Click the play bar below to listen to this episode now:
This is SUCH an important topic because we spend so much of our time as teachers planning, and if you can pick up even one great tip to help improve on what you are currently doing to plan, it can literally save you hours every week.
Before we get started, if you haven’t already joined our Beginning Teacher Talk private FB group, I encourage you to do so right away. I’m going to be running lots of fun contests and challenges inside this group, so when you join, you will get access to some super fun freebies that will only be available to group members. It’s also the place where you can post ideas and questions that I just may feature on this podcast. So go ahead and take a moment to ask to join now:
I don't know how you are planning right now, but if you are still in the habit of planning only one day ahead of time each week, I really encourage you to stop the madness – this method of planning is only going to completely wear you out and leave you feeling frazzled and exhausted at the end of each week.
Instead, I’m going to encourage you to shift your thinking towards planning for an entire week in just one sitting and in just a few hours, and in this blog post, I’m going to show you exactly how I do this and how you can, too.
All great goals start with a clear commitment, and this one does, too.
The most efficient way to plan for an entire week at a time is to commit to one evening each week when you are going to plan for the entire week ahead.
The reason this works is because this way, you will literally be able to leave school with your students when the bell rings on Friday and actually have the weekend to yourself because you will have done all of the work you need to during the week.
Yes, this means that you will be working quite a few extra hours one evening during the week.
However, it also ensures that you will often have two solid days away from school every week, too (at least, when it isn't report card time).
Does that seem impossible to you right now? That you could actually have two days off each week?
Well I’m here to tell you that it’s totally possible, because I did this for years, and I can tell you that this is a goal that’s definitely worth working towards because of the quality of life you’ll be able to have on your weekends.
Truly getting that break on the weekends will ensure that you are fresh and ready to teach again on Monday mornings.
Now, I do want to be clear – this will likely NOT be possible for you to achieve during the first 6 to 8 weeks of school, especially in your first year or two of teaching.
The first month or two of school are pretty crazy because that’s when you will be working between 50 and 60 hours each week, getting all of your routines set up and doing a whole lot of paperwork at the start of the school year.
If you’re working that much right now, know that it’s totally normal, and that it will calm down again and that you’ll be able to get your life back once the back-to-school rush settles down and once your classroom is running smoothly.
However, still take careful notes about what I’m teaching you today, because even when you are working as much as you are, this is all about establishing habits and routines for your planning, just like you are establishing routines for your students in your classroom.
Let’s talk about how some teachers like to set up their planning routine.
Some teachers commit to doing their planning on Friday afternoon once the kids leave. I always found this to be far too exhausting, and the last thing I wanted to do on Friday night was to be at the school.
However, this might work really well for your schedule – everyone’s different.
Instead, I found that Wednesday night worked best for me simply because nobody else was at school that evening to distract me.
On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, our school hosted different community events, so it was really hard for me to go anywhere in the school without running into a parent or a colleague who wanted to chat.
That’s not what I was there for – I was there to put my head down and do a consistent chunk of work.
So, whichever evening you choose, be sure that there aren’t a lot of other school events that night so you aren’t running into people and extending your evening by chatting.
On Wednesdays, I would always pack both lunch and dinner so that I could stay at the school until about 7:30 or 8:00 pm. Our school let out around 3:30, so that gave me a solid four hours to get everything done I needed to.
On each Wednesday night, I planned and photocopied and prepared everything for Monday – Friday the following week.
Now, of course sometimes your students might need more time to finish a project next week that they didn't completely finish this week, but for the most part, the more you plan in this way, the better you’ll get at anticipating pretty closely how much time your students will need to complete tasks.
Please do not think it’s rude to close your door and get to work.
My colleagues soon learned that Wednesdays were my time, and that I just wasn’t available to chat then because as much as I love teaching, my goal was to also create space for a life outside of school.
Every other day of the week, I was available to chat and to meet and to brainstorm and share stories and all of that good stuff, but I very carefully protected that time to get my planning done.
I also encourage you to turn off all of your social media and put your phone away.
Every time it distracts you or you check Instagram or go onto Pinterest to look for an idea, you are extending your time at school.
Unless you want to be there until 10:00 at night every week (which I hope you don’t), it’s a good idea to turn it all off so you can focus and get it all done.
The more organized you are in terms of how and where you store your curriculum resources, the more efficient you are going to be when it comes to planning for the week.
Here’s how I organized my planning area, which included my desk, the storage shelves behind my desk, my Monday to Friday bins, and my filing cabinet.
I kept all of my curriculum resources that I needed for planning each week on one shelf, organized by subject, on the shelf behind my desk so that they were easily accessible.
All of my resources were clearly labeled in book bin organizers and organized by subject so that I wasn’t wasting time searching