that's coming up.

Let me break it down for you. And yes, your long-term/yearly plan will help!

Here's how I frame my days in the week:

  • Monday: Look at the week ahead - If there are any last minute things to do before the week gets started, I get them done on Monday mornings. This is also my day to respond to emails, or send out any notes to staff members I'm working with (i.e. teachers about programs, etc).
  • Tuesday: K, 1st, & 2nd grade plans - This is the day I focus on planning for the following week. I plan two 30 minute lessons for each grade level based on my long term plan. I gather any materials and make notes about what I may need to print or laminate or create for the lessons. If it can't be done right away (or in less than a minute or two), I save it for Thursday.
  • Wednesday: 3rd, 4th, & 5th grade plans - Same thing as above, only for the upper grades.
  • Thursday: Print, copy, laminate, etc. - Thursday is late enough in the week, but still far enough in advance of my lessons for the next week that I can prep any materials I might need. It's also the day I have the largest chunk of planning time, so I can camp out in the workroom and use all the resources I need at my school.
  • Friday: Loose ends - This is sort of my "catch-all" day. If there's anything else that needs to be done before the following week, I do my very best to have it done before I leave for the day on Friday. This helps free up the weekend for time with my family and helps to alleviate Sunday night stress.

Granted, there are certainly some days that this work might follow me home. I've been known to obsessively laminate, cut, and/or magnetize manipulatives while watching a tv show on a weeknight, but I've decided that I rather take those couple of moments outside of the regular school day to prep for the coming week and save my weekends 100% (okay, like 75% on a good one) for me. I'm a better teacher when I make a point to dedicate that time to relax and recharge.

What about you? Are there ways you could theme your days to stay on track for the weeks ahead? Do you feel like your lesson planning has been less effective? Could long-term planning be the key?? I hope these tips and tricks will help round our your year as the most productive and thoughtfully planned out yet!!


If you're looking for a few things to help you get organized (some yearly planning or lesson plan templates? a little week at a glance inspiration perhaps??), click here to check out the FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY!! There's a couple new goodies uploaded just for YOU :)


Coming up in this Stress Soothers Series...

I've got you covered every Tuesday in March. Check out the last two topics on the docket in this series:

  • 3/21 - PART III - ADVOCACY & EARNING RESPECT
  • 3/28 - PART IV - PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & MUSIC TEACHER ISOLATION

Something else you would love to chat about, but it didn't seem to make the list the time around? Drop me a line here! I would love to hear from you. :)


*Bonus: If you're looking for more tips on productivity, I highly recommend Aileen Miracle's podcast on productivity. She has some really awesome tips!!