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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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