I plan. You plan. We plan!

Thursday, January 9, 2014
brought to you by Lori

Allow me to paint a picture for you. 

It is third period, and you are expected to meet with your grade level team for planning. It takes a while to get started because, naturally, several people need to take a bathroom break. Another teacher needs to heat up her lunch. Somebody else forgot about the meeting, but they're on the way. 

You finally sit down in an impromptu circle of student desks. Big teacher bags crowd the floor. Calendars, pens, pencils, highlighters, books, and cups all find a delicate balance on each teacher's tiny desk. One teacher starts talking about a discipline issue while another chimes in about a scheduling problem. The topic drifts from students to administration to weekend plans at Great Wolf Lodge. Finally, with about 10 minutes left in the planning session, everyone talks about the most recent lesson, why the kids had a hard time with it and how it would all be better if only x, y, or z. 

Planning is over. Nothing happened. You are then up until goodness knows when scrambling to be prepared for the next day. No bueno.

When I became the content specialist last year, I struggled to make common planning a meaningful and efficient time for teachers. Teachers were upset with me. They wanted a calendar. They wanted an agenda. They wanted consistency.

I was upset with teachers. I wanted to not run the meetings. I wanted everyone to share ideas. I desperately wanted to foster collaboration.

This year, I knew I needed reinforcements, so I looked to an unlikely source: a math teacher. Our Algebra I team on campus is notorious for having efficient, fun, and productive common planning. I wanted in on that action! So after talking to the math specialist and taking careful notes, here's what's in place. 

My 9th grade team consists of 3 teachers, most of them all fairly new to the profession. Rather than each person writing their own lesson plans day in and day out, we set up a rotation where each teacher writes two lessons at a time. That's it. Just two. My job is to help teachers lay out the big framework for the six weeks, and then they take over for the nitty gritty. 
  • Each teacher plans two lessons. 
  • We meet twice a week.
  • Let's say that Awesome Teacher 1 is planning for January 21st and 22nd. We will hold a planning session previous to that lesson (perhaps January 16th) where Awesome Teacher 1 presents the lesson plan to the group. We workshop the lesson plan, tweaking it to provide multiple opportunities for student-centered activities. My primary goal in the planning session is to ensure that the lesson is skills-based and that we have built in the appropriate amount of rigor.
Here's the beautiful part. Our campus is on a block schedule, so any given teacher utilizing the common planning rotation could potentially write only 4 lesson plans for the entire month! The scheduled rotation brings purpose to the meeting and provides a built-in agenda. Since teachers take turns planning, it fosters collaboration and allows me to take a step back and function more as support. 

It sounds very simple, and it is! But sometimes it is hard to bring structure to something that seems so big and difficult to tackle. It works well if you are reading short pieces within a six weeks or even if you are working on a bigger piece of literature--like a novel--for the unit. When you map out a big picture and assign individual lessons according to the planning rotation, you lighten the planning load which allows for more effective planning time and...dare I say it...better lessons!

Sometimes it can be hard to get everyone on board, but it is a great opportunity for growth. If your planning time feels wasted and inefficient, map out the next big unit, split up the planning, and see what happens!

1 comment

  1. Fabulous advice, and your description of department planning was a little too accurate for comfort. :)