The classroom task list can get overwhelming very quickly. Teachers have a million and one things to do and we will never actually reach the end of the list. But, what if we didn’t have to? Let’s walk through steps to simplify your classroom task list.
Simplify the Classroom Task List Transcript
I’m gonna jump right in and tell you that today my goal is to help you simplify your classroom task list…and it’s with five simple steps. But if you have no clue why I feel so passionate about doing this right now, I just want to set a scene for you of what I have heard from other teachers and what I’m currently experiencing.
We are in the thick of November, when students are kind of starting to collapse in on themselves, and the pressure feels more and more intense on teachers. To not only get things festively set up for the holidays, but we have to grade so many projects that are rolling in and a lot of late work that’s rolling in. We need to still plan a whole month of lessons and activities for the end of the semester. But right before the end of the semester, especially if you’re in secondary, you have to create a full week of engaging review games for your students, so that they can review for the final exam. And it’s dark outside, so half of your students are trying to sleep, but you want them to be alert. You don’t want them to feel too cooped up because it’s cold outside, so you don’t want them too active, but you want them active enough that they’re doing things. And then if your school is anything like mine, there is such a sub shortage, and so many teachers out, that you don’t even get a plan period each week.
It can be all very overwhelming. In fact, I think that the mental load that teachers have to take on this time of year is the exhausting part. It’s not necessarily that there’s anything more going on, besides possibly more indoor recesses for elementary, but it just feels heavier. It feels like we have to try even harder to do just the basic everyday things, and we need this Thanksgiving break coming up. But then after a break, we still have to come back and finish it all.
I took a step into my room the other day after getting an email asking if I could serve on my block schedule day…which means that my plan period was an hour and a half. It covered two days because I didn’t have one the day before for the block day. I went and sat in another room for an hour and a half to do subbing duties. Now I could get some things done, but it definitely wasn’t to the same extent as if I was in my own classroom. As I walked up the stairs to my room, I just felt this surge of anxiety and panic hit me in trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish everything that I wanted to accomplish. How was I going to catch up on all the things on my list? And I realized that I’m not the only person feeling this way. In fact, most teachers in my school feel this way. And if most teachers in my school feel this way, I think it extends out.
So today we are going to work on how we can simplify all the things that you still have to do in your classroom and relieve some of that mental load.
I have a free printable that I linked in the show notes if you want to go ahead and take a look at it. Once you’re done listening to this episode, or if you want to print it out as we go…I know I usually listen to podcasts in the car, or when I’m grocery shopping…so I wanted to give you a little cheat sheet if you haven’t downloaded it already. It feels really intuitive to be able to take these things, and tackle a task list with your own personal or home-style tasks, but it doesn’t feel as intuitive with the classroom.
Let’s go ahead and brain dump everything that you can think of that you need to do for your classroom. And while that feels overwhelming already, know that we are going to be cutting back on it as soon as we can. So I’d say take 5 to 10 minutes and just list out everything you could possibly think of. While it’s clearing out of your brain, let it be released onto the paper. Like the pressure is gone now because you have written it down somewhere and we’re going to take care of it. Once you’ve done that, then we’re gonna get started on step one.
Step One: Delegate your Classroom Task List
Step one to simplifying your classroom task list is to delegate. There are several ways that we can delegate things out this time of year, especially. If you’re looking at needing to get things hung up or decorated in your room, see if you can delegate that to your students. If you need more Kleenex because your kids are going through them like wildfire, delegate that out to a parent email list and see what supplies you can get. If you are worried about how you’re going to organize all of the papers, or there’s things that just need to get put away, see if there is maybe a student TA that is available one hour to help you. Or, if you have students who you feel are reliable enough, then they can help you do some of that as well.
One of my most favorite ones recently, that our school has set up, is where our National Honor Society students have a spreadsheet of classes they feel comfortable tutoring in. So if you feel overwhelmed with tutoring, or a student needs some extra tutoring and can’t attend the campus provided one after school, then they can reach out to these NHS students. Or, during our school wide study hall, basically, we can also call them into our room to help these students out with their work so that it is not just us. Whatever you can hand off to your own students in your classroom will help them take accountability for their own space. Also, it’ll just feel good for you to know that they are willing to be there and help whenever you need it.
So I want you to go through your list and see what all you could delegate to somebody else. What things do you not necessarily need to do on your own? And even if you don’t know who you could delegate it to, put a little star next to it and think about it in the future. Maybe ask some other teachers who they might give that task to in your building, and see what you can manage.
Step Two: Automation for your Classroom Task List
Step two is to look at things that can be automated. Now at your personal life or at home, automating things like bills, grocery orders, that’s not very hard to do. And at school, we can automate things as well. It does take a little bit more work upfront, but it saves you in the long run. So while we’ve automated tons and tons of quizzes and tests, and we know that that is so useful, have you thought about maybe automating bell ringers? Or maybe automating how your students request things from you.
I know right now, I am getting tons of requests from people to have me update late work grades. Or maybe a grade didn’t update, and I thought I had done it and they send me another email….it’s just, there’s so many emails. So what I’m doing now is, I’m actually going to be setting up a Google Form and sharing it to our Canvas class page. It will just say, “What would you like me to check your grade on?” and then they will go through the list of assignments that I share there, and they will just click on it and it has their name. That’s all they need to do.
