bullet journal

How Keeping a Bullet Journal Increased my Productivity as a Teacher

Bullet Journaling has become a life-saver for me in terms of keeping on task and not wasting my time at home.  When I went back to work after my month-long medical leave, I decided to try doing a bullet journal for my life at school as well.  I’d thought at first about incorporating school-related activities into my regular bujo, but decided ultimately that keeping things separate would be the best thing.  I didn’t want to lose spreads I needed because I filled up a journal too quickly and had to either migrate a ton of content every few months, or make notes about where the spreads were in a previous journal, and carry that around, too.

When thinking about a bullet journal for work, I had several things to consider.  Did I want it to incorporate my lesson plans?  Did I want to keep an attendance spread?  How did I want to arrange the extra-curriculars I manage?  Would a hardbound notebook be ideal, or should I go with a spiral?  How large should it be?  I didn’t want to add too much weight to my bag, especially getting back into the routines of work after convalescence.

I looked around on Amazon, and ended up finding something that fit my needs perfectly.  Miliko makes a spiral-bound, dot-grid A5 notebook with clear plastic for front and back covers.  The notebook is sold in a two-pack, which is what cinched this deal for me.  My school is on a 4×4 block schedule, meaning we change classes completely halfway through a school year.  The two-pack meant I had a notebook for each term, and the size was ideal to fit into my backpack, or my purse.

Aside from the notebooks themselves, I didn’t need any extra supplies for bullet journaling at work.  I am an office supply collector, and I’d been using PaperMate Flair Pens to do my lesson planning already this year.  The paper quality in the Milikos handled the ink from the Flair pens nicely.  There’s some ghosting, and a bit of bleed through if I press too hard or go over a spot too many times, but I can live with that, since it means I have access to a ton of colors already, and don’t have to up my pen game right away.

I used most of the first journal over the remaining three months of Term 1, and learned a lot about what did and did not work for me.  When I started setting up my journal for Term 2, I applied those lessons, and kept going.

The first thing I did was to cover the first blank page in washi, so I’d have a smooth, colorful surface to serve as the cover page.  I chose a solid turquoise color from Scotch, and went over the page twice.  Then, I took a red washi embellished with a gold foil Greek key design, and ran it up the sides of my page.  I found the red at Kinokuniya when I went to New York two years ago, so I unfortunately don’t remember the brand.  The red washi has lost a lot of its stickiness in the last two years, so I ended up grabbing a glue stick and running it over the back of the tape before I fixed it in place.  I could then take a black Sharpie and write my subject and the current term on the turquoise, and voila! Instant cover.


I added my key to the back of that cover page, using standard Ryder Carroll-esque markers for tasks, events, notes, etc.  That meant I could begin my index on the next page. I also used the key page for my class schedule, room, contact information, and recurring obligations.


One thing I learned in my fall term bullet journal was that  I needed to have a space delineated for topics and pages in my index.  Without the line down the edge, I got very messy in my index, especially since I prefer having the topic on the left and the page on the right, like a typical table of contents.  I also learned to keep things simple.  A bit of creative lettering in the title, blue and gold color scheme, and the index pages were done.  I gave myself three pages for the index before moving on.  Here, you can see where my index was back in January, before I really started filling it in.


The first page in the fall, as in the spring, I devoted to the bell schedules we used on a regular basis.  The only one there in the picture is the standard schedule.  I’ve since had to add the two-hour delay schedule, since we’ve had several of those this winter.  Any special bell schedules, such as exam days or event days, will be added as well.  The fact that we’re on block means the schedule is smaller than a seven or eight period school day, and I can fit more schedules on the page.


Facing the bell schedules, I’ve put the administration – their names and the students who are under their purveyance.  I didn’t actually finish this spread until the end of January, because one of our assistant principals left over break to take a principalship elsewhere in our county, so we were without an AP at the start of term.  Having at-a-glance access to which groups of students have which guidance counselors, or which APs I send them to if need be is so convenient.  Otherwise, I’d be logging onto our management system every time I needed to know that information, and that would take time better spent in composing the email to said counselor or AP.


I’ve also added the standard emergency procedures that are unique to my classroom – what we do in a fire drill, etc.  The procedures are blocked out here, since they are sensitive information, but I wanted to at least show you how they’re organized.  One thing I have yet to do is add a pocket to the back cover of this notebook and slip a few emergency attendance cards inside, so I don’t have to scramble for them during the various drills.


I didn’t include the county calendar for the fall, and I felt the pain of not having it handy.  I was constantly asking my students and colleagues about upcoming events for months I hadn’t done my spreads for yet.  Here, I’ve color-coded the dates that need it, and written down important information, like make-up days.  Since we’ve had some cancellations for weather already, it’s been handy.  Students often ask which days are makeup days, or when spring break starts, and with this, I can give them that information faster than they can find it on their phones.


I haven’t used this spread of the new levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy much as of yet, but it’s proven useful when writing objectives for the day, or creating lesson plans the times that I’ve remembered it’s there.  The bright colors of the flair pens alternating help me to see each word, rather than a lines on the page.  And I had fun doodling the flowers and bees in the extra space.


For a teacher, a future log is a must.  I get emails about upcoming events all the time.  I hear about events in meetings, or informally, and need to remember them.  Look how sparse the future log was back in January, during work days!  It’s much fuller now, and it will only grow as the year progresses.  I think for next year, I may change up the sizes for the boxes, based on the events I know come up in various months.  For now, this log, like my weekly spreads, is a simple division into thirds.


