December is my favorite month to be a teacher. Energized in anticipation of the holiday season and winter break, schools feel alive with cheer. While pre-holiday festivities, assemblies, and class parties are exciting, they also wreak havoc on teachers' time-management strategies.
Further Reading: Infographic: Thanksgiving Fun Facts to Share with Your Class!
Navigating December on your way to a stress-free winter break takes planning, preparation, and self-discipline. Here are some tips to help you stay focused and productive during the busy holiday season.
1. Plan Your Month
If you feel as though time speeds by as the holidays near—you're not wrong. There usually aren't that many school days in December, meaning there's less time for the same amount of work.
Comprehensive strategic planning is the key to managing all pre-holiday activities. While there are apps designed specifically for school planning (such as MyStudyLife) and organizing tasks (such as Any.do), I use Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar to color-code my school and social calendars so I can see where my schedule is particularly congested.
Planning lessons, activities, or deadlines around potential bottlenecks prevents me—and my students—from getting bogged down and running out of time to complete necessary tasks. I can also plan around activities that interrupt our regular routine and anticipate when I'll need to amend lesson plans, assignments, or classes.
2. Minimize the Work
December is as busy for students and their families as it is for teachers. The holiday season is not the time to assign unnecessary homework. It is not the time to assign long essays that your students might not have time to work on—and that you don't want to grade over winter break anyway.
Planning assignments that can be completed across multiple in-class periods will free up everyone's time. You could have your students work together on in-class projects or evaluate each other's papers using a rubric. In-class and ungraded activities save you grading time and offer students the opportunity to collaborate and learn from others. Best of all, it emancipates everyone's evenings and weekends for holiday fun.
3. Ask for Help
Generosity is at an all-time high during the holiday season, which makes it the perfect time to ask for help completing your time-consuming activities. Ask parents to plan and run your classroom's holiday party. Invite volunteers to read with students, complete holiday art projects, or speak about their careers.
One of my colleagues gets by with a little help from her friends during the holiday season. She conscripts a few of them to help her grade more than 100 multiple-choice assignments for her six middle school science classes. As a team, they're done in a fraction of the time it would have taken her alone. Believe it or not, some nonteachers actually enjoy correcting quizzes—and every teacher enjoys having more free time.
4. Don't Waste Breaks and Prep Periods
This one is definitely easier said than done. Sticking to your time-management routine means not getting sucked into social media or online shopping during your breaks or prep periods. Sure, every teacher needs a brain break during the day, and we all want to mindlessly scroll on our phones when our students leave the room, but these are fast ways to kill the preciously limited hours in our days.
Set a goal, even if it's just to complete one task, and make sure you accomplish it during your prep period. According to Psychology Today, the satisfaction of completing a task—even a small one—will leave you energized and motivated to keep working.
It's OK to take a few minutes to check your email or scroll through social media feeds, but make sure you limit your screen time. And don't let your dawdling derail your plan, or you'll end up feeling frustrated and further behind later.
5. Don't Underestimate the Power of Habit
I used to hate it when people claimed that exercise could become a habit—until I joined a 10-week fitness challenge and, after working out six days a week for several months, realized I hated missing a day.
Crafting your schedule so that you complete specific activities on specific days can be a good habit to get into. Some teachers stay late on Thursdays to catch up on administrative tasks; others come in early on Tuesday mornings. Some teachers update their class webpage every Friday; others send home a new homework log and class newsletter every Monday. Start by penciling into your calendar one task that you'll complete at the same time every week. Before you know it, you'll have developed a habit that even the chaos and unpredictability of the holidays can't break.
Further Reading: A Little Prep for Holiday Breaks Goes a Long Way
The holidays are an exciting time, but they're also chaotic. Proactively scheduling and sticking to your routines will help you successfully reach winter break. You'll thank yourself when you're sipping eggnog instead of grading papers.