Mise en place (Part 1)

My wife is an amazingly organized person professionally. She’s been teaching for 12 years now, and knows how to squeeze more out of a few minutes than I do an hour. If you can remember back to your time in a classroom (or are a parent and look at your child’s schedule), how was it that a single teacher was able to conduct 4-7 disparate lessons a day? Every day? With crafts, or manipulatives, or anything else they needed to make it happen?

It feels like magic, but it isn’t.

In watching my spouse work, she breaks down her day into chunks. Every minute is accounted for, whether it’s a scheduled restroom time, lunch, snack, going to and from other classrooms, lesson times, students with questions, whatever. She puts this into a spreadsheet, and she figures out what will work, and what won’t. Every year (sometimes every semester). This takes her around a full day or so. She looks at the curriculum, and makes adjustments to her planned lessons for the year depending on what has changed in that curriculum. She then breaks her lessons down (if they aren’t already), and thematically adjusts them for the year and the kids she’s expected to get for that year (she’s fortunate to know her students before they come, so with few exceptions she knows what she’s getting).

You’d think that’d be it, right? She’s done? Not even close. Every sunday, she spends about 30 minutes re-adjusting lessons for the week depending on events on the ground. She may spend 5-10 minutes a day if needed to re-adjust nightly if needed; but generally it’s not needed. As a rule at her school lesson plans are due the week prior; and so Sunday is her final chance to make sure it’s done.

Once you see it in action a few times, you become a believer. Teachers have from 8am-3:15pm per day (minus lunch, “specials”, and recess) to teach students. They don’t have the 8+ hour days that we have, and they accomplish much more than we tend to per day (weighed together).

How do they do it?

“excellent time management skills” seems like a cop-out. They’re forced to have those, sure. But the practices I see include a fundamental concept that we can practice in our own work. Mise en place. It’s a term that means “everything in its place”. It relates to cooking as preparing all of the ingredients and their portions before cooking, but it works for other stuff too.

For teachers, Mise en place includes the activities before the year starts, the activities before each week starts, and the preparation of all the items needed for activities before the day starts.

What does it include for us? Next time, We’ll go into how we can adopt that mindset, and what that means in developing software.

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