For most high school students, Labor Day weekend signals the coming of the inevitable: the school year. They live through these last days of vacation in a state of selective denial, clinging on desperately to the summer, while knowing they need (and should) get ready for the start of school. But if they also knew that spending just an hour or two now to PLAN, ORGANIZE, and SET GOALS would potentially save them so much headache and stress later, they might change that denial into acceptance, and feel good (or better, we won’t push our luck) about going back to school.
Here are three quick, and very important, TO-DOs you can help your child complete BEFORE the first day of school:
Start using a web-based planner/calendar. Many high schools provide paper planners to their students, which is helpful. But paper planners don’t alert you about an upcoming test or allow you to attach an assignment sheet to a particular event. And to color-code in a paper planner (a very helpful tool) might require a Visual Arts degree. To my Learning Habits students I always recommend Google Calendar because of its features and because of its integration with Google Drive; but you can also use Yahoo! or iCal, etc. – whatever platform you’re most comfortable using. Here’s what to do once you’ve gotten your class schedule:
- Input all your KNOWN COMMITTED TIMES for the whole year (use recurring appointments feature). This includes SCHOOL, PRACTICES, TOURNAMENTS, etc.. Don’t forget to include Holidays and Spring Break!
- Color-code your categories. This will make events easier to find and, on a more qualitative note, it will give you a visual of how you’re distributing your time. If ‘school’ is red (favorite option for most of my students), ‘sports’ is green, and ‘study time’ is blue, it might remind you to put some orange in that week for ‘social time’ – remember to schedule downtime to recharge your batteries!
- Get in the habit of PLANNING WEEKLY. Schedule 20-30mins every Sunday night, for example, to look at the week ahead and plan where you’ll make the time to study for that chemistry test, how many times during the week you’ll work out or practice your violin, and when you’ll start planning your friend’s surprise birthday party! Just make sure you’re not ‘sharing’ the calendar with her.
Time has a nasty habit of moving forward without you. If you fall behind because of lack of organization – losing an assignment sheet, not realizing your English essay is due tomorrow because the assignment prompt was in your Spanish folder – it will be difficult and stressful to catch up. And you might have already done irreparable damage to your grades. This next TO-DO is SO simple to accomplish but can have an enormous impact on your school year:
- Have ONE binder for EACH course. You can get the thinner ones so you don’t have to rent a U-Haul to get to school. But dividing your subject notebooks (again, binders are preferred) can save you from the often inevitable misplacement of important material caused by the “I’ll just throw it in here for now and file it when I get home” syndrome.
- Make a Google Drive folder for EACH subject. Again, using the Drive is just my preference. But more and more teachers also seem to be using it in their courses. Of course, you could choose to make folders right on your desktop. During the year, make sure that as soon as you get an assignment you file it in the appropriate folder. You should strive to always know where all your school-related work is.
3. SET GOALS
Although it doesn’t seem as practical a TO-DO as the first two, SETTING GOALS may be the MOST IMPORTANT factor towards having an effective school year. Planning and organizing are, after all, just tools – but what are the tools for? We usually use them to DO something, to ACHIEVE A RESULT. Setting goals can help you focus on what is important to you (check out my article on aligning priorities with schedule) and can keep you motivated throughout the school year. Here are some examples of goals:
- raise my GPA from 2.6 to 3.6 (shameless plug 1: our School Subject Tutoring)
- be conversational in Spanish at completion of Spanish IV – btw, if by this point you’re not, then SOMETHING IS WRONG!
- make the varsity team in (fill in the sport)
- visit three colleges (shameless plug 2: our College Planning)
- ACTUALLY READ my English books for the first time ever, so I can save my parents some money on SAT/ACT prep! (shameless plug 3: our Standardized Test Prep)
Without specific goals, you cannot make specific decisions or take specific actions. You get lost in the general behavior of “just another school day without purpose.” The result of living with that paradigm is often loss of interest, procrastination, and … well, it doesn’t get any better from there. SO. SET. GOALS.
As always, hope this helps. Feel free to leave comments and/or ask questions. And here’s to an effective school year!