Truth For Teachers – Changing schools as a teacher is a real challenge—here’s how I eased the transition


This year I changed schools. Full stop. That sentence is tiny but mighty.

I had been teaching for eleven years; the last eight years at the same school, same grade level, and in the same classroom. To say I was content and comfortable at my job was true. I was meeting my professional goals and in positions of leadership.

But to say I was meeting my personal and family needs at that placement would be untrue. As Angela Watson asked throughout the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek course, “Are you moving closer to living the life you want to live?”

Leaving my school and comfort zone was one of the toughest decisions I ever made. Through 40 Hour, though, I learned that I have to make decisions that prioritize my work-life balance. Most of the course taught me to make “small changes that add up to big results.”

All the small mindset shifts I made through 40 Hour lead to a big result: a new job.

I resigned from my tenured position, left my grade level chairperson post, and stepped down as the union rep for my building.

I accepted a position at my home school district that put my priorities as teacher, wife, and mom first. I made the choice that decreased my commute, put me at the same elementary school that my children attend, and allowed me to invest my time into my community school.

Even though I joined the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club almost five years ago, I find it still applies every year.

The foundation of my 40 Hour Teacher Workweek success story is two things: designing a classroom that facilitates productivity, and the list-making system.

Designing my classroom to facilitate productivity

Changing jobs drove me right back to my 40 Hour Teacher Workweek materials. When I started my first classroom, I had countless hours to invest in the setup and wanted to spend my own money. However, ten years later, I had more time demands as a mother of three and a desire to spend as little of my own money as possible.

I dove into Week One of the course: “Design a classroom that facilitates productivity” for the fifth time. I have listened to this lesson every year before school starts, including twice the year I started the course. The number of times I have relistened, reread, and re-annotated this lesson speaks to the power and importance of this first lesson in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek. I was able to set up my new classroom with productivity at the forefront of my mind.

On my first day being introduced to my new classroom, I simply looked around. I took pictures of the space and inventoried the supplies and furniture. I made a quick map of the storage spaces and layout of windows, doors, and bulletin boards.

The second time, I reset the room. I moved all the chairs and bookshelves to one area, leaving all table space available. I took every book, craft supply, and file out of their current storage and stacked them in groups on the tables.

This is usually where mid-project regret syndrome sets in, as you look over the “mess” that you just made of your space. However, I knew a reboot would put my new classroom on a path of productivity.  I analyzed the supplies that were left to purge what was outdated or not needed. I asked my administrator what was required to stay and what could be moved to other new teachers or put in basement storage.

Then I made a plan. I went home and took the time to look at my map with the required and available furniture in mind. I prioritized the space by thinking: “What supplies will kids need to access? What supplies will I need to access every day / often / rarely? How can I track what supplies are used versus not used throughout the year to further streamline this space?”

The days of putting my plan into action were radically different than my first classroom setup. I got rid of all furniture that did not fit the needs of my classroom including my teacher desk! This meant setting boundaries around what was going to be in my classroom.

I advocated to my administration about reducing the amount of furniture while compromising on keeping required furniture from a previous Donors Choose project. I maintained the book bins used in my last classroom while spending money on bookshelves to better fit the classroom library. I purchased plastic bins to better store and access my personal book collection. I considered these investments in my mental health as this self-running classroom would benefit my productivity.

After cleaning, a few decorations, and the addition of plants and lamps, my new classroom has received compliments from colleagues and administration for having an open setup that focuses on student learning.

Once the focus on the physical space was done, I was able to free my mental energy to focus on my new students and planning.

Using a prioritized list-making system

It has been vital in this new placement to work in a way that does not cause me to burn out. I use the list-making system to keep on task.

At the beginning of the year, I bound a year’s worth of the 40 Hour program’s weekly to-do lists into a planner, with monthly calendars in between. The Weekly To-Do Lists are listed as “The 40 Hour Foundations” for this program and are definitely foundational for my life. This planner goes everywhere with me!

I store my curriculum maps inside the back cover and take all my meeting notes right on the list. If the meeting results in a task to be completed, I write it on the calendar and corresponding list. Whenever an email comes in with dates to remember, I write it down on the calendar and corresponding list then delete or file the email. I have been able to maintain a clean inbox!

In the back of my planner I keep a list of supplies that I have run out of or find lacking. When budget season arrives, I reference the list to best utilize the money allotted to my classroom.

Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by too many tasks or unsure of what I should be working on, I notice that I have not been as diligent about my list. As Angela says, “You must get information out of your head and onto a list.”  I take a moment to return to the list and calibrate the needs of that moment and that day.

Everything else can be put on to-do lists for the upcoming days or even next week. I can feel the focus shift whenever I make diligent use of the list. This is also a way I take control of my weekend time with family fun or household chores.

I have yet to track my hours because I do not feel overworked. I have made my family a priority and left work at school most nights. The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek has become a way of living for me. I hear Angela’s words about lowering my expectations or batching tasks or giving kids ownership.

What is your reason for not joining? What is your reason TO join?


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Natasha M. McKnight

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