Each day, I can tackle those four or five things, because my students won’t go through too often, and that will feel like I’ve automated that process a little bit better and saved my inbox from having too much to work on.
Another great way to use automation in your school scenarios is to pre-write emails to automatically send out. You can schedule within Gmail when you want something to get sent out to a group of students. So maybe you have an automatic message that will get sent out to your students to remember to bring in a project that is coming up, or remember to bring in notes from the beginning of the unit so that they can study in class. Whenever you have just a few minutes, even if you are planning in somebody else’s room as a sub, then you can go ahead and pre-type those emails and schedule them to send out when you know that they’re going to need to be sent. That kind of forward thinking is something that can fill any downtime you have when you are not in your classroom, and it’ll save you so much in the future.
A bonus automated tip is if you do want some bell ringers to be digitized so that you can grade them easier, have a student who’s not in those classes type them up into a Google Form for you. They don’t even have to know the answer, you can go back and select that later. Then you don’t have to do that work, and if they need something like service hours, it is a win-win situation.
So next to everything that you can automate, I want you to go ahead and write a quick note as to how you’re going to automate that. What are you going to do, where you’re going to auto grade, or you’re going to auto schedule something that can be done for you.
Step Three: Utilizing Students and Habit Stacking your Classroom Task List
Step three is utilizing our students and habit stacking things for them to do that will help us out. This is not habit stacking more onto your plate. This is seeing what priorities your students can take over that have become just a little bit too much for you to handle. Especially if you’re doing activities like I am, then I know that my floor ends up looking like a craft factory exploded by the end of the day. So what I’m going to start stacking into their routines is before they leave, I will set a timer for five minutes before the end of class, and somebody is going to sweep my room, somebody is going to recycle all of the paper scraps that are left on the tables, and then somebody is also going to inventory the supplies that were borrowed and make sure they were all returned. Yes, I’m having them inventory things because I don’t know where all my glue sticks are going. So somebody’s gotta figure it out.
Habit stacking into your students routines should not be too complicated at this point in the year if you have a well established routine. So if you don’t have a well established routine, some ways that you can make them work a little bit smoother for you, is to go ahead and assign specific students or specific groups to a task, and then set timers for it. So even if you don’t have students who are already assigned to grab papers as they walk in for their group, you can still do that now. If you don’t have students who are, at the end of the day, supposed to put the chairs up on tables, then you can do that now. Just set yourself a timer, automate it, and make sure that you have delegated who is responsible for what. If it’s stacked into their routine then they’ll start doing it regularly, and it’ll take that pressure off of you.
Step Four: Prioritize your Classroom Task List
Next up is arguably the most important step. You’ve delegated things out to as many people as you can, you’ve automated what is able to be automated, you’re stacking things into routine so your students are maintaining the room as it needs to be done, or maintaining different steps that are just not being accomplished by them yet..then we have to prioritize.
This prioritization can go through a whole bunch of different steps. If you’re going to look at just the things you’re grading and the things you need to catch up on grading, then we can prioritize how we can cut back on what you need to physically grade. What can we prioritize is the most important piece of that assignment to actually deep grade. What can we prioritize as actually needing a grade versus not needing a grade? What types of tasks have you written down that are those “would be really nice, but not necessary” things? We all have them.
What can you prioritize as a number one priority? What is “this has to happen no matter what”, put a number one next to it.
The next step would be number two. This would be really, really great if it happened, and I need to try to get this done sooner rather than later.
Three is this should happen, but the timeline isn’t necessarily as important. Beyond that, we’re just going to ignore it. Because at that point, it doesn’t have to happen. If it doesn’t function to help simplify your life in your classroom, or to provide realistic measurements of student success, then it’s not necessary.
Step Five: Delete the Unnecessary from your Classroom Task List
We can go ahead and go to step five, which is delete the unnecessary. If you haven’t been able to delegate, automate, stack it, or prioritize it as a number one and two or three, then it gets deleted off of your list. You’re gonna feel a little guilty deleting these things, but I want you to physically erase them. If it’s on a whiteboard, clear that thing off. If it’s on a doc, just go ahead and delete the whole line. Because all it is is another task that’s reminding you that you’re not caught up, but the importance is not there. Right now it is not worth your effort to put towards doing that, when we’re trying to make it smooth sailing and reduce the hecticness around the holiday season.
That was a lot, and I know that was a lot, but I also hope that it helped reduce a lot in your life and in your classroom. You can apply these steps to any task list you need, but I feel like having examples, specifically set in the classroom, can hopefully help some people make sure that your holidays are a little bit more easy, breezy and actually relaxing when you have time off. And that you can manage to then figure out how to incorporate some of these tasks into times when you are pulled away to complete something else for another person.
Don’t forget to go ahead and grab the printable down below, and then let me know over on Instagram, @engineerdoeseducation, how it’s working for you. Or, if you have some things that are lingering that you just want to figure out how to simplify even further, I’d love to help you out. Until next time.
5 Steps to Simplify Your To Do List
Unit Planning Kit
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Keywords: automate, delegate, tasks, list, prioritize, stacking, routine, bell ringers, emails