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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

Corie Biser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I remember the summer after completing my first year of teaching I planned most of the day throughout the whole summer. Infact, my husband kept telling me to take a break or I would burn out. I enjoyed creating materials for my upcoming kindergarten classroom. I look at planning over the summer as a great time to accomplish these type of tasks. It is much more relaxing to do them over the summer than during the busy school year. Even though I do not teach kindergarten anymore I still like to complete as many school related tasks as I can during the summer break to help be prepared for the upcoming year.

Nicole Morse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you. A teacher's job is never done regardless of what time of year it may be. I know that even though school is out, I am already planning new things for the next school year. I reflect on what worked and what didn't work within my classroom. I also make my own stuff based on stuff that is too expensive to purchase for my classroom. The summer is the perfect time to plan because there are no interruptions and you can work at your own pace.

Nicole Morse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you. A teacher's job is never done regardless of what time of year it may be. I know that even though school is out, I am already planning new things for the next school year. I reflect on what worked and what didn't work within my classroom. I also make my own stuff based on stuff that is too expensive to purchase for my classroom. The summer is the perfect time to plan because there are no interruptions and you can work at your own pace.

Nicole Morse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you. A teacher's job is never done regardless of what time of year it may be. I know that even though school is out, I am already planning new things for the next school year. I reflect on what worked and what didn't work within my classroom. I also make my own stuff based on stuff that is too expensive to purchase for my classroom. The summer is the perfect time to plan because there are no interruptions and you can work at your own pace.

Laura Townsend's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you totally. Unfortunately I do not plan as well as I should. I brought stuff home to work on and I just need to set a schedule to work on it. I like your 3 day theory. I am going to school for my Master's degree this summer which will further my education but I also know I need to do more planning for this coming school year. Thanks for the ideas on how to do that.

Allyson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This article could not have been better stated. As many teachers feel by the end of the year, they are ready to run out of the doors of the building and enjoy summer. After the first couple of weeks we surely do begin to think about the next school year. Our job never really is over once June comes around. I find that the summer is an excellent time to get a majority of your planning done for the next school year and your tips to making it enjoyable only make it better. My colleague whom I teach with get together three tiems a summer to work on our upcoming curriculum, of course we see each other many other times, but only three or four times do we sit down and discuss school. Finding another person to work on planning with makes the time seem so much more enjoyable. While teachers should be reflective on their teaching throughout the summer, I do also agree that they need to take the time to enjoy some free time for themselves. We work hard throughout the nine months we are in school and I appreciate every bit of what this article has to present for us!

Mary Paulson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's wonderful to have those opportunities Amy. It is so much easier and more productive to work when there are no interruptions! I love to be able to come back into the classroom and set it up before we return to school. I agree that it helps us to prevent the panicky feeling!

Mary Paulson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Allyson,

I totally agree that working with a colleague makes planning fun! During the summer we can focus, and be our most productive. Our curriculum for Spanish I has been revised - almost doubled for the upcoming year. As colleagues, we have been exploring how to incorporate all these new concepts into an already comprehensive curriculum, and to make the students' experience fun and successful. The task was overwhelming and frustrating in the midst of our busy school year. I am, by nature, and optimist, but I kept thinking - "this is going to be impossible".
During a week of summer planning, however,we were able to break our units down. We worked together, as a team, to create lessons for new grammar and culture concepts, and outline each new chapter for our students. The task remains daunting. I am worried that we will discourage students who already have a difficult time learning grammar for the first time in a foreign language. I am concerned that we must move so quickly that we cannot take the time to reinforce key concepts. I feel, however, that I have more time and resources to ensure that our lessons are relevant to our students' lives. I feel as if we were able to connect as a team to encourage each other instead of getting caught up in the "this is never going to work" mode. I am glad to have the time to plan, and I am hopeful that it will make the experience as successful as it can be!

Ashley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My school does something similar. Well, we have one day scheduled as a work day before school begins, but we also have a three-dayretreat. The teachers and some staff meet out of town (to a hotel or resort) and plan for the upcoming year, have a little free time together, and get to know new staff members. I was wondering if any other schools do anythin like this??

Jill DeFusco's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Every June, I always pack myself a bin of things to do over the summer. Sometimes it is hard to get going at first, especially when you have a 2 year old at home! I loved the suggestions for summer planning, and I would like to try at least a few. Happy planning to you all!

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