Bullet Journaling for Choir Directors
If you’re on Pinterest or Instagram as often as I am, you’ve probably noticed posts about this thing called Bullet Journaling. Bullet Journaling is a fancy, creative way to attempt to keep your life organized. It allows you to custom design a planner based on what you need.
(photo courtesy of bizzyb10_doodles via Instagram)
You can get lost for hours looking at pictures of beautiful journal spreads. There are just so many ideas out there!
I was initially attracted to the idea of bullet journaling because I was already using a notebook to document behavior in my classes. During my first few years teaching, I struggled with classroom management and discipline, so I was constantly trying to figure out a routine that worked for me. A friend once mentioned to me that his Dad (a music teacher) kept a notebook on top of his piano, and that all he had to do was open it and begin writing , and his students would re-focus.
So, I experimented with using my own notebook.
With my first spiral bound notebook, I kept it simple. I’d write the period of whatever class I was in, underline it, and write names down as I needed to. I explained to my students that they would all start with a 100 every week, and when I had to stop what I was doing as a result of their behavior, I would jot their name down. Unless I stated otherwise, each instance I wrote their name down resulted in five points off of their weekly participation grade.
After a year or two of using this system with a simple spiral bound notebook, I finally decided to upgrade. One of the cons of using a spiral bound notebook is that the pages start tearing out after awhile. So I purchased a Moleskine notebook last school year to try out.
It's my new favorite thing, and in my opinion completely worth the investment!
You don’t have to worry about pages ripping out, because everything is sewn into place. I also prefer the soft-cover notebooks, because it seems to handle wear and tear a little better.
The first one I purchased had blank pages, which gives a lot of freedom if you’re into drawing and making cool designs. I thought I would enjoy the lack of structure it provided, but let’s be honest with ourselves: I don’t have time for that. This school year, I went with a dotted grid version, which made drawing pages simple and easy.
Now that I've had a few different notebooks, I've found some basic layouts and systems that function best for me. The pictures below are from my current notebook.
Table of Contents
If you decide to try keeping a bullet journal, do yourself a favor and number the pages first. That way you don't have to keep adding them later (trust me, I've done it, and it's annoying) and it makes setting up your table of contents easy. For the this page, you just add to it as you add different spreads in your notebook and then you have a nice quick-reference for looking things up.
You can be as fancy as you want here. I basically copy paste this directly from our district website. Think of this as your year-at-a-glance page.
Ok, this one is important. This year I tried each month on a half-page. I like it, but I’m honestly thinking about going back to a full page per month for my next notebook. Once I’m done with the monthly calendar spreads, I immediately fill in as many dates as I know. Some things that I include:
Concert dates, not only for myself, but for my colleagues as well
Morning duty weeks (come on, you know these creep up on you, too.)
Standardized testing dates
Field trips ( for chorus, and anything that may effect your schedule like an entire grade field trip)
Due dates for registration ( i.e. CPA, All-State auditions. Most state organizations have their dates published by May or June the previous school year. Check your organizations website.)
Life events ( I sing in a local symphonic chorus, so I usually write my rehearsal and concert dates in to make sure I don’t overbook myself.)
Once you have all of the basics in there, you just add in things as you need to. I constantly reference my calendars during the year, and it’s nice to have in one place.
Lesson Plans- Weekly
I designed this layout based on my class schedule. I have two classes for each grade, which means three total preps. I make a section for each day of the week and have a column for each grade. On the left-hand side, I leave a little box for my to-dos during the week. (Otherwise I look like a crazy person with a million post-it notes stuck everywhere.)
I jot down simple reminders for myself about what I plan to do for the lesson. This also keeps me from repeating the same repertoire too much at once, and provides a visual reminder for me to change things up.
Our school district requires monthly lesson plans from Exploratory teachers, so sometimes I simply scan a picture of these layouts with my iPad and upload them to my lesson plan folder.
Classroom documentation was the original reason I started keeping a journal, and I still use my notebook daily for the same purpose. I now have boxes for each class roughly the size of a sticky note. That way, if I run out of room trying to document that the world ended in my 6th period class on Tuesday, I just add a sticky note on top of the square I need extra space for.
I still use the same system I developed for myself originally. It's quick and simple, and doesn't take too much time away from my lesson if I have to jot something down for later. Here are the basics:
Name only-usually for talking to the point that I feel my lesson is being disrupted. I document this in PowerSchool as "talking during instruction."
Name (fd)- student isn't following directions. If I need to, I'll add extra description.
Name (np)- not participating.
Name + additional description- any other situation that may arise.
Name (iPad)- off-task on iPad, which usually means they're trying to play a game instead of looking at their music. I take ten points off for this one.
At the end of the week, I transfer all of my documentation into PowerSchool, our online grade book. Like I mentioned earlier, my students know that every time I have to stop what I'm doing to write down their name, that's at least five points off of their weekly participation grade. I take participation seriously. Not only do my students receive a weekly grade, but at the end of the 9 weeks all weekly participation grades are averaged and count as two test grades.
Because I put everything in PowerSchool, students, administration, and parents have access to my documentation, which provides way more transparency for everyone involved. Since I’ve started documenting in this way, my discipline issues have decreased, and I have fewer parent concerns. Everyone is on the same page, because my expectations are clear and readily accessible.
I also use my notebook to:
take notes in staff meetings, conferences, etc.
make checklists for cleaning music
list ideas from score study with my repertoire
record my students uniform measurements and t-shirt sizes
jot down music ideas or suggestions I get from scavenging on JW Pepper, talking to other directors, or from packets at reading sessions.
What do you use to organize your professional life? I'd love to hear what works for you!