Tick Tock: Using my time effectively

‘‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

L.P Hartley’s epigram from his novel The Go-Between (1953) suggests that the past is an area separate from the present and future. However, the use of the present tense may be seen as an indication that the past and present can indeed merge.

tick tock

The above lines are taken from a section of my undergraduate dissertation about the representation of Time in Shakespearean and Contemporary literature. They make little sense out of context but rest assured I loved writing that essay. Many (read most) of my ideas were verging on ludicrous and certainly didn’t improve anyone’s wellbeing but, despite writing these lines six years ago, I quite often think about the importance of time, the apparent lack of it and the way in which past decisions effect those happening now or in the future. In summary, I quite often think about this daft essay!

In our teaching lives (which should be but often aren’t separate from our home lives), our time is broken up into precise moments that we are expected to fill with defined events in precise ways. Indeed, our (actual) lives are measured by years teaching or training, our years planned by time in school or on holidays (out of our control), our months by key academic events (parents’ evenings, school plays, charity days), our days by lessons and meetings and even our lessons by 20 minute blocks of expected progress. All this measuring, expectation and confinement can be exhausting and make time seem less precious yet more desirable. How many times have you said or heard another say “I wish there was more time”?

The importance of time to do a job well is an issue for all in education. The DfE showed their concern by publishing their now well known report on workload. It can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-pledges-to-reduce-teacher-workload 

For teachers, one chance to reflect on our use of time is through the performance management process – last year for my performance management meeting I ended up typing out all of the things I had done that year that didn’t relate specifically or even at all to my performance management targets. This was mainly to justify to myself that even though I may not have completed X, Y and Z perfectly that I had indeed managed to do some good that year and to remind myself and appraisers that we shouldn’t be judged merely by pie-in-the-sky statistics.


The ‘extra’ things I wrote down included many different types of tasks and events had taken up my time. I am not an exception to the rule and perhaps not even a very good example of people who do more; the majority of teachers I know do extras – run clubs, run amazing events such as DofE that take up their whole weekends, run training for staff, wake up early to lead running clubs! I know I couldn’t do many of these things as brilliantly as those dedicated people.

But, how can we continue to do these very important tasks and extra responsibilities whilst doing our jobs well? How can we use time effectively and use it to celebrate the opportunities we have to make a difference?

Here are a few things I have done to ensure that I can do the ‘extra’ things that I and the students enjoy whilst continuing to fulfil my contract. If anyone has any other tips for managing time better than I do then please let me know!

5 and a bit things I do to create more time:

1) Planning in less time:

It has taken me 4 years to work out that less is more. I was lucky enough to get my role as KS3 Coordinator in my second year and rewrote the KS3 curriculum last year. When you rewrite an entire curriculum for three year groups, you end up with a pretty good understanding of what should be happening and when because you decided on it. It made my planning this year much easier in many ways but harder too.

I now ‘plan less’ by ensuring that I worry about the WHAT and WHY first and the HOW much later. For each lesson, as long as I know the content and knowledge I need to pass on to my students and why they need to know or practise this particular skill or task then I can pretty much create my lesson. How I do that has come with practise. I now have an array of tasks, methods, resources and activities I can pull upon to ensure that knowledge and content is shared with students. I no longer spend ages writing out explanations or example paragraphs on PPTs for my own lessons.  I found @thelearningspy’s blog post on lesson planning formula useful when I first started to plan less: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/leadership/problem-lessons/

I also plan less by:

  • Writing out my models (paragraphs, sentences, diagrams) and thoughts in class rather than in advance
  • Embedding class techniques such as DO NOW tasks as starters and making students create and use their own glossary of key and new words every lesson
  • Having a timetable of events (spelling tests, SPaG tasks, homework due dates, library lessons, reading lessons) that students know about in advance so that they can remind me if I forget
  • Differentiated groupings in place so that I can differentiate as I go along
  • Learning that it is ok to focus on one thing and one thing only – there’s no prescribed number of ‘tasks’ that have to happen in a lesson and knowing it is ok to focus on one thing over a series of lessons suddenly makes planning easier.
  • Having read a number of blogs and books about lesson structure last year, I realised that the most important thing was to model and allow students time to practise the skills and knowledge I’ve demonstrated. We all enjoy discussions and they are necessary but students need time to draft and redraft.
  • Using the already written Scheme of Work – at the beginning of teaching I would often go off piste (this used to be fun) but now that time is even more precious I realised that following a good scheme of work is just as good!

