Are You Inadvertently Causing Your Own Time Frustrations?

Ask every single teacher on the planet what one thing they most need, and you’ll get the exact same answer:  TIME.  There are many ways to save yourself time and loads of frustration.  I give more ideas for increasing productivity and reducing overwhelm in this post.    

Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless teachers plan lessons and units, and they often end up teaching so much harder than they should need to.  They spend too much time on the wrong things.  This leads to frustration, burnout, and an overwhelming desire to beat their head against the wall. Or even worse, leave the profession.  

But here’s the thing.  Those feelings are preventable.  How?  

By planning with purpose.  


First, start with understanding the overarching goals of the unit you’re about to teach.  Don’t just open up the curriculum or the lessons you were handed and start teaching lesson 1 on day 1.  Understand the unit goals, the student work expectations involved, and the connection to your state standards.  Unless your curriculum is state-specific, keep in mind that it was written for the masses–meaning every single part of the unit is probably not necessary.  It also means that you might need to supplement with other lessons.  No curriculum is “ready to wear.” 

Wrapping your head around the big-picture goals from the start, cutting what’s not really needed, and ensuring that you’ve considered gaps in the curriculum saves you tons of time. You won’t waste days teaching things that aren’t very important, and you won’t have to add days and days of lessons because you realize too late that the curriculum missed some things and you now have to make room for them.  This pre-planning work is all about keeping the end in mind, which is one of the best lessons the great Stephen Covey, in his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has taught us.  

This approach also prevents a lot of anxiety and overwhelm.  Raise your hand if you’re looking for that!

Hold on, though.  You’re not quite ready to start teaching.  You understand what the curricular goals are, but that’s only a part of it.  I have no idea where it came from so I don’t know who to credit (if you do, PLEASE let me know!), but one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard says:


This is one of the biggest keys to successful and time-efficient teaching.  It’s imperative that you do a pre-assessment of some sort to learn your students’ needs.  This is critical information, because it’ll guide you when you’re planning.  The small amount of time it takes to give and look through the pre-assessment will pay off in dividends later on.  Know what the overall goals of the curriculum are, and align that with where your students are. 

Think about sports.  My daughter coaches preschoolers in gymnastics.  As the coach, she constantly checks for what skills a child has control of so she can carefully design a scaffolded path to the next level.  She knows exactly where she wants them to be, but has to get them there one step at a time.  One day, one of her young gymnasts  will grow into doing cartwheels on the beam, the end goal.  But she isn’t going to try to teach cartwheels on the beam yet.  Given the current skill level of this young gymnast, working on floor cartwheels would be next, then proper form, then carefully aligning hand and foot placement.   If she tried to get her student to go right to the beam, she’d be spending hours upon hours doing extra coaching. She’d be incredibly frustrated that she’s “teaching it but they just aren’t getting it,” and the child would feel totally defeated.  

It would be exhausting and inefficient–for both of them.  Knowing where students are, where they need to go, and what scaffolds to put into place to get them from point A to point Z is key.  

Teachers are Coaches

Teaching IS coaching, so the same rules apply.   If your curriculum says students will be writing a four-page narrative with a variety of sentence structures and elaboration but they are not even yet writing coherent short sentences, you’re going to have to do a lot more scaffolding, starting with where they really are.  

Maybe your curriculum says students will be cycling through a series of  books in a genre and having bi-weekly book club discussions on author’s craft, but you know that your students haven’t yet built the stamina to produce that kind of volume.  Again, meet them where they are–maybe it’s reading a series with a few shorter books so they’ll have time for discussion.  Or maybe your lessons leverage read alouds for author’s craft discussions, and the rest of the time block they read books of their own choice to help build their stamina.  

Is the goal for your students to write a 7-10 page booklet on a topic, with 5-6 sentences on a page but your pre-assessment shows they are only barely able to write 3-4 sentences across 3 pages?  Start there, and slowly ramp up the expectation on volume over the course of the unit.  Utilize modeling,  conferring, small group work, and goal-setting as scaffolds, and your students will get to that ultimate goal without frustration, quite easily.  

Had you neglected to do a pre-assessment and then expected 7-10 pages from the get-go, the gap between what their current abilities are and what you want them to do would be too wide, well outside their ZPD.  You’d be spending all of your time trying to get them to write with enormous volume, causing you to not have time for the other, more important aspects of the unit.  In this scenario, either lots of important teaching falls by the wayside, or the unit ends up going far longer than it should, which takes time from the next unit….a vicious cycle.    

ZPD is key

Once you know where your students are and you understand the big goals of the unit, you are easily able to adjust your teaching upfront to make the most use of your instructional time.  

Doing this upfront work helps you design scaffolds that will lead your students to build the skills they need to move from where they are now to where you want them to be.  Because you are remaining squarely within your students’ Zone of Proximal Development, the teaching and learning process is much less stressful and much more time-efficient.  

Want some help figuring out how to get the most from you limited time?  Contact me to set up a coaching call, so we can think it through together!   And,  join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators!

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Related posts:  Getting to Know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later, Lesson Planning Tips that Help You Do More, Better [In Less Time, Don’t Just Manage Teacher Overwhelm, Prevent It

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