Teachers, “The A Team” & Time Management

 The Tuesday 8 o’clock time slot was always sacrosanct in my house as a kid, because that was when The A Team aired, and my dad and I both loved that cheesy 80’s action-adventure. For the uninitiated, it was about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces, who worked as soldiers of fortune, righting wrongs, saving beautiful women, and of course, blowing up lots of stuff. Every twelve year olds dream! Looking back I am not sure if it was the show itself, or just the fact that it was something both of us could enjoy together that made such an impression on me.
So why am I going on about a long forgotten, and truth-be-told, fairly forgettable TV show? (Let’s not speak of the 2010 theatrical reboot, OK?) Because no matter how unbelievable, unrealistic or fantastical, The A Team always had a plan. John “Hannibal” Smith, played by George Peppard, even had the perfect catch phrase- “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Which brings us to the topic of this newsletter: How do you use planning time to become better at what you do?

While there are obviously a number of qualities that make one a good teacher (or a good anything for that matter), I would argue that the ability to plan is close to the top of the list. Why? For the following four reasons.

1.  You get a clear picture of what needs to be done.
Woody Allen famously said that 80% of success in life is just showing up. Having a plan in place allows you to “show up.” You can move past the thinking stage into the doing stage. Even if the plan is not perfect, it gets you moving, progressing towards a goal.

As teachers, making lesson plans is second nature, but how many of us transfer this skill to other areas of our profession and life? Speaking for myself, I know there have been plenty of times when I just attacked whatever problem was in front of me, which basically amounts to doing triage. Not the best use of my time. How about you? Do you make a plan around your grading? Do you sketch out a timeline for collecting evidence for your performance reviews? How about your fitness regimen? Any time you find yourself looking at a goal or end point, you need to reach a plan will help you get there.

2. You can start acting and stop reacting
Sometimes it seems like new initiatives pop up every other year, and keeping up with them can be more than a little stressful. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The school year is 9 – 10 months long. Break those initiatives down into 9 manageable chunks and get a little done at a time. The key here is sticking to the plan. This way, if things get hectic at a certain point in the year, you won’t be stuck needing to play catch up.

Too many of us (yes, I am including myself) are worse than our students when it comes to procrastinating about unwelcome tasks. You and I both know that if we just set a goal, make a plan to get there, and then do the work, we’ll be much better off. Trust me this works!

3. Get control
Once you have a plan for getting your job done, you can stop letting your job control you. Many things we need to create plans for are repetitive tasks- grading comes to mind as a ready example. Set up a clear system for grading and then stick to it. Maybe you decide to grade 4 papers every morning before school until they are done. Have a test to grade? Then maybe grading all of the students’ page one answers first and then going on to all the page two’s and so on will allow you to get through them more quickly.  Once you have a system, instead of feeling like you’re overwhelmed, you can feel in control.

4. Open up creative space 
At first having all these plans might sound like more work, but it’s not. Think of your plans like roadmaps. They give you the place and the permission to start with the end in mind. If followed regularly they will actually make you work more efficiently, and allow you to have more time to pursue those things that you are passionate about.

Think about it. If you could save an hour a week by grading more effectively, how could you use that time? You could experiment and create a new lesson. You could spend some time reading up on the latest research in your discipline. Maybe you’d use the time to collaborate with a colleague. The possibilities really are endless. Open up some creative space in your teaching by being a better planner.

Will setting up and following a plan turn you into an 80’s era soldier of fortune? Probably not. (I’m still holding out hope though.) But it will allow you to become better at what you do, and relieve some of your stress along the way. Not a bad plan, right?