Planning for a day of teaching takes a lot of time and effort. There are lessons to design, materials to make, records to keep, and a wide range of abilities and achievement levels to support in each lesson. Your prep period is probably not getting any longer, but by improving your efficiency during the planning stage, you can save the time you need to complete the many other tasks you have each day. The following list outlines seven efficiencies and mindset reminders to consider as you plan your next instructional day.
Many teachers are perfectionists. We want the best for our students and will often do whatever it takes to make that happen. While high standards are important, this is a gentle reminder to be kind and give yourself a little grace. Instead of striving to be perfect, try to be the best you can in the time you have available. This important mindset shift can relieve some of the pressure you may be feeling. You don’t need to do everything at once or revamp every lesson every year. If you change just 20% of what you do each year, you will have improved everything in just five years! To put it in context, that’s the equivalent of revising one day per week. Thinking of personal improvements in these smaller, more manageable chunks will not only reduce the pressure you put on yourself but also give you a more manageable goal and reduce the amount of time you feel you need to redo lessons.
You know the saying, “many hands make light work.” This is true when it comes to planning. If you work on a team, take advantage of your many available hands. Rather than having everyone do all the same work, divide it up. If each person on a team of five creates one lesson, the week is done.
Of course, you will want to ensure your team has a common understanding of instructional philosophy and lesson quality before you begin. Once you have a common goal and similar expectations, you can divide the work in whatever way makes sense for your team, such as workload or skill set. For instance, one member might be great at concepts and instructional strategies, while another might be gifted at design. In this situation, one person can design the lesson while another creates the materials.
Another approach is to design the first lessons as a team, so everyone is on board with the concept and framework before dividing the rest of the work. Then each person develops an entire lesson. This can ensure consistency in the product, reduce the workload, and help everyone feel satisfied with the final product.
There is no sense in having everyone recreate the same resource from scratch when there is already a version stored in someone’s Google Drive or Microsoft Teams folder. Working in isolation can lead to needless duplication of effort.
In the age of learning management systems and digital resources, sharing has become easier than ever, so take advantage of those efficiencies. If your platform allows it, add others as co-teachers in your online learning space. Often, this will enable each member to easily copy items from another course and paste them into their own. Once it’s in their course, these resources can be edited, adjusted, and personalized as needed. This is especially helpful for new teachers. Not only will it save them time, but it is also a great opportunity for veteran teachers to model best practices.
If resources have been created and stored in an online space like Google Drive or Microsoft Teams, you can share access with others. To take this to another level, consider how resources can be shared schoolwide and districtwide through these common access points. This broader sharing can amplify the benefits of a collaborative work and storage space.
While there are times you will want physical copies, going digital with the majority of your resources will save you lots of time. Not only will you no longer have to spend your prep period standing at the copier, but you can also easily update resources on the fly with a quick click of the mouse. Modifying a general format that works well is as straightforward as making a copy and changing specific content. If you taught remote lessons during the pandemic, you might already have created many of these digital materials.
Additionally, the distribution and collection of digital resources are made fast and efficient through a learning management system. With a digital system, you will no longer need to search piles of papers on your desk for that missing student assignment. Everything is filed and time-stamped in your online submission system. This eliminates any disagreement with a student or parent over whether or when an assignment was submitted. This online system can also make finding and reusing materials from previous years much easier. In many cases, you can simply import an entire course into your new term and then update as needed. This can be a huge time saver.
Another time-saving aspect of having everything housed online is that it reduces the time you need to spend explaining and providing make-up work for students who are absent. Students can simply go online and see what they missed. If they still have questions, then they can ask, but making this a self-service model will reduce the number of questions and take a lot off your plate each day. You might even find that students start this process on their own when they’re home sick.
Remember, the one doing the work is the one doing the learning, so make sure your students are the ones who are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in your classroom. Blended learning strategies provide great opportunities to create independent learners who own the work. By designing playlists and stations, students can guide their learning while you will regain time to meet with small groups of students at a teacher station. These lessons may take a little longer to prepare initially, but they are big time-savers the second time around and free up a lot of teacher time during each class period. Explore the AVID Open Access collection about blended learning strategies for more details.
Project- and inquiry-based learning are two other student-centered approaches that can shift much of the work from you to your students. Yes, you’ll still need to create lessons and set up the framework to guide the learning experiences, but once this has been done, students drive the day-to-day learning with questions and problem-solving strategies. By using this approach, you can spend your class time conferencing with students, checking in on their progress, and coaching them as needed. It’s an authentic way to differentiate without needing to create three different lessons, and it’s a great way to engage students in complex problem-solving and higher-order thinking. Explore our AVID Open Access collections on Project-Based Learning and the Inquiry Process to learn more.
Empowering students in the planning process can be a win-win situation. Not only does it empower them and give them ownership in the decision making, but it also allows you to do the planning in real-time during class rather than on your own time during your planning period or in the evenings. For instance, involve your students in developing classroom expectations and procedures. Students will generally come up with the same (or similar) expectations as you would, but involving them makes them more apt to buy in and accept the final framework. Consider using a T-Chart or Y-Chart to help facilitate these conversations.
Similarly, have students help design and decorate your classroom. Rather than spending your weekends and personal money making your classroom look fantastic, have students design and decorate it. This has the dual benefit of saving time and money while allowing students to create a space that truly represents them. It becomes their space, and that space often becomes more inclusive. They can post things that represent who they are as individuals, and you can celebrate academic successes by posting examples of quality student work.