It’s that time again – schools are welcoming students, the hint of a changing season is in the air, and teachers are spending countless hours doing the myriad of things needed to perfect their classrooms.  For teachers, responding to this hectic change of pace often means creating To-Do lists with the hopes of both staying organized and keeping students inspired to learn.

To-Do lists are great solutions, with plenty of worthy uses, but these lists can quickly devolve into requirements not to be deviated from.  Teachers are a brilliant, creative and disruptive group that shouldn’t feel constricted by self-imposed lists dictating what to do next.

Teachers – to mix it up a bit this year, what if you gave the to-do lists a little break and created a Not-To-Do list instead?

The intrigue of a Not-To-Do list is that it has a funny way of facilitating prioritization, by making distractions and time-wasting activities abundantly clear.  Beyond that, it can even show how actions may not always line up with a greater vision and cherished goals. This new list can then serve as a reminder of what is really valuable to you and help keep your focus on those things that inspire passion about teaching.


Stop comparing yourself to that amazing teacher whose book you read this summer, or the incredible teacher down the hall from you.  Resist comparing yourself to anyone other than who you were yesterday.  Did you do something better today than you did yesterday?  Let that be your focus. You might be surprised how replacing the negative comparisons with a look at what you’re doing right might change your perspective.  String those together and you’ll be a lot closer to actually writing the next book that other teachers read over the summer.

Stop investing too much in making the “plan” work. An inescapable fact of life is that children and teens are unpredictable.  What worked last year, in another school, or for another teacher may not work for you.  What you wrote in your lesson plans may become untenable an hour after the plans are written. Teachers need to be resilient, staying vigilant about how the classroom reality aligns with their goals, and adapt as needed.

Stop confusing activity with impact.  Teaching is a hard job and teachers are hard workers.  Sometimes, however, teachers can equate this hard work with their impact as a teacher.  Yes, that lesson you spent the entire weekend preparing is important but engaging the shy student in the hallway between classes and giving them a reason to smile may have just as big, if not bigger, of an impact.

Stop feeling isolated in your classroom.  Share your successes and failures with your peers.  As a teacher, you are a part of a team with the rest of the teachers in your school.  If the team wins, everyone wins.  Find ways to support one another instead of feeling you have to “go it alone.” Take it a step further and use social media to form your own professional learning community (PLCs)[i].  Many teachers have used these online PLCs to grow professionally and personally, often through efforts to help other teachers.

Stop getting bogged down in things like paperwork.  There are always assignments to check, make up work to prepare, forms to fill out, etc.  But, it is important to remember, none of that is teaching and none of that is why students enjoy coming to school every day.  Take an inventory of your day.  Try to time-box the amount of time you spend on the more administrative things in your classroom.  And, designate some time each day to do something that you are excited and passionate about.  Paperwork is necessary, but when aspiring to great teaching, so is innovation.

Stop letting distractions ruin your focus and enthusiasm.  Don’t forget, it’s always Day 1.  What can you do (or not do!) to make every day this school year feel alive and special?