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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

Jodi Rubke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I definitely think the key is to start small - a little bit at a time. It can be a daunting task to think about 'next year' on the last day of school, after all we just made it through this year! I find that I often have so many resources that some of them just get placed on the back burner or on the bottom of the stack. Summer for me is the perfect time to dive into some of these neglected resources and dig up new ideas and plans.

I also love the idea of just having a little notebook in my purse to jot down ideas, websites, etc... We all know there are a plethora of amazing ideas out there, we just need to remember where we saw them!

Best wishes to you all in the new school year (which is getting closer by the day!!)

Emily Emily's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am going into my third year of teaching kindergarten and tried this theory out last summer. I spent a couple hours a day making a calendar that outlined my activities and goals for the first half of the school year. I have to say that it worked great. When I did my lesson planning each week I referred back to the calendar and simply filled in the blanks. It was really simple, saved lots of time during the school year and kept me on track. I would recommend this to everyone!

Emily Esparza's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Somehow my name got mispelled. Just wanted to clerify it's Emiy Esparza!

Nicole Gaulin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can understand where it would be very overwhelming to wait until the end of August to begin planning for the upcoming school year. I find that there are certain times of the day where I am motivated to do work. These times are usually when I wake up and feel like I have a clear head for thinking and also later at night when I am winding down. It makes life as a teacher much easier if we work on planning for the following school year a little each day. I like to set goals for myself and write list. It is nice when I can cross something off a list, it makes me feel as though I have accomplished something. These are just a couple of my suggestions to help you get motivated. Good luck!

Nicole Gaulin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that teachers are berated too often. There is not a teacher I have encountered that does not work throughout the summer on planning for the following school year. It is true we may not have to be at work at a certain time or have to stay until a certain time, but it does not mean we are not working. I think the summer is a wonderful opportunity to research new lessons and ideas. Summer is also a time when I participate in professional development study circles to improve my teaching skills and knowledge. Keep up the good work!

S. Schroeder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of keeping a running list of books and websites. It seems that colleagues are always making great suggestions for professional development opportunities, but I never have time to check them out during the school year. Summer is the perfect time to dive into that information.

I have been spending time this summer making a year-long reading/writing/spelling plan with two of my colleagues. Our goal was to connect the three subjects as much as possible, and to make sure that we are meeting all of our state and district standards in the most efficient way possible. Our final product also includes a list of resources to use for each activity/unit. We know that this plan has to be flexible, because the needs of our future students will ultimately dictate how we use our time, but having an organized plan to begin the year is helping me feel prepared and excited.

Dianne Amick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach students with mild disabilities and I have to say that by the time the summer break gets here, I am not thinking a whole lot about next school year. However, I do use the summer months that we are out to gather materials for my students, and to do some lesson planning. Because it is necessary to have tangible rewards for my studentts during the school year, I frequent garage sales to find items at a low price. I also look for books in several different reading levels to add to my class library. I also spend time searching for educational webites I can add to my teacher webpage which parents can access from home. In addition, I try to write down any creative ideas I come across in a notebook.I do as much professional development as I can during the summer months.

Gena Hall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I will be teaching grade 5 at a math/science/technology magnet school this year. Teachers are responsible for developing project-based learning lessons that incorporate these three areas of study. Theoretically, I love this approach...it makes learning more meaningful/relevant to students' lives. It's just a bit daunting. The magnet school is brand new (literally--it is a new building) and is also our county's first foray into any magnet school concept.

Our school year is divided into four 9-week periods...we also have four major science objectives. My thought is to use the science (weather, landforms, force & motion, and ecosystems) to drive instruction in other subject areas. Of, course like most school systems, we do have to cover our standard course of study essentials.

Does anyone who has tackled this approach before have any ideas for successful unit planning that incorporates hands-on, project based learning?

Mary Paulson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our district provides us with the opportunity for a week of planning during the Summer. They offer workshops for credit, and time to work with peers or independently to prepare for the upcoming year. I find it to be such a productive time! This year our curriculum is essentially doubling for Spanish I. I spent time working on a unit plan that will help me to incorporate new concepts, vocabulary, grammar and culture. While this is only a small part of my planning for the year, it gave me some direction, and I was able to develop fun worksheets and projects. While our work is never done, I am so appreciative that our district values our planning time in this manner!

Amy Robertson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our district too offers trainings in August. We are given the schedule in June and we have the opportunity to sign up for things like Smartboard training, make your own webpage, math and ELA curriculum. Our district does pay us for our time at school and it also allows us to work at a pace knowing there are no students to pick up after recess or worry about such things as when does sixth period start. In addition, we can go back into our rooms to get organized as early as two weeks before we actually begin in September. This really helps keep the panic button at bay!

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