The next spread goes with the future log, and is a lesson both in what works and what doesn’t.  I was researching the Calendex method of future logging over break, and thought it might be useful for me.  I set it up neatly, and haven’t touched it since school started.  I forget it’s there.  The Alastair notes are more useful, especially for dates, but I don’t think I’m using it to my best advantage.  I also didn’t realize that you could just add the dots to the month as you added tasks, rather than hunting for the actual day of the event to put the dot.  I’ve made the system less-streamlined, and thus, not as useful for me.


I have a page for guidelines and consequences next, but that just showcases the rules and regulations specific to my class.  Just past that, I have my spreads for my current classes.  Each student has two lines on the left-side page, so I can have their name, grade level, ID number, and their Latin name all in one place.  On the right, I’ve listed the students in the same order, but by Latin name only.  I write down the date if a student happens to be absent.  I have checklists for daily attendance that work much better for me, so at the end of each week, I go through the checklist, find the absences, and jot them in here.  The number of absences a student has determines their eligibility for certain activities, so being able to see quickly how many boxes are filled in is perfect.


The next spread in my journal is my “A+” Log.  Our school has a study hall every day, and so here, I can log which students come to see me during that time, and what we’ve discussed.  This is good information to have when meeting with a guidance counselor or emailing a parent, since it documents when I’ve seen a student and how we’ve tried to work through a situation thus far.


Parent Contact speaks for itself.  If I have to call, email, or conference with a parent, I write it all down here.  Having a written log of what gets discussed is important for a teacher.


Then, finally, it’s January!  I structure my calendar the same way Ryder Carroll does in his Bullet Journal tutorials, and I find it works very well for me.  You can see here exactly when classes started, when my extra-curriculars meet, and I’ve included a little space at the bottom for monthly goals.  This was written on one of the teacher workdays, so it doesn’t include the snow days or delayed openings, but I do make a point of adding them to my journal and keeping track of them.


In my personal bullet journal, I use the page facing the calendar for my habit tracker, important notes, and doodling.  For my school journal, I’m using it for the beginning of the month, provided that the beginning of the month doesn’t take up a full week.  January had two work days and then two days with students at the start, so I split the page into quarters and used the space to plan.  You can see again here where the ghosting and bleeding with the Flair pens occurs.  I know some people find that to be obtrusive, but it doesn’t bug me the way other things in my classroom do (like missing a spot when erasing the board – ugh!).


This is what my full weekly spread looks like.  I divide the page into thirds, leaving me a box for every day of the week, and then a box for the weekend, if I have things I need to do at home.  I write dates at the top, and then use a little bit of fancy lettering for the day of the week and the date.  The size of the boxes gives me enough space for important tasks and events, without giving me too much extra.  It limits the number of things I can do during the day, and helps me prioritize the things that matter most in terms of planning.


At the end of my weeklies, I have a page for the month in review.  I can reflect here on what worked and what didn’t work, things my students did that made me smile or laugh, or insights they had.  I try and incorporate self-reflection into student learning, and I would be a poor advocate for it if I didn’t give myself space to reflect.

Every month uses the same spread; I just change the colors.  February is a dusky pink, and March is a bright blue.

Between January and February, I have a few spreads dedicated to my extra-curricular responsibilities.  I am the sponsor of our school’s Anime Club, as well as the Co-Adviser of our chapter of the National Honor Society.  My Anime Club spread is done in purples.  I keep a list of ideas on the left side, along with my officers’ names and contact information, and other important notes.  On the right side, I have our meeting calendar.  Anime Club meets every Friday, weather and my activities permitting, and we like to vary our events.  My officers come see me once a month during study hall, and they plan the activities for the upcoming month.  Certain things are done every year, like the Shindigs and the Valentine’s events, so we can schedule those in ahead of time.  Others, we leave blank.  Here, I did copy over the fall events, so I could have the entire school year’s worth of activities in one place.


I’ve done NHS’s spread in the national colors (blue and gold), and again, put important information on the left, and scheduled meeting dates on the right.  I’ve also got a place for deadlines, and for notes about events or extra meetings.  As Co-Adviser, I’m responsible for keeping up with the current group of seniors.  I’ve made spreads to help me.  I have spread with the line down the center where I’ve put the current membership, now that probation and dismissal letters have been sent and received.  Names on the left; email addresses on the right.  This way, I’m not logging into my GAFE account and waiting for pages to load before finding a contact.  I’ve also made a requirements spread, which I’ll color in as each senior completes the requirement.  I have a little bit of space at the end, so if I need to add a column for GPA, I can do so (GPA only gets a check mark, saying the student meets the requirement.).


The last picture is to show you the transparent cover of the miliko notebook more clearly.  It’s hard plastic, and has the company logo printed right into the plastic, so if I’m using pages near the end, I do have to be careful about accidental bumps in my lines in the bottom corner.


The bullet journal system has helped me be a more organized teacher.  It won’t clean my paper piles, but it will give me a place where I can schedule “file papers” as a daily task.  It lets me find key information quickly, and take notes at meetings that I can then access at any point in the term.  I can plan activities in one spot.  I can keep track of grades (which I do in pencil) for the marking periods and semesters, making it easier to input grades into our management system online, since they’re already written in order, and I don’t have to alternate between tabs.

I’ve started incorporating bullet journal practices into my teaching habits as well.  I require my students to keep a notebook devoted only to Latin class.  With my level 1 students this year, I’ve been making a new version of the notebook alongside them, and showing them the organization via document camera and overhead projector.  We fill out the table of contents together after we complete a page of notes.  I make a point of not filling in that listing until we’ve done the notes together, so I can do that with them.  Organization skills need constant reinforcement and practice, like any other class procedure.  And even if they don’t remember their Latin five or six years down the line, my hope is that the organizational skills will stick with them.

Are you a teacher who uses a bullet journal, or bullet-journaling techniques in your class prep?  Share your tips and tricks in the comments!