3 Steps to Sustainable Planning

Jan 12, 2021

I LOVE all things planning.  In fact, I plan out our family calendar each year in January… no joke the whole year.  But even as much as I love to know what we’ve got coming up and how we can best use our finite amount of time on earth, planning as a teacher can be tough.  You can do some really great work for it all to just change on a dime without any heads up or prior notice, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  That’s just the nature of the beast, but there also has to be a better way to make this whole planning thing more effective and more intentional so that it serves us and our students. 

In today’s post I walk you through three steps that will help you do just that - streamline your planning process so that you’re better able to stay on track throughout the school year and are helping your future self when you go to plan in the years to come.  Let’s get to it.

I hope that you’ve been able to catch some of our recent blog posts  about Finding Your Why or Sustainable Systems at home, all of which are planned and written by my team and I with the intention of bringing you actionable, not overwhelming, strategies you can start incorporating sooner rather than later.

Today’s blog is no different, and will be focusing on ways your planning can better serve you, the teacher. That’s right, we want to consider teachers in every step of our classroom because you are the number one influence on student learning and success, so - duh! - of course we want to prioritize you. 

As I write this blog, we are in the throes of distance learning with some schools being totally virtual and many schools working on some variation of a hybrid schedule or are fully face-to-face with a ton of kids virtual all at the same time.  So teachers are very much in a negative headspace when it comes to the synchronous and asynchronous times of their classroom.  This makes for a planning nightmare right?!?

Absolutely - you’re steeped in planning lessons that aren’t necessarily their best because you’ve only ever taught them in person, and you’re having to rely on various tools you aren’t 100% comfortable with or the motivation levels of your students, and let’s face it - the likely success rate of your lessons just doesn’t look great if we’re basing it on our students’ motivation levels.

Although I don’t have all of the answers to make planning a total dream boat ride, I’ve got three steps that I’ve used and think will help you get a grasp over some aspects of the crazy right now.

Alright - let’s get to it.

Step One - Get digital.  For some reason when I say that I can’t help but sing it to the get physical song - you know, “Get Di-Gi-Tal, di-gi-tal”.   No?  Ok, back to the point.  

It’s a rather obvious step, but let me explain a bit.  I LOVE planners.  Even teacher planners with the color coded flair pens and stickers - it’s all so coordinated and organized.  I’m putting in the stake in the ground here with where I stand on this and it may not be your jam, and that’s ok,  but these planners are so much work.  The weekly upkeep that’s necessary for physically writing all the ins and outs of your classroom everyday… it’s just a lot.  Plus, it’s a lot of work that doesn’t keep.

In all of my online courses for teachers you will hear me say that it is absolutely imperative for teachers to consider what return they will get on their time investment.  The case is no different with our teacher planners.

Getting digital with our plans allows the plans to need very minor changes year after year, whereas if I write out my plans in my planner for this year, I’ve got to rewrite it for next year to make sure I’ve included updates, but also because the dates are all wrong.  Those little changes can seem HUGE when you have to rewrite it all.  But if it’s digital - it’s a quick highlight, update, and bam you’re done.

Now just think about if you work on a team.  We talk about this topic quite a bit in our Sustainable Teacher Challenge which at the time this blog will be published ended a couple weeks ago, but you can sign up for the non-live but still very applicable and awesome experience that is the challenge in the link at the end of this blog.  Working on a team is really great because you can share the workload.  That is, as long as the workload is truly shared.  One of the ways to make sure that the workload is in fact shared amongst team members is to make your lesson plans digital and shared via a Google Doc, for instance, that everyone can help create and update as necessary.

Here’s the other benefit of digital planning - links.  I bet that this pandemic and distance learning has forced you to make more if not all of your resources and activities digitally accessible.  If you plan digitally, all you have to do to know where all those resources and activities are is to directly hyperlink them right there in the lesson plan.  Phew, endless searching of your Google Drive.  It’s ready and waiting right as you read your lesson plan next year to know what you’re doing for a particular topic or standard.

