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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.

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Micehlle Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Why is it that many people say that "teacher's have it made, they get the whole summer off!", but we, as educators, don't feel like we get the whole summer off. We are constantly thinking about the next school year and what we need to do to get ready and be prepared once August comes around. When our school has a snow-day, you would think that would mean a free-day to sit back and relax, but I find myself thinking about all of the missed material and how I'm going to squeeze it into the rest of the weeks plans. I feel like my job never ends, and I think thats what sets teachers apart from any other profession. We don't clock-out at 3pm. Our job stays with us whether we're in the classroom or at home with our family.

Catherine Bennett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I always have big plans to get ready early for the next school year. It never happens until right before school starts, and then I feel burnt out before I even see the students. I am hoping to change that for this upcoming year. I liked how you stated to have a plan. I started in April of this year making lists of what I wanted to have done before school starts in August. The main one is to get all my materials sorted, so I am ready to go when school starts.

The best part of summer is being able to go in a few days a week for an hour or two, instead of going in for a day or two and being there for hours at a time. I also try to get fellow teachers in the same grade level to join me so we can plan a rough draft of what we want to cover each quarter. This makes it easier to make sure we get the material we need to have covered done before state tests in March.

I do agree with Michelle though, anyone who thinks that teachers have it easy because we have summers "off" doesn't realize how much work is done in those months. I know even when I am not actually in my classroom I am mentally developing ideas for lessons, or writing down ideas on what I want to accomplish when I am in my classroom.

Blake Bogenhagen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just finished my first year and am egar to start my next but I find most my time filled up by teaching summer school. I would like to do some planning for next school year, but each day I teach untill noon and then spend some time planning for the next day or days of summer school. By the time I'm done with that I really want to just get out of school and enjoy a little of the summer day.

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who feels like I deffinetly do not have the summer off, free to do whatever I like. So far this summer I have really enjoyed the opportunity to teach other grade levels that I usually dont see to much of.

I'm getting a little worried when I look at the calander because after summer school is done there are only 3 weeks left untiil school starts. I really dont want to spend the entire last week of summer planning for the start of school so your tips and comments will be helpful to get the year started off right! thanks.

Sara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I hate being overwhelmed at the beginning of school, but I also hate working on school stuff over the summer. I do think the school year would begin a lot smoother if I were to plan a little over the summer. I'm going to set aside a couple of days a week to work on school stuff and to find interesting lessons. I'm teaching a new subject next year so I can't wait until August to begin planning.

Catherine Bennett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Blake -
I too had this dilemma my first year teaching, because I did summer school also. My tips:

1) Plan small. If you are already at school, plan a bit for summer school, then plan a bit for "real" school. Even 15 minutes a day will help in the long run.

2) Make lists. I keep a notepad in my purse that I jot notes down when I think of them outside of school. Good lesson ideas, curriculum changes, even decorating. This way I don't have to recall what the great idea I had was - I have it written down.

3) Take a weekend and cram if nothing else. Choose one weekend in the middle of July to go into your classroom and plan. It might not seem like fun at the time, but you can get a lot done if you don't have distracters. I take a radio with me, and just rock out while working on lessons, worksheet development, or other necessary items.

Another piece of advice that I have - take those 3 weeks between summer school and real school to relax. DO NOT spend more than 2-3 hours a WEEK planning for next year or you will be too burnt out. Also remember that if you don't get everything done it's ok, you will get it done eventually. It's not like you had all this pre-planning this year right? And you still survived!

Good Luck with year 2!

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