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  • Writer's pictureSaresha Zentner

3 Ways To Be More Productive and Intentional at School

Recently, I saw a post on Instagram that both shocked me and made me sad at the same time. It was of a schedule a teacher had made herself. It included when she would prepare lessons, materials, and grade assignments. The surprising part was that she scheduled time before dinner and after dinner. At night! After the school day ended!

Is this something you do?

I saw a lot of comments of fellow teachers saying that their nights looked like this too. This makes me sad.

Yes, we have a lot on our plates.

Yes, there is not enough time in the school day.

But. . .

Your mental health is important.

Working every waking hour of the day is not healthy.

You are paid to work 40 hours a week, not more.

The world (and your classroom) will go on and be just fine.

This may sound crazy, but very (very) rarely do I ever bring work home. Now, of course my classroom isn’t perfect and there are exceptions, but for the most part it works really well. And most importantly, my evenings are spent with my family.

Here are some things that work for me:


This is one of the most important things I do that help me stay sane: Organize my Email. I have probably 20-30 subfolders of my inbox that are so, so helpful to me. I would recommend this practice to anyone. The subfolders I have are things like Parents (all parent emails are saved in there), Technology (any updates or troubleshooting info goes in there), Math (all math related emails are saved in there), and so on.

The only emails I keep in my inbox are action emails and the weekly email from my principal. For me, an action email contains something I need to do or reply to. If I file them away, I will probably forget that I need to do something.

Keeping a clean inbox helps keep me focused and I know I’m not forgetting any important information.

Call me crazy, but I do not check my school email after contracted hours. Here are some reasons why:

It stresses me out.

Parents, Coworkers, Principals can wait until the next morning.

It makes me think about school when I should be taking care of myself and my family.


Like the teacher in the Instagram post, I keep a schedule for myself. I just limit mine to school hours.

Before School: I catch up on emails, update my class schedule for the day, write the agenda down for students, and set all of my materials out for the day. This helps me feel prepared for the day ahead. I go to school 30-45 minutes before the bell rings and this is a good amount of time for me to get these things done.

Prep: Each day I get either 30 or 60 minutes of prep time. I’m not sure if your school is similar or not, but this is time during the school day when my students are at specials classes (P.E., music, etc.) During my prep time, I respond to any emails I didn’t get to earlier and grade assignments.

Another thing to note for elementary teachers: be mindful about how much work you assign and then in turn have to grade. Before giving an assignment, ask yourself: Do I need the information this assignment will provide? If yes, then assign it and grade it. If no, then why waste your time and your students’ time? If it is to provide practice, then consider having students grade it with a partner, going through the answers as a class, or even posting the answers so they can grade it themselves (they love that!). If I don’t need and won’t use the information, I am not going to spend my valuable time grading it.

After School: This is when I prepare lessons and materials for the next week. Here is the schedule I try to follow:

Monday: Reading

Tuesday: Social Studies & Science

Wednesday: Writing & Social Emotional Learning

Thursday: Math & Art

Friday: W.I.N. time

You can obviously change this to make it work for you. This keeps me accountable for planning a little each day. My first few years, I would start thinking about the next week too late and then planning bombarded my weekend.

Some days, planning these subjects takes me longer than the 55 minutes I have after school before the contracted day ends. Most of the time, I will stay a little later to get it done. If I am not able to stay late, I will try to squeeze it in another time. If I have a meeting after school, I will plan to prep that subject another time.

You can download this To Do List by clicking here!

Bulk Planning

              One thing I do to set myself up for success is to plan units during the summer. I try to create PowerPoints, student handouts, and worksheets ahead of time so that when it is time to prepare for that lesson, I have most of it done already. I also keep a list of everything I need to copy for each unit so that is easy to do in bulk, too.

This is not something everyone can do, but maybe instead of cramming to plan one lesson each night, decide to spend one night a week to making a unit plan.

You Can Do It, Too!

              When I polled teachers on my Instagram page, 83% of them said they plan and grade on nights and weekends. Out of that 83%, the time they spend on this work each week varied widely. Some teachers said they plan 30-60 minutes a week at home and some said they spend more than two hours a week! You can see the poll here in my Instagram highlights.

The 17% of teachers who said they didn’t plan on nights and weekends accredited it to these things:

Prioritizing time during the week to plan ahead

Not wasting prep/after school time

Using online assessments that are automatically graded

Prior, Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

The phrase, “Prior, proper planning prevents poor performance” couldn’t be truer for me. When I make a conscious effort to plan before the last minute, I perform better. I have more energy when my nights are reserved for family and rest.

Are you willing to try to make a shift in your planning schedule? Your future self will thank you! Comment below one change you’re willing to make this year!

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