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Teaching Priorities and Productivity

Though I've had a busy and fulfilling summer, a new academic year is knocking, rather loudly, at my door. Much of the professional development I have been seeking out has focused around proficiency-based instruction, assessment and diplomas and I've had some great conversations with people at some of these events in the past couple of year. (MooseCampPBE, and the Maine Summit for Customized Learning being two great examples).

One thing that seems to be a bump in the road for many teachers and schools considering proficiency-based grading is what to do about "work habits". We all seem to agree that it's best to give a science grade for knowledge and skill in science standards, but no one wants to get rid of things like timeliness and meeting deadlines. It is a skill that is relevant in the "real world" --though I might argue is less important than the hard sell we give to our students. Pay your taxes late, then yes, you will have a negative consequence, but how often do we as teachers turn in something late to the office or to students or parents? I have yet to hear of a teacher getting fired, or getting 10% of her pay check docked for passing back an essay later than promised.

Sometimes I think we forget that we are teachers and not just "graders". We have to remember to teach the behaviors we wish to see students use, including meeting deadlines. So do we? When a high school junior tells his social studies teacher he has to juggle all of his homework, plus a job, and responsibilities at home does that become a teachable moment? Or do we put the responsibility fully unto that student and reiterate, "It's due Tuesday, figure it out" or "I Guess you had better make time".

So let's teach some time management, for ourselves and our students. I found some excellent tools out there.

A book that one of my administrators had our entire high school staff read is Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book has some dry points if you ask me, but the chapter on prioritizing stuck with me. Note: Covey has written a similar book for a teenage audience which is more approachable for them. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

In both versions of the book, Covey talks about prioritizing using the Eisenhower Urgent/Important Principle. The idea is that everything you get thrown at you can be described as either Urgent or not and Important or not. Writing a college admission essay that is due in two days, URGENT and IMPORTANT. Studying for that history exam happening next week, IMPORTANT but NOT URGENT. Helping a friend practice for basketball tryouts tomorrow, NOT important BUT URGENT (maybe delegate to someone else). Playing a video game, NOT IMPORTANT and NOT URGENT, in other words this is a distraction.

I had a colleague who would put a four square grid on her desk (like the one above) using painter's tape. Every time she was handed a memo, note, assignment or form, she would put it in it's proper category on the grid and then work through her priority list.

I also found The Prioritizer to be fairly useful to show students how to organize all of their "to do" items. It lets you put in a list of all of the things you have to do/want to do and it will start showing them head to head on your screen. Which is more important, studying for the biology test or feeding the dog? It will repeat that process for each pair of items on your list until it gives you a prioritized list.

A simple technique students (or educators) could practice is the Pomodoro technique. All tasks are divided up into 25 minute units of time (one Pomodoro). You schedule your needed times to complete the tasks ahead. What's nice about this technique is that it has built in time for reflection on the task. If done properly it's recursive.

There are even programs like Apple's Reminders and Google's Tasks and Google's Keep that let you integrate your to do lists into your calendar and email. They will also let you get notified of the task on a date and time or even at a relevant location.

So at the dawn of a new year, it's a great time to show students how to get started on the right foot. And it wouldn't hurt for us to have a plan for the expected deluge ahead. You know it's coming!

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