I am the queen of the to-do list. Seriously. I have at least half a dozen going at all times, from projects for the next ten years to what to get done while my little one naps. And the list of teacher to-do’s is endless. But we’ve been talking about making the classroom more positive for students and for us, so I want to talk about transitioning the to-do list to a to-done list.
You’ve probably heard of to-done lists, and there’s more info about them here, here, here, and here. Most productivity people seem to agree that they’re less anxiety-provoking and more accurate than to-do lists. I want to talk about how they’re especially important for teachers.
To-Done Lists for Teachers
One of the things that gets us off-track is that we deal with a lot of human unpredictability. So you might not have gotten through the chapter you wanted to in second period, but you ended up having a good discussion about language. Put it on the to-done list. Also, I think we do so many things, often at the same time, that it’s easy to forget about the things we did and only focus on the things we didn’t get done.
So what did you do today? You started class on time. You ended class on time. You took attendance. You remembered to pass out those sheets for that thing. Kids understood the directions. Kids volunteered to participate. It might sound silly, but I’m serious. Because here’s the thing: some day, you’re not going to remember one of those things, and you’re going to feel bad about it. The only way to get close to a 3-to-1 positive to negative ratio is to celebrate when you do remember to do them.
What You Probably Did Today Without Even Realizing
And we can make much longer to-done lists than that. See how many of the following you did today:
- Gave your undivided attention to a kid. Bonus points if they were talking about their own idea or something they cared about.
- Were calm and pleasant with a student you have had conflict with in the past. Being able to navigate rupture and repair is an incredibly important skill for relationships and a lot of kids don’t see it often enough.
- Modeled intellectual curiosity and concern for the world around you.
- Modeled perseverance, grit, and the growth mindset that’s so popular right now. I’ve had days where I felt like “didn’t walk out of the classroom” was worth putting on the to-done list.
- Used academic language, because students will pick it up from modeling.
- Bonus points if any of your kids used language you’ve taught them. I’m always really happy when I hear a kid say “white people” or “straight people,” because I work hard to have them realize that those are groups and not norms.
- Modeled etiquette and pleasant interpersonal communication. Kids need to hear it from somewhere.
- And if you still feel like you stumbled, you may have given kids an opportunity to realize how difficult it is to be a teacher. That’s important, because if our work isn’t valuable, their work isn’t valuable.
If You Need a To-Do with your To-Done
If, like me, you still feel like you need a to-do list as well as a to-done list, a couple of parting suggestions I’ve learned the hard way.
- Make a realistic, daily to-do list, rather than an ongoing list of everything you need to do. Constantly seeing “Grade stack of essays” is just depressing, but “grade 6 essays” is do-able. Knock off easy things as quickly as possible. Re-writing “return IEP paperwork” is itself a task, it’s easier to just do it.
- Include things you want to do, like read the headlines, eat lunch not at your desk, and leave school at a reasonable hour. And then make sure those things make it onto your to-done list.
What are you proud of having accomplished today?