Time Management: Why Don’t We Teach This in Schools?
By Frank Buck, Ed.D.
When the subject of conversation is “time management,” everyone present agrees, “We all need this.” As the conversation continues, we soon hear the comment, “Why don’t we teach this in schools?” In this article, we explore the void and how we can fill it.
It’s Hard to Teach What You Do Not Know
How many teacher education programs include training on time management? It’s generally not part of the program for prospective teachers. While we teach pedagogy related to math and reading, physical education and the arts, time management doesn’t make the list. Ironically, time management is the glue that holds the rest together.
Teachers who are organized and good managers of their time generally point to a parent or friend who showed them the ropes. At the same time, overwhelmed teachers battle overflowing email inboxes, sticky notes on top of sticky notes, and a Google Drive totally out of control. When you don’t have a good grip yourself, it’s hard to teach it to someone else.
The Right Tool: It May Be the One Students Already Have
I became an elementary principal 23 years ago. One of the most successful things we did was buy student planners for every student beginning at 1st grade. It became the one place to house everything the student and parent needed to know and do.
Every Monday, the morning announcements included, “Open your planners to this week’s page.” I would talk about the events for the coming week and tell the students what to write and where to write. If picture day was happening Friday, my announcement also included writing something in Thursday’s square to choose nice clothes.
Prior to that elementary principalship, I had spent 16 years as a middle school teacher and assistant principal. Seven different teachers and seven different sets of expectations to juggle makes having one place for everything even more critical for students of this age.
As good as the student planner was, it was not without its drawbacks. After all, it’s “one more thing” to put in a backpack or locker. It doesn’t fit in a purse or pocket. It’s not something that can be taken everywhere.
Today’s students have a more powerful tool, one that fits easily in a pocket, goes everywhere, and that students adore. You already know where the argument is headed. That tool is the phone. Instead of viewing it as a distraction, what if we put it to work as the place where everything they need to do comes together?
If a student has a Google account, that student also has a Google Calendar. An icon on the right-hand side of that screen opens Google Tasks. While Google Tasks has its limits, it is more than adequate to help students keep up with their commitments. In the left-hand pane, be sure the student has a checkmark beside “Tasks.” The tasks will then show up in the Google Calendar along with dates for tests and any other event in the student’s life.
The Right Strategy: Model, Practice, and Inspect
No teacher would ever begin the year with, “Class, I am going to give each of you a math book. Take it home and work through the problems. You will get much better at math that way. You’ll return your book in May.”
Yet, that’s the exact approach we see time and time again with student planners. Give it to the student and forget about it. That “dump and run” approach works no better here than it would with the math book.
Good teachers explain and demonstrate concepts. Students try their hands at the new concept under the watchful eye of the teacher. Soon, the student can handle the concept independently. It’s no different with organization and time management.
Just as I started Monday mornings with “Take out your planners,” we must guide students. If the tool of choice is Google Tasks, tell the students to create a new task, how to word the task, what due date to apply, and what details to add. In other words, we teach this skill in the same way we would approach teaching any other skill. Soon, they will add tasks instinctively.
Forever banish from your vocabulary the instruction to students, “Now don’t forget…” Replace it with, “Open your planners. Here’s what to write” or “In Google Tasks, create a task that says…” This routine comes with a side-benefit for the teacher. By reinforcing and modeling these skills for students, the teacher may just become better organized in the process.
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
The answer to this age-old riddle is, “One bite at a time.” Not everything is accomplished in one sitting. Consider the science project, the term paper, developing the skills to make the basketball team, or preparing a clarinet concerto movement.
Think about the accomplishments in your own life that have made you proud. Didn’t they require repeated application over a period of time?
The master teacher helps students identify the steps between here and the goal. Word each step clearly and give each one a date. Put it “in the system,” whether that system is housed on paper or in a digital device. Humans forget. A good system makes forgetting irrelevant.
Even one teacher with a vision for helping students organize their lives makes a difference. Imagine the difference we can make when an entire academic team or faculty begins to model the same system.
Instead of commitments being written on random pieces of paper, written on hands (which we have all seen), or kept in students’ heads, we can give them something that actually works: 1) trap every commitment in a central place; 2) organize the commitments using due dates; 3) do the work. It’s a successful recipe for the 7th grade classroom and the executive boardroom alike.
Skills for a Lifetime
Our world is complex, and that complexity will only increase. Regardless of the complexity, every good thing we do happens through the dimension of time and with the help of a system to organize our actions. We don’t acquire these vital skills by accident.
“Why don’t we teach this in schools?” We can, and we should. Time management and organization don’t fit neatly into any academic subject. However, they are responsible for success in every subject in school and every goal in life.
About the Author
Frank Buck served as a band director, principal, and central office administrator during a career of almost 30 years. He now speaks and writes on the subject of organization and time management. Global Gurus “Top 30” named Dr. Buck as #1 in the “Time Management” category for 2019 and 2020.
He is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders (2nd Ed.). Read about his work at FrankBuck.org and follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck