Thursday, August 4, 2016
Your planning pal, Lori

May this not happen to you.
Brace yourselves. August is upon us. There's lots to do, and we need all our tools in our toolbox!

A large portion of my day involves facilitating 4 different PLCs. That's a lot of curriculum for me to keep straight. That's a lot of obligations for me to juggle. From planning meeting to planning meeting, I find that teachers often forget what was previously discussed because maybe...just maybe...they're preoccupied with eleventy billion other things. One teacher seems to take copious notes in a tabbed binder with her printed and color coded calendar. (Yikes. How do you do that?) One teacher takes frantic notes on random slips of paper. (Bless her. We're kindred scattered spirits.) Another teacher takes no notes. He politely nods and contributes when he feels strongly about something. We spend a lot of time catching up, trying to get back on the same page, and then the bell rings, and it's time to go. 

I'd had enough of this after the first couple of weeks at my new school last year, and I had to find a way to get my teams to collaborate, to organize upcoming curriculum, to fill in gaps in the curriculum (I'm sure that never happens to you), and to ensure skills-based instruction. So often, when we're pressed for time, the quality of our instruction suffers because we're just treading water. Tread no more, my friends. Reclaim your SWAG. 

My SWAG (Six Weeks at a Glance) document is so ridiculously simple and you may already have something like it. This little guy is my BFF because do you remember the part where I said I facilitate four separate PLCs? It's also a great way to pull in all members of your team and keep everyone on the same page while still allowing room for individual teaching styles. Take a look at a Sample SWAG here

If you're on a nine week grading period, I'm so sorry. You'll have to call it a NWAG, and that's kind of unfortunate. It sounds a little bit like a weather phenomenon. We haven't seen a NWAG this size in 50 years! But I digress...

Building the SWAG: I build this FOR my teams.

  • Keep your district curriculum or scope and sequence handy so that you are playing well and within the rules.
  • Strand--I designate the first column as the strand. Here you can identify whether your students will be reading, writing, editing/revising... This should fluctuate often.
  • Genre/Type--The next column helps you quickly determine what genres you're working with, what mode of writing you're teaching, or what grammar skill you're focusing on. You should also find that this changes often. 
  • Standards/TEKS--I'm writing to you from the great state of Texas, so I keep my TEKS handy. And yes...I type them every single time (mostly). As an instructional specialist, it helps to keep me rooted in the language of the standards so that I understand the depth, complexity, and rigor required. 
  • As one six weeks is ending and another is on the horizon, we set aside a meeting for a SWAG planning session. I show them the latest SWAG that I've built. It's never set in stone. Instead, we make sure that the best possible texts have been chosen. Sometimes I'll even put out a request for help finding paired texts. This initial meeting is set up only to solidify the big picture for the six weeks. 

    Maintaining the SWAG: I build this WITH my teams.
    • It works best if you use Google docs so that it is a collaborative effort. 
    • The fourth and last column is designated for "Suggested Time Frame and Activities." 
    • At this point, it's PLC as usual. We use data to determine areas of focus. That's a whole other blog post. We take each component of the SWAG and determine how many days we need to spend with it and what instructional strategies we will use. 
    • I do my best to pull in all team members. If we decided that in the next week we will do a card sort, a close reading of an expository text using a graphic organizer and then an exit ticket--then we will task list those individual items out to individual teachers. 
      • Who is making the card sort? When will you have it done? Are you going to cut it out, or are we cutting our own? (Heads up, guys...always make people cut their own!)
      • Who is making the graphic organizer? When can you have it done?
      • Who will create the exit ticket? 
    • Rinse. Lather. Repeat. This is the structure of our PLCs. It's organized, efficient, and saves time for real brainstorming to happen. The WHAT is already laid out. All I need my teachers to focus on is the HOW. (And gosh...they're AWESOME!)
    Owning the SWAG: Teachers do this THEMSELVES. 
    • Teachers take the big ideas from the SWAG and tailor it to their own teaching style, their own students and class periods, and their own pacing. 
    The SWAG is my favorite. It takes work on the front end, but you'll be smooth sailing before you know it! 


    1. Lori, I'm so excited to see this! I'm moving out of the classroom this year, and changing districts. As an instructional strategist for ELAR and SS at a 7-8 campus, SWAG may save my life! I create a calendar for my reading peeps, but I am anxious to work with yours and see if it might be the better tool!

      1. Teresa, that's so exciting to hear! I love my little SWAG. I have 4 PLCs that I facilitate (even more if you count some of our remediation and MTI classes. The SWAG is a great way to stay organized, keep teachers focused on skills, and foster collaboration. Good luck!! Let me know how I can help you.