How to Make Planning for Next Year Fun | Edutopia
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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 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

Clarissa Miles's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading your post about things to think about over the summer. I would like to say I am one of those teachers that walks out of the door on the last day of school and doesn't walk back in until the first day school starts back...but that simply isn't true. I spend a lot of time at school over the summer working on organizing and prepping for the next year. I liked your list and points to ponder. It reminds me of more things I need to work on :) Thanks for sharing!

Suzanne Ferrell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I work as you described, I like to work with another teacher. It does not have to be someone teaching in the same subject area, a colleague I can reflect with helps. Teaching can become isolating if you don't connnect up in the school's community.

Allison Berglund's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I have been teaching for 11 years, and last summer a friend at shared with me a book that she uses each year to plan everything from classroom management to organizing and beyond. It is called The First Days of School by Harry Wong. The book was written with the first year teacher in mind, but it has forever changed the way in which I prepare for the school year. There are tips and treasures of information included within this book, and I highly recommend reading it and having a copy at hand at the beginning of every school year. Last year, my 11th year of teaching, was the smoothest start to date, and I am forever grateful for this book! It is an easy read and an awesome resource.

Good luck to you! I hope you find this tip useful!

Ariel Sacks's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elena, this post was helpful to me. I always have huge expectations of my summer planning and get overwhelmed. I especially like you suggestion to go with the piece that seems most fun. That may translate into better work on my part and better work from students later! Thank you!

Rob Dent's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, this book is an excellent planning resource! I found it my first or second year teaching (middle school) and made great use of it. I was pleased to see that a few years after I started, my district began giving a copy of it to each new teacher.

Elena, I like your idea of choosing a project to plan over the summer. I've done this numerous summers too, and the results are always worth the time I put into it.

Pegeen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

During each summer I reflect on one area of focus, (this year I am focusing on improving math intervention) read some recent research and plan some changes in my deleivery and student work product in just that one area.

Because I come at it from the big picture down to detail, the decisions I make in the summer keep me focused and purposeful all school year long. The details will need to be dealt with each week during the school year but I now have an identified path.

I can explain my actions to parents and admins (if necessary)too by referring them to the research.

Finally I use the summer to improve, revise and solidify my web page -- new links, post documents plan a calendar of events all online for my students ready to go in September. It of course gets revised, but at least the structure is there.

Kim Pennington's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How to make planning in the summer fun? I've always found summer to be the BEST time to plan! I can brainstorm, research and plot on my own time. I use those early morning hours and late evening hours, not available to me during the school year, to be creative. The best ideas and plans come to me most often when not accompanied by any pressure. Thank you for reminding me about project-based learning ---many online projects fill up quickly and I need to choose my projects and get signed up now!

Donna Guiliano's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This summer I am writing my thesis to complete my MA in Eng. Comp. THat work I am doing during the day. Sitting watching baseball in the evening is a great time to work on flipcharts for my fall classes. I have time to browse the Internet, looking for the perfect video clip, picture,etc. It's also the time I take to work on my class website. A little bit at a time, baseball is on six days a week!

Marcia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

With so many budget cuts, I find myself after 20+ years in education, looking for a new job. How to plan, when you don't know where or who you'll be teaching? One way I'm using my time (besides applying and interviewing) is by organizing my materials and doing some informal study, especially with educational technology. Let's face it: don't most of us teach because we love to learn? Not knowing where I'm going is daunting, but also a bit liberating. I must also admit though, that I'm chomping at the bit to begin the prep. in a more tangible way.

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!!)

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