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August 14, 2018

Planning Your Year in 3 Days… or Less!

Why Putting off Your Lesson Planning all Summer is OK

It’s almost time for another school year to begin! As I reflect on this transition from summer to fall, I have a confession to make. Every June, I’d head off for summer break with a bucket list a mile long — adventures to inspire me, self-care routines to re-energize me, curriculum preparation and planning to make each year better than the last. But I’ll be honest, very seldom did I accomplish everything I set out to do, especially anything related to work. More often than not, August would arrive with a mix of panic and exhilaration, and I’d find myself pushed to complete three months’ worth of planning in three weeks (or three days, if I was having way too much fun!). Can you relate? If so, read on to learn a few tips to make the most of your remaining summer planning time!

It’s easy to get discouraged if you didn’t accomplish all the work you wanted to during the summer, but believe me: whatever you did in June and July needed to be done. Reflection, rest, fun, adventure, healing—these are essential to your work as a teacher. Teachers do a year and a half’s worth of work in less than a year. When you hustle like that, you need your downtime. So if right now, you feel more healthy, relaxed, or energized than you did on the last day of school, then you did summer right. Now, you’re probably ready to plan your new school year! I take inspiration from the old saying,

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Perhaps the best time to start planning for fall was the first day of summer, but the second best time is now. Here are some tips I learned over the years to use the time I had left and keep my sanity intact.

Step 1: Take a Reality Check

Whether you have three weeks or three days to plan, schedule that time now. Be realistic and commit these work times to your daily schedule so you follow them. Now is not the time to say, “next week I’ll do all the things”. You’ll feel better with set dates and times. This will also help you be more realistic as you set your planning goals, since even the best teacher in the world cannot rewrite 8 teaching units in 15 hours.

Step 2: Reflect

For the first 30 minutes of your scheduled planning time, allow yourself the opportunity to reflect and brainstorm. I believe it’s helpful to start with the positives. Think about what routines and procedures worked for your students. Make a list of your favorite units — ones you know you could happily replicate another year without any changes. Starting with these energizing ideas can motivate you in your work!

Then, make a list of the units or activities you want to revise. From this list, choose those you know you can tackle within the time you have. Be gentle with yourself and accept that you may not get through all of these right now. Focus on units you teach first so you start the year feeling strong.

Step 3: Map It Out

During your first planning session, make sure to get out your calendar. Online planning calendars are great, but I really prefer the simplicity of printed calendars. Sitting down with a calendar helps me “see” the year before me, and I really like being able to cross things out, draw arrows as I move things around, and generally just get a bit “messy.” (I make a digital calendar once this paper draft is complete).

Fill in your calendar with the new school year dates first: quarter or semester finals, holidays, teacher workshop days, etc. This grounds your work. Then, pencil in your units for the first month, semester, or if you’re a pro, the whole year. Chances are you have several units or activities that do not need revision right now. Consider highlighting these units or writing them in a different color as a symbol of success. It’s so great to see, “Oh look, my October calendar already rocks!”

Next, focus on gaps in your calendar or those units you’re committed to revising. It’s helpful to see where these “fixer-uppers” fall within your school year. This way, you can focus on the early units first. If you have some flexibility in terms of arrangement, it’s a great time to think about how these units fit with others. Think: Where will these units work best in the year? How many days or weeks do I need to complete these? Block out the number of days you think you need, even if you’re not sure yet what you’ll do each day.

I think it’s best to wait on your day to day planning until you have a solid calendar to get you through the first 3-4 months of school, at the very least.

Step 4: Dive into Content!

Once you have a calendar in place, it’s time to start revising those units and activities. Again, start with the units you teach first, since in a worst-case-scenario, you could revise a January unit once the school year begins. Here are some quick reminders to keep you on track and use the time you have wisely:

  • Focus on objectives first: What do you want students to learn? How will you assess their knowledge? What is the most impactful improvement you can make? Once you have your objectives and assessment, you can plan your daily activities.
  • Avoid the temptation to go down the rabbit hole of resource searches, since these can be collected once the school year begins. It may seem fun to spend hours looking for just the perfect video clip to introduce a new concept, but this can eat up precious time! If you need new resources, schedule yourself a certain amount of time to search, and commit to ‘settling’ if needed in order to accomplish the rest of your work. With any luck, you’ll find a few free hours during the school year to find something even better, but even if you don’t, you’ll feel confident you have a good start.
  • Think about the calendar from your students’ perspective, too: Will your students need to complete homework or weekend work? How often? Consider special school events: Is it realistic that students will complete a research project the same week they are participating in a school-wide service project? Is the day before winter break a good day to start a new unit? Seeing your course from your students’ view can be enlightening!
  • Make sure you have scheduled student work days if you want them to have time to research, write, or create in class. When I was teaching, I needed to schedule shared library days and computer lab time with my colleagues, so it was nice to sign up for all of these dates right away in September!

Remember that your first goal during summer break is to take care of you. Do you feel rested and rejuvenated? Then you have accomplished your most important work! Remind yourself that any planning you do, no matter how small, will be rich and useful. Even if you plan only three days, the process you use, the mental space you will have — not cluttered by a hundred other things — will positively impact your students in the following year. Planning, like all aspects of teaching, is something we get better at the more we do. Here’s to a great new school year!

While planning out your year, explore some of our Instructional Strategies courses to implement in your new classroom!


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