Fifteen Minutes a Day

It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached those last few weeks of school. We have about four more to go at this point. I don’t know about you, but at this time of the year our schedules begin to become more daily than weekly. Each day is filled with excitement, schedule changes, special programs, or all of the above.

It can be hard to keep a fresh mindset and not come down with your own version of “Springitis” just like your students. Some years I get to those last couple of weeks and can’t believe how much I still need to do to clean up my room.

Well, this year, I’m trying something different to make those looming tasks more manageable. This year I’m taking the “15 Minutes A Day Challenge”!

What is the 15 Minutes A Day Challenge? That’s a great question! So many things we need to do are really projects rather than tasks. So, when we look at more than one project at a time, we can become more and more overwhelmed. I know I can.  If, though, we take each of those projects and look at them in fifteen-minute increments, they suddenly become more manageable.

Here’s an example. Filing can become my nemesis! The flow of the day just keeps pushing forward and getting to my filing can go farther and farther down my priority list. Especially at this time of year when there are so many additional administrative tasks that need my attention. I’ll glance over at the basket on my desk and just sigh. Well… that’s what I usually do. But now I’ve taken the “15 Minutes a Day Challenge”!  So during my prep, or at lunch, or after school (depending on my schedule that day) I’ll set my timer and tell myself I’m only going to spend fifteen minutes working on filing that basket of papers. Interestingly, a few very positive things happen as a result. Obviously the pile starts to go down, which in turn helps me feel more organized. The added bonus, though, is the energy it gives me for getting to a task I had been avoiding. So when I’m energized I’ll usually stick with the task longer (if my schedule allows) and get even further along.

I think we’ve all found that if we buckle down with a project, once we get some momentum, we can keep moving. If we tell ourselves that we are just going to spend fifteen minutes (rather than thinking we have to block out two hours) on something, we can be very focused and put a big dent into daunting tasks.

So let’s make a list. What are the big projects that you have to do before the end of the school year? I know, I know, there is a ton! Just write it down. Now what would happen if you took one of those projects like…I don’t know….filing!!….and broke it down into fifteen minute slots across a week? Fifteen minutes a day for five days adds up to an hour and fifteen minutes in a work week. If you spent that much time with your filing in a week, image how that basket on your desk would look by Friday??!

If you need a little help making a list or planning out your year-end projects, I’ve attached a copy of “My Project Organizer”. This is something I’ve used myself and also used with my students at times. I hope you find it helpful.

So are you ready to take the “15 Minutes a Day Challenge” with me? Let’s finish this year strong!

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Mother’s Day Freebie!

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. This year I’m trying a coupon book with my students. The coupons are pre-made, but they will cut them out and make a cover of their own. This is just one thing that we will do to show our moms and the other special women in our lives we love them on Mother’s Day.

I always love to have them do poem for their moms as well. Sometimes we make little books. Sometimes we make framed pictures. There never seem to be enough gifts for Mom!

What kinds of projects do you do for Mother’s Day?

A very happy Mother’s Day to all! I hope you enjoy your day and your freebie!

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Creating Margin

This is my Spring Break week. It’s one of those times where I strive to turn my attention back to family and regain balance of my priorities. The last month has been very hectic with work deadlines, bad weather and schedules. It’s time for me to create more margin in my life.

What is “margin”? Well, the dictionary includes several meanings. I’m referring to this one:

“an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary”

Beyond what is necessary….hmm. How often do we create time in our schedules that isn’t necessary?  Most people I know – including myself – are often functioning from an overscheduled place. To create margin suggests that we carve time into our schedule where we can breathe, relax and recharge.

So what does this look like? Here are a couple of examples.

For me, getting out of the house in the morning with a preschooler needs to be one time in my day that contains some margin. I need to be at work at 8:15, and it takes us about 20 minutes for me to drop him off and then get to work on time. We leave our house at around 7:30. Why? Well, four year olds have a tendency to take their time just a little more than adults. Am I right? If we leave at this time, we have time to walk to the car holding hands, look at the new flowers that are blooming on the lawn, and, he can take his time buckling himself into his carseat. This is something that is very important to me. If we are in a rush and under stress, those precious minutes we get in the morning together are stressful ones instead of enjoyable.

Another way that I create margin for my week is by the way I approach my lesson planning. I try to set aside time throughout my work week to think of one subject at a time and scope out the next week’s plans. Even if I don’t finish all my lessons for the following week, whatever is done has just given me more time with my family in the evenings and on the weekend. It has given me some margin.

My “Margin Project” for this week during Spring Break is to take a look at my daily schedule and carve out time for margin on a daily and weekly basis. Planning for success is key.

By having more margin, we have time to breathe, think and plan. Most of all we have time for the people we love the most.

How can you create more margin in your life? What is an area that needs more margin right now? 

Proactive Parent Communication : Freebie!

With another marking period of report cards in the books, it’s time to think about parent conferences again.

At the beginning of the year, I meet with each parent/family. At this point in the year, I usually just request a few as needed. Sometimes families request the conferences.

