Where do you get stuck?: Process-oriented planning and organizing for teaching

I wanted to finish this PALS post yesterday but here it is today, and I have had trouble focusing on a topic to write about. It’s not because I don’t have a lot of ideas swirling in my head. Rather, I have been using much of my teacher brain the last couple of weeks to focus on course planning and organizing, and I just can’t get those swirling ideas about actual teaching to settle. So I have decided to lean in and write about the process of planning, and some ways I have tried to be a little more reflective about how that process works for me, or more specifically, where my process often breaks down.

I will spare you the details of my current course prep because they aren’t that exciting (my brother on the other end of the phone this weekend as I talk about my planning: “Brie, I literally stopped listening.”) But I am probably doing the most planning/organizing/figuring things out/being confused about how things work that I have done since the first year I was a teacher — oh, blessed be those who have never written an assignment sheet before. My circumstances this year are unique to my situation: new job, new education system, newish country, etc. However, I think some of my reflections might be more universal.

First, this post is written in part to recognize all of the administrative/planning/organizing labor that we have to do as teachers. That labor is often not thought of as an important part of the job of teaching. I’m not specifically talking about the kind of planning that involves envisioning texts for a course or making sure the course assignments meet the learning objectives. Rather, I’m thinking of things like posting to learning management systems, keeping track of add/drop dates, getting your room changed because the assigned room isn’t big enough, and so many more. Of course, every job has these more mundane but time-consuming aspects. However, whenever I had an office job, that kind of work — scheduling meetings, updating calendars, communicating with team members effectively-— was considered part of the work that I did. Whereas, now I have trouble giving myself “credit” for that work. I will feel like I have not accomplished much that day if all I did was put up course content on the LMS and finish planning the schedule for the semester.

For me personally, feeling like I didn’t do enough work makes me feel kind of bad about myself, which leads me to other kinds of time wasting/unproductivity. I have to feel accomplished to stay in an accomplishing-stuff zone, so not acknowledging organizing tasks as work has negative effects on what I achieve generally. In a broader sense too, we need to acknowledge all of the work of teaching and talk about it too. We need to talk about it to each other and also to everyone else we know. I don’t think people know how much and how many kinds of WORK go into teaching, and maybe being just a little louder about it would help us value teaching more and show that value with things like higher pay.

The increase in my need to organize and plan this semester got me thinking about the process of completing those kinds of tasks. One of the reasons that I like writing about teaching is that I love process. I like to think about how I get from point A to point B. But I, honestly, except for buying a lot of paper planners, have not thought much about my own process for getting mundane things accomplished. I have thought about my process of writing, certainly, and researching, but I haven’t dissected the process of me writing an email to the class, for example.

When I did break down the process a bit, I started to notice a few places in the process where I routinely get stuck. I don’t really have any solutions for dealing with these places yet, but it has been helpful to pull back and just explore a bit where I get frustrated and think about why that is. What follows are a few of my “stuck places”:

  1. Too many ideas. I love to generate ideas. I have a lot of ideas. But often I start too many things at once and that doesn’t allow me to focus on finishing them. See number 4.
  2. Not understanding how long things take me. I regularly block on 25 minutes for things that take me 3 hours or a morning for things that take me all day. Over-estimating what I can accomplish makes me feel unaccomplished when I can’t get everything done.
  3. Not being able to vary the intensity of my work. I was never a very good skim reader. And I’m not very good at knowing what kind of focus I need to put into something. I’m either completely focused or metaphorically picking dandelions. Putting a lot of effort into everything I do work-wise might sound like a good thing, but I have found that it can make things take way longer than necessary. See number 2. Yes, I can beautifully format a table in Word, but what if I just didn’t?
  4. Getting over the finish line. I have a lot of things from drafts of assignment sheets to academic articles not just half done but more like 75-90% done. Part of the procrastination here is trying to do too many things at once. See number 1. But another issue is once things are finished then they have to go out into the world. That is super scary with academic articles, but it is also even a little scary with assignment sheets.

I don’t want to suggest that my goal here is to “fix” these things and become a more productive worker. I see you, capitalism. But recognizing them and learning to troubleshoot a bit might give me more peace as a worker. Or at least be just a tiny bit less hard on myself.

What are your process concerns when it comes to work? Where does your process work well, and where does it break down? Comment below or tweet us with thoughts!

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