Making the Most of Your Minutes

Instructional minutes are more precious than gold to a teacher.   We might have hours in the day, but that time is quickly siphoned off by lunch, recess, PE, unpacking, packing up, etc.

How do you make the most of those minutes?  For most of my teacher years, I got my schedule and started slotting times in.  I needed 45 minutes for this, 35 minutes for that, 20 minutes for the next thing.  Because no one teaches in an ideal world, I always ran out of minutes before I squeezed everything in.

Instructional minutes are like gold! Make the most of your instructional minutes when planning your class schedule.

One year, after my minutes got cut, I had slotted everything in and somehow only had 5 minutes for independent reading by the time everything else was on paper.  Not cool.  Independent reading is hands down one of the most important instructional times for students.  (I wrote about that here if you want to read more.)  There was no way I was cutting independent reading.

Everything else seemed so set in stone though.  There was no way I could teach lesson X in less than 15 minutes, you know how that goes.  It was time to question everything.

Step 1

Started by adding up your minutes.  {Not the minutes your school says you have.  Those are completely inaccurate.  There is no way you can teach writing until 11:30, get lunch cards/lunch boxes, wash hands, and magically be in the cafeteria by 11:30. }  I added up my REAL minutes.  Take off pack up times, transition times, and get to your real minutes.  FYI-That small number is enough to make you want to cry.

Step 2

Subtract your nonnegotiables-for me it was 15 minutes of independent reading.  Now put minutes out of you mind and moved to percentages.  What percentage of the day should be independent reading? Guided Reading? Whole class mini lessons?  Conventions? Word Work?  Your first try will probably get you to 140%, but keep going until you've only assigned 100%.

Step 3

Once you get your percentages worked down, it's time to start assigning minutes.  When I taught just language arts, I had 125 minutes.  So, if I decided my writers workshop should be 35% of my minutes, that means I've got 38.5 minutes.  You may find that you're spending more time on something than you feel it brings value to your class, but in other areas you're not spending enough time.  Here's a peek at mine:
Instructional minutes are like gold! Make the most of your instructional minutes when planning your class schedule.
These minutes are not ideal.  You might have to start making changes with what you're teaching.  I found that once I worked out my percentages-->minutes I was spending waaaay too long on conventions.  While I really liked what I was doing, it wasn't worth short changing other areas.  (You can read about the big switch I made here.)

There's a story in the Not This But That Independent Reading book (affiliate link) about questioning the benches you're guarding.  The gist of it is, a bench had been guarded by soldiers for 30 years, but no one knew why they were doing it.  Once they started researching it, the order had been written because the bench had been painted and was wet.  Not one ever told them to stop doing it, so 30 years later it was still being guarded.

What benches are you guarding?  What are you hanging onto that is bringing as much instructional value as the time it is taking?  How can you get creative?

•Do you maybe want to spend longer on conventions or word study?  Maybe alternate days or weeks.

•Make a Monday-Thursday schedule.  Make Fridays look different with a longer lesson for some of those things you feel like you're cutting short.

•Structure your reading/writing units so one gets more time than the other, and then flip flop.

It's not ideal, but when you take an honest look at your minutes, it will take you closer to a reality that works.

This is a great exercise for any teacher at the beginning of the year and midyear when it may be time to make some tweaks.  There have also been years when I realized on a random Tuesday that life was just not working, and I needed to make some changes.

Wherever you are in your school year, I hope you'll take some time to do this.