I’ve created a simple form for note taking to prepare for these meetings. Just jot down a few notes in each category so that you can have the information handy. This will be especially helpful if it is the parent that has requested the conference. In addition, have a copy of the student’s most recent report card and relevant sample work handy.

Just click on the freebie below

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I hope you find this helpful!

Report Card Writing Made Easier

It is almost the end of the term where I teach, so report card writing is upon us!
If you are like me the very idea of that makes your head swim.
Here are a couple of suggestions to make this “report card chapter” go a little more smoothly.

Templates are your friend! Yes, you are going to personalize each report card comment, but you do not have to start from scratch each time. I’ve created a freebie that you can grab at the bottom of this post. You can use individual comments or combine them as needed for your students. I hope this helps! Please let me know if it does. I’d love to hear from you!

Make a “To-Do” List.
It’s too much to think about all the papers you need to grade, writing pieces you need to read and grades you need to record. Your head will just swim. So make a list. Instead of setting aside a whole day to “do report cards”, set aside increments of time across a week or two to do pieces of the project. For example, read 5-6 writing pieces a day and grade as you go. Set aside specific days to think about just one subject at a time. It really does help to write the whole project down and take it apart bit by bit.

Try not to wait until the last minute. If you can, try to start thinking about report cards a couple of weeks ahead of time so you have time to map out the project of getting it done. It will make the days that follow a little less stressful. Sometimes life doesn’t cooperate and you just can’t plan ahead. If that’s the case, take a deep breath and don’t stress. Remember, everything that has to get done, will. When it is done, go out and celebrate!

Report Card Comments Freebie!

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Proactive vs. Reactive

So what does it mean to be a proactive teacher?

Let’s start by defining “proactive”. When you are proactive, you plan in advance. You take initiative. You make things happen. That’s as opposed to being reactive, where you wait for things to happen and react.

What do the these two different mindsets look like in the classroom? Let’s take planning for example. It’s Sunday night…around 8 pm. You are staring at a blank plan book for your next week. You start saying to yourself, “I hate having to write plans! It’s such a intrusion on my weekend!” Now you are in a bad mood and, not only still have plans to write, but will probably have the worst attitude during the process.  Are you in a proactive or reactive mindset?  Reactive of course. But I think most of us have been there at least once in our teaching career. The fact that we have waited until the last minute causes us to blame external causes.

Okay, so what does that situation look like when you are proactive? It’s still Sunday night at 8pm. But instead of looking at a blank plan book you are looking at…plans! You knew you had a busy weekend ahead so last week you mapped out doing a little bit of your plans each day or during large blocks of time. All you need to do now is maybe finalize a few things and plan out your day tomorrow, or a list of copies you need to make in the morning. Is this idealistic? No, I don’t think so. Is it what my life looks like every Sunday night at 8pm? No, not yet. But it’s my goal, so I’m taking steps in the right direction.

You see, it’s all about mindset. I can sit and stew about the fact that I have work to do over the weekend and place my annoyance about that on external factors. Or, I can take control of the situation. I spent too long being frustrated by that tired weekend feeling and an empty plan book.

Maybe you are WAY more organized than me and have been planning ahead for years. But I will write this just in case you are like me and you are juggling many work and home issues and find yourself too often having a hard time having a chance to catch your breath. If that is you, please keep reading.

It’s a process to change a mindset. I’ve been in the process of a work mindset-sift for a couple of years now. I wanted to change my mindset about work stress and have more work-life balance. My first step in that direction was someone introducing me to Angela Watson and her resources. Her book “Awakened” and becoming a member of the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week Club were career changing for me, if not life changing. If you’d like to learn more about Angela and her resources, click here.

As I started making changes that she recommended, I began to find I had more time to breathe, and think more thoughtfully about my instruction. It’s a process, and I’m still growing, but I’m excited to share some things that have helped if it will help you too.

One big change for me is unit planning as opposed to planning for a week. I have a little one at home, so big blocks of planning time are hard. But, when I can, I take my scope and sequence for a unit and plan the whole thing out. That way, my mind isn’t jumping from subject to subject and I can think more “big picture” about the topic at hand.

Unit planning is just one way to be more proactive. What have you done to take more control of your lesson planning time? Please share.


Welcome to The Proactive Teacher!

This site has been a long time in coming. My name is Carolyn and I’m so happy to finally be able to have a place where I can share my reflections and ideas with you. 

I spent a long time thinking about what to call my blog. The Proactive Teacher is what I chose because I want to be an intentional teacher. My experience is in the elementary grades. I have been teaching for almost 20 years and during that time the profession has changed so much.

I talk to so many teachers who are overwhelmed. They are trying to juggle the demands of work and home and are left feeling discouraged and exhausted. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling that way too. It’s my hope that this will be a place where we can change that together.

When you are proactive you have a plan. Sometimes the plan works, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s okay! If you are struggling with staying on top of all the demands of this critically important job, I hope you will find encouragement here and realize you are not alone in the struggle.

Thanks for visiting,