Step two of sustainable planning is to batch plan.  What is batch planning?  It’s exactly as it sounds.  Instead of planning one day or even one week at a time, I want to challenge you to plan one unit at a time (that’s about a two to three week time span depending on the unit and your grade level in some instances).

You might be thinking, well what if I batch plan and then by the time I get to the middle or end of the unit, I need to make changes???  Well of course you will - that’s because you’re using formative data and doing all the responsible things as a professional educator, and you know what makes it ok and really awesome to make changes??  If you’re planning digital, it ain’t no thang chicken wang - it’s a super simple update rather than all the erasing or crossing out and writing in the margins in your fancy planner.

This means, if you’re going to batch plan, that you’ll want to get out ahead of this.  You’ll need to be planning your next unit while you’re still teaching the one ahead of it.  This year may or may not be the time for you to do that.  And if it’s not, that is totally ok, and the summer will be a great opportunity to start this habit.  In fact, I like starting the school year with the first two units planned.  I don’t go much farther ahead than that since I’ll need to meet with my teams first and don’t want to plan too much that will just be changed.  But having those first two units done allows me to get through the hustle of the back to school season, and then get going on my batch planning for unit three.

Now, this tip is not just about the time you spend planning and what you plan in that designated time.  I actually mean that in your lesson plans, instead of doing one document for each of your lessons, if you have autonomy on what your lesson plans look like, don’t make one doc per lesson plan - instead make one doc per unit with a table that outlines each day for you.  This means you’ll really need to streamline what you include in your daily plans within your unit.  Keep it to the absolutely basics, and include those links which will totally help your future self when you go to teach the lesson again.

Our last step of finding more sustainable planning practices is step three and it’s all about your calendar.  Planning isn’t only about the daily lesson plans - it’s about the entire year and have a time reference for every unit so you know when to be wrapping things up and moving onto the next unit in order to get through your content in time. 

So step three is to plan your entire year before it starts.

Woah - that’s real extra, I know, but let me explain.  I don’t mean to lesson or unit plan every single day.  Instead I mean to take a full year calendar - I like working inside the Google Calendar app - and pencil in the start and end of each unit.  SO you’ll take your full year calendar and first mark the end of each quarter, holidays, and any big assessments like final exams, state testing, etc.  Then work backwards from the end of the year, scheduling in every single unit and how many days you’ll need to get through the content.

Why would you take the time to help your future self here?  Because when you’re in the thick of the school year and you’re feeling really behind in your content, you’ll now, instead have a better idea of how long you should’ve spent on a topic or unit and can make appropriate adjustments so that you don’t get too far behind.

Now, if you’re reading this blog and it’s NOT the summer or very beginning of the school year, no worries.  Maybe start by planning the next larger chunk of time, for instance, the second semester or rest of the school year… then over the summer you can be really intentional about literally mapping out your curriculum on the calendar so that you are using time more effectively.

Let’s do a quick recap of our steps for more sustainable planning.

Step one: Get digital in your planning process. There are a ton of benefits but the quick summary is that it allows you to make updates and changes easier, include links to activities so they aren’t loss in the abyss of your Google Drive, and collaborate with your team much more efficiently.

Step two: Batch plan.  Instead of planning one lesson at a time, set out a designated time to plan an entire unit - and do so all in one document.  I like to use a table to organize the dates and  flow of each day, making sure to keep the daily plans to the basics.

And step three: Map out your entire year before it starts with the big important dates of the year, as well as the start and end dates of each of your units. If you’re already in the middle of your school year, start this habit by mapping out the next quarter or semester.  And remember, it’s always best to plan backwards.

Alright my friends, that’s it for today.  I’m excited for what we have coming up to continue in this theme of sustainability in your classroom.  Be sure to check out our sustainable teacher challenge link below, and stay tuned for more information on what it is to Declare the Student Process and how to make parent communication more effective and sustainable for you.

I’ll see you then.

P.S.  If the message in this post resonates with you and you'd like more directed guidance in building a sustainable classroom, then the Sustainable Teacher 7-Day Challenge is for you.  It's a totally free challenge that we'll send you with 7 daily tasks that help you take baby steps toward sustainability



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