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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The end of the school year has finally arrived. You can start fantasizing about the novels you'll read, the closets you'll clean, the places you'll go. However, pulsing in the recesses of your mind is a whisper: You know you should plan next year. It would be so useful to reflect on what you did this year, to pull together some resources for a new unit, and to crack open that book on teaching writing that everyone says you should read.

In those final days of school, contemplating spending part of the summer planning sent you scurrying to schedule root canals. But here's the raw teacher truth: The summer is the perfect time to plan. Even three days of work can yield months of results. Once you start, you'll get into it, and you'll thank yourself next year.

The following are some thoughts about how to plan, when to plan, and what to plan so your time is fun and productive and invigorating:

How, What, and When

Get paid, if possible. Your principal may have some money left over for professional development and may be able to pay you extended contract hours. Ask.

Get units if you need them. There are accredited institutions that offer credit for planning time, and acquired units will advance you on the salary schedule. Many colleges, including the University of San Diego, offer courses online through their continued studies programs. Before enrolling, check with your human resources department to make sure the units from the institution count.

Get a buddy. Choose a colleague who also wants to plan. It's a lot more fun if someone is sitting next to you and the peer pressure will keep you from bolting. If you can find another instructor who teaches the same subject or grade and wants to coplan, that's ideal.

Get started planning right away. I strongly recommend that you don't schedule planning for the last week of summer vacation. Even though by the end of school, I'm always exhausted, I'm also often in a superproductive zone where I'm simultaneously reflecting on the past year and planning the following year.

Whenever I've had to go to professional development during this time, I'm always amazed at how much I get done and how engaged I am with the material. It's tempting to just take off into summer la-la land, but try using the first week to plan for the next year. You'll be impressed with how juicy this time can be.

Plan Your Planning

Set goals. I often hope to accomplish way more than I can. At the end of the summer, I just feel bad about what I didn't do. Write down what you'd like to get done, and then revise that list for what you think you can realistically get done. There's a lot of useful stuff online about setting goals. Take a few minutes to read about SMART goals.

Brainstorm. Jot down all the topics that come to mind. You might have a long list of things you want to plan, or should plan. Narrow the list down by using the fun factor: Go through it and star everything that looks like it would be fun to plan and teach. Then go back through it and circle the items that seem like they'd be really fun. Go with the topics that make you feel tingly.

One summer, I needed to plan seventh-grade English and history. I needed to learn more about teaching grammar and academic literacy, to read about a dozen young adult novels, and learn about medieval Europe. The Middle Ages won out. My idea of fun was to read everything I could about the bubonic plague.

Project Learning

Project learning rates really high on the fun factor -- in planning it and teaching it. And for students, it's the ultimate learning experience. Summer is a perfect time to plan a really great unit. Here's an article from Edutopia.org about project learning that might give you some ideas.

Planning a project-learning unit might include taking field trips, previewing movies, contacting guest speakers, reading high-interest fiction and nonfiction, and wild brainstorming. In short, planning such a unit is inherently fun.

The summer I immersed myself in the plague was really a thrill. In the end, it was part of a unit about how societies deal with death and illness and how epidemics change political-economic structures, social systems, and religions.

Our final project was a living museum -- a dramatization of different scenes in a medieval European village during the plague. This unit was one of the most successful units I taught that year, due in large part to the planning I'd done over the summer. And for me, reading about epidemics constituted major summer fun.

Anything Will Do

Any planning you do 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 to do -- will give you practice in planning that will impact you in the following year. Planning, like all aspects of teaching, is something we get better at the more we do. But remember, teaching -- and learning -- should be fun.

What would you like to plan this summer? What are your suggestions for making planning fun? Please share your thoughts and ideas.

Comments (75)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Robyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! This my first time blogging with other teachers and came upon a subject I always love knowing more about-- becoming a better planner! There were great insights in the article, especially like finding a university that is willing to give credits for planning. I never knew this and would love to look into this further. I also especially love the idea of three day teacher retreats to plan together. I meet with colleagues here and there to have lunch over the summer and collaborate, but these ideas are wonderful. Thanks for all of the inspiration. It's still July and never too late to implement some of them now!

Robyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wow! This my first time blogging with other teachers and came upon a subject I always love knowing more about-- becoming a better planner! There were great insights in the article, especially like finding a university that is willing to give credits for planning. I never knew this and would love to look into this further. I also especially love the idea of three day teacher retreats to plan together. I meet with colleagues here and there to have lunch over the summer and collaborate, but these ideas are wonderful. Thanks for all of the inspiration. It's still July and never too late to implement some of them now!

Kelley Hercules's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This summer, I decided to get my planning done early because I was starting my Masters. I thought I was in good shape having the first nine weeks lessons completed, unfortunately, the changes being made in my district will cause me to redo everything. So I have to manage my time with my Masters assignments and lesson plans. Your suggestions will be helpful. Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Andrea Wisdom's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love your suggestions about how to plan for next year. For me this is difficult because I was a first year teacher last year. I taught third grade and now I'm going to loop with the kids and teach them in fourth grade. I put off my planning until the end of summer and now I'm trying to remember where they were in their learning. It would have been extremely beneficial to plan at the end of last year. Oh well, you live and you learn. I have a great teaching partner so I don't think that I will be wandering around lost for too long.

Larrybud's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a sixth grade Special Education teacher. I find that I must go through a "detoxing" period right after school ends. I must allow that year's students to work out of my mind. I need this time to unwind. I still think of school & try to do some planning. I liked the idea to jot things down. I get ideas but when I am seriously doing work I tend to forget all the great ideas I had.This period lasts about 2 weeks. Then I have about 5-6 weeks that I do no major school work. When there are about 3-4 weeks left in the summer then I buckle down and start doing serious planning.I usually spend 2-3 days at school and 2-3 days at home working on school things.Things have been different for me this summer as I have started classes for my Master's degree.I plan to get out the IEPs and text books next week. I believe that I am a teacher always not just September through June. My mind is continually striving to find better ways to do things in the classroom. Summers allow me the opportunity to do much reflection on my teaching.

Kris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As the summer is nearing to an end, I found myself inspired to dig in and start planning! I recently got a teaching job as a 4th/5th grade learning disabled teacher. I am excited to meet my fellow colleagues and find "buddy teachers" to share planning time and activities with. The opportunities for professional development are endless and I do enjoy engaging in such opportunities and linking these to great lesson plans!
The suggestions for planning are wonderful!

Keilah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Such great reminders! Just making a plan can make such a difference. Having space to lay things out and reflect on how the past year went- things to do the same, things to change.

Amy Robertson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Mary! I agree that it is nice when we don't have to hit the panic button. I really enjoy going into my pre-k classroom with my teenage children weeks before school starts. We play rock music and my kids help me cut out gingerbread men, make nametags, and all the other good stuff that goes along with setting up. Since my kids do help me, I feel their energy long after the first day of school and it is comforting. Even us teachers get "butterflies"!! Amy

Amy Robertson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ashley, that is so nice for your school district to arrange that for you teachers. It certainly would make planning a lot more fun and relaxing!

Mehgan Hilobuk's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What greats for planning for next school year! I printed out a copy of Ms. Aguilar's ideas and sent them to some of my co-workers. I also wanted to share my idea. I have two folders at school Worked and Didn't Work, that I use for new lessons I thought of for the school year. If the student's enjoyed the lesson and learning took place, I put them in my worked folder. If a lesson I planned really bombed I put it in the didn't work folder ( I always write notes on all of my lessons to go over after). Therefore, the ones that did not work so well that is the first thing I do in the summer. I look through my lessons and decide how to fix them or just start over!

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