2) Creating structure using a homework/marking schedule:

A homework schedule for students and teachers is really helpful. Each year group is meant to have homework set on a particular day. As an individual I then decide which homework will be on which day so that I am not overwhelmed with homework at the same time. In English, students have to have 3 homeworks a week in KS3. These are split into:

  • Spellings
  • Reading log
  • A scheme of work homework or SPaG homework

Having a timetable for homeworks/spelling tests is wonderfully helpful for me and truly helps with my planning. I have a marking timetable which isn’t always something I stick to – but I always try at first!

spelling lists marking timetable

2b) Creating a detailed timetable just for me:

This doesn’t take as long as it may seem but on really busy weeks I like to create a week’s timetable with all the key events and brief overviews of lessons on it. 

This is alongside my proper planning and is literally for me to tick off session by session. I am certainly single handedly destroying  the fluidity of time but it helps me stay in control and do all I need to do. The example below is from a normal-mid busy week in January:

to do list

3) Sharing good and bad ideas with others:

Sharing within the department, on Twitter, with colleagues from other schools allows you time to focus on the what and why instead of the how in planning. Resources can be tiresome to make and if it’s something you can share then sharing is best. I was and continue to be surprised by the quite competitive nature of teaching and find it odd that people keep things to themselves if it is something that seems to work and is for the benefit of the students (there are times when you  may not want to share of course!). I think sharing is key to saving time as well as improving pedagogy.

4) Employing your students 

I wouldn’t get much done if it wasn’t for my tutor group/the most helpful students in it. 

They support me as much as I attempt to support them. We do lots of things together and follow a timetable of events but on those early mornings when you’re rushing to get things done for a meeting, lesson or an observation or on those late nights when you need to go to sleep then I know I can rely on them. They will tidy, cut up, pick up photocopying for me! Before the bell goes in the morning, they do things 20 times faster than I could because there are more of them! Plus – in desperate times (the end of the school year) they pull down old displays far quicker than I ever could. 60 hands working on a tasks is much quicker than me going it alone. These small gestures save me minutes/hours/days at times. I’ve seen student teachers cutting 30 copies of a task up. I tell them to be nice to their tutor group!

5) Ensuring correct use of Feedback/Review Weeks

Creating review weeks (as described in the ‘Outstanding Classrooms’ book) has really helped with my marking load for KS3. These review weeks allow a larger amount of time to give students feedback and allow them to work on it – redrafting and drafting their work. Review weeks are after their final assessment for that module but allow students to carry on learning and improve the areas they need to work on before moving on to the next section. The reason this saves time is that this marking/feedback doesn’t involve a huge amount of writing. I can read through students’ books and use our department marksheets to give general feedback.

Here are some of the marksheets we use for formative and summative feedback:

Example formative feedback sheet:

draft assessment sheet

Summative feedback sheet:

final assessment sheet

I then use my time more effectively creating and planning lessons that will address any issues. I no longer spend hours marking for observers or students to just look at the grade or level. Although this type of marking still takes up time it feels more worth while as you then spend a week reviewing a task and improving it together. 

Returning to the origin of this post and my undergraduate discussion, effective use of our time makes us realise that the past must be revisited only so that the present can move forward.

These are all things most people already do but sometimes I get distracted and carried away with the detail and precise nature of teaching. My biggest learning curve has been from over planning to keeping it simple – to do what I can and when I can and ensure I stop often. I hope to keep things simple so that the extras don’t seem like extras at all.

Thank you for reading – here’s to making the most of the time we have! 


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