We’ve all been there. Sunday night, panic setting in, dozens of books marked and dozens to go with no end in sight. An assembly in the morning and full day’s teaching to follow are just the icing on this rather unappetising cake we’ve baked, somehow managing to find that all of our classes need their books marking in the same weekend and feeling absolutely despondent as a result.
Believe me when I tell you, we’ve all been there…
Planning ahead is therefore not only a useful tool for the busy teacher or education professional, but in fact I’d argue it’s a crucial one. Depending on your training route, you may not have seen a school year all the way through in the same place. You may not have planned a scheme of work or even taught one in its entirety from start to finish. You may not have sat through the length of a parents’ evening or open afternoon. Whatever your training, age or level of experience, a well-planned year will enable you to have the best shot at making the most of what’s coming and also face the unexpected with increasing confidence.
Firstly, we recommend sitting with your diary as early as possible and making sense of your school’s planned engagements - there will be many! Some people use their teacher’s planner as their diary, some prefer an online calendar, some a wall planner. Whatever your method to keep on top of your life, you need to carve out time as early as possible this year to get those key dates into the diary and start to get your head around the crunch points in the year. Blank out the weekends when (as much as we wish this weren’t the case) you will most likely be marking assessments, tests or mock exams - those aren’t the weekends to go away with your uni friends. Also include important personal events and engagements - e.g. the week before your wedding is not the week to schedule your formal observation if you can possibly help it (I once managed to schedule mine on my birthday - in the end not a disaster but it could have been!) Make a marking schedule according to your school’s policy and only take in your books/assessments when you’ve planned to.
Once you have your head around your year as a whole, start to look more closely at the coming term. Where are the crunch points in the coming weeks? Can you batch cook the weekend before parents’ evening so that when you come home that evening you have a pre-prepared and wholesome meal to sustain you? Put that in the diary now so that it definitely happens. Does your school allow for the spacing out of assessments? If so, try to plan so that you mark a set as the next class writes theirs. At the very least, whilst one class or group is on assessment, everyone else should be on marking-light tasks. Be creative!
Finally, zoom in on your weekly timetable. The work of a timetabler is a role in a school I have never coveted - it takes an impressive level of jigsaw-puzzling, the dizzy heights of which I can’t even begin to imagine. Their role is made all the more challenging by trying to fit in part-time needs, reduced timetables and the endless requests of bold staff who like their Friday afternoons kept clear! This is all by way of saying that it’s a tricky job timetabling a school and this year you may consider your timetable less that ideal. Work with it and plan ahead how you will make the most of it. Many staff find that a PPA early on a Monday is a great time to prepare resources for the week; others like a Friday afternoon to mark. Personally, I always preferred a full Friday’s teaching as, for me, Friday PPAs were not productive. So the years when I had them, I always aimed to do admin, email clearing, diary-updating and less ‘brain-heavy’ tasks in those times. I did not always succeed but that was always my plan and it helped to have one! Also look at which days will be best to exercise (I always aimed for the end of a heavy day or the night before a lighter one) and which days could serve you well as a potential ‘night off’ most weeks.
Planning ahead can seem tedious and unnecessary - less experienced teachers may look around the staff room and feel like no one else has to do this. Trust me that they do, and if they don’t and manage to stay on top of their stress then they are very much the exception and not the rule. Your most successful and happy colleagues are always looking one step ahead.
If you’re not a natural planner, please ask for help. Someone in your school will be able and happy to help you if you ask early.
All the best as this new academic year begins, and remember that you can find all of our blogs, resources and content at www.fulcrumlearning.co.uk/blogand on our Facebook & Twitter pages. To listen to this blog go to: https://youtu.be/blbUg8vohgU