I love seeing what’s possible. The sense of excitement when confronted with new possibilities inspires me and drives me to take action!
Some schools have strong collaborative learning opportunities in place, and some of these may even be designed and sustained by teachers! Last week, I discussed an example of this in the form of teachers visiting other teachers’ classrooms!
One thing teachers rarely have the opportunity to do (at least not as part of a typical school-based PD) is to talk about how they plan. While you may share a classroom or planning space with another teacher and get a quick glimpse of how they plan in that time, it’s rare to get a full picture of another teacher’s planning system. We often don’t know how many hours of work teachers routinely bring home, or what percentage of their planning time is grading or lesson planning or researching new lesson resources.
I want to dispel the mystery, at least for my own planning story. I’m going to share with you exactly how I spent my planning time as a teacher. As you can imagine, my planning approach in my first years of teaching was very different from my last years, so I will share both where I started and where I eventually ended up.
Here we go…
While I wasn’t tracking my precise percentage breakdown of tasks at the time, here is my estimated breakdown…
Time Spent Planning Outside of School Hours (Per Week): 20 hours
My Process: To prepare for class, I read the relevant chapters from a textbook and took my own notes. I typed my notes up as bulleted worksheets, and replaced keywords with blanks. I then made slides for each worksheet with images and the keywords bolded and in red. Finally I created a Do Now and an exit ticket on the computer, printed them out, and cut them. Grading-wise, I hand-graded multiple-choice tests and quizzes. I collected a daily learning journal (usually a do now and an exit slip response) from each student, graded them, and occasionally wrote personalized comments to the students about what I saw them doing well in class or what hopes I had for them for the next class.
Percentage of Time Spent on Lesson Planning: 90%
Percentage of Time Spent on Grading/Feedback: 10%
Percentage of Time on My Professional Growth: 0%
Oof. This is hard to look back on. Doing so, I feel sadness for myself and for my students. I don’t think they learned much from my slideshow-worksheet lessons despite the fact I was spending an additional 20 hours each week making the class materials. Luckily, I was introduced to different possibilities for planning, and I ran with those new ideas.
After seeing what else was possible, I experimented more boldly with different approaches to planning. I sought out more PD that could inform my experiments. I grew excited at the rapidly shrinking number of hours I spent outside of work on planning. It was thrilling. I spent years tinkering with my formula, and then realized I was saving hundreds of planning hours each school year.
Time Spent Planning Outside of School Hours (Per Week): 0-2
My Process: I established a unit arc, which I used as an outline for each new unit I designed. These arcs included 3-5 protocols (class activities) I repeated over and over. Now, my planning focused more on the big picture and prioritizing depth over breadth. I identified the one thing students needed to get out of each lesson, knew the one protocol we’d use as a vehicle to get there, and used my planning time to find specific texts/resources that would give students lesson-specific information or prompt their thinking. Since this approach was much more student-centered, I didn’t need to write comments in student learning journals anymore. Instead, I was free to walk around and tell them directly during class! Another big shift was saying yes to lots of PD opportunities. The more I learned, the easier my planning process became.
Percentage of Time Spent on Lesson Planning: 50%
Percentage of Time Spent on Grading/Feedback: 10%
Percentage of Time on My Professional Growth: 40%
At one point, I finally sat down to do the math and realized I was saving myself about 700 hours of planning time a year! I did this even while creating brand new lessons every day and new curriculum each year. The amazing thing was, my students were actually learning more than before when I was spending more time planning! Another exciting piece of this transformation is what I was able to accomplish with my newfound time outside of school. I did things I had always wanted to do—I ran the NYC marathon, and I finished my PhD in 3 years (while teaching).
I want to help you achieve the professional and personal success I did. So, if you haven’t already, grab my 50/40/10 Planning Bundle for free.
Want more free stuff related to planning time? I’ve got you covered.
Over the next 4 weeks, I’m taking a deep dive into all things planning. Later this week, I’m sharing an exciting community challenge to help you take the first small steps to streamlining your planning process.
Next week, look for Tuesday’s blog or be sure to read our community email, where I’ll be announcing the release of a limited time offer that will be the most in-depth FREE resource I’ve ever shared on this topic. (Not on the email list? Sign up here.) You won’t want to miss it!
Until then, continue to see the possibilities, teacher friends.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.