Sunday, October 27, 2013

Put What Matters at the Center

From the first day I entered the classroom as a fifth grade teacher in the New York City public school system, one of my greatest challenges was time management. I would plan at least six different activities for the day and in the end, I was lucky if I got to three of those activities. Our math period would run into science; our writing workshop would last for hours; and our discussions about life or current events would become the priority. Whatever the details, the bottom line was I never got to everything I had planned and I always felt like my kids got short changed. My colleagues were zipping through the curriculum and we were always behind. Was I cut out to be an educator? Were my kids actually learning anything meaningful? Should I be looking for another job? Time management seemed like a crucial skill for a successful educator. 

Well, here I am almost 17 years later and I am still an educator. I am still working with kids. And, I am still lacking strong time management skills. But, here is the biggest difference, I no longer feel like I have failed our kids or staff because of my poor time management skills. A couple of years ago I came to the realization that being successful as it relates to time management skills wasn't just about getting things done in a timely fashion or about getting things done that others felt should be a priority. No, time management was about getting to the things that mattered the most; getting to the things that would benefit from my attention; getting to the things that were consistently at the center. 

For me, the kids, their needs, their happiness and their future successes were always at the center. So, effective time management skills in my world mean spending time with our kids. Spending time in our classrooms each day. Spending time getting to know our kids and their interests and passions. Spending time going out to recess to play with our kids and watching them laugh and have a good time. Spending time in the lunch room eating with them in a relaxed fashion and engaging the children in non-school related conversations. That is where I devote the majority of my time and I think I meet with success because our kids are happy; our kids are engaged; our kids are learning; our kids feel valued; and our kids love coming to school. Although I cannot take the credit for how our kids feel, I do think that I devote a lot of time creating a tone and mood in the building and that directly, and indirectly, impacts our kids. 

So, as I reflect on this idea of successful time management skills, I realize that isn't only about addressing the crises the emerge every single day; or putting out the many fires that flame up from hour to hour; or responding to the hundreds of emails that end up in my inbox. No, successful time management is about getting to the things at the center; getting to the things that matter most; getting to our kids.         


  1. Couldn't agree with you more. I find that my best days and most productive feelings come when I turn down the volume on that "other stuff" and just focus on the top priorities. I read an article once about how saying "I don't have the time" really means "I've prioritized others things ahead of this." It's a different way of considering time management, but it hits home. Nicely done!

  2. Thank you Michael! I totally agree with you - that idea of turning down the volume on the "other stuff" really resonates with me. It is not always easy to do and the "other stuff" isn't the same for everyone but you have to find your priorities/passions and work from there.

  3. Well done, Tony. It's a Monday morning here in Wisconsin and I've had a chance to speak with students, teachers, and parents already after less than 40 minutes of school. I am in education for the students and that is always the focus of my time when the students are in school. I prefer to work on "the other school stuff" when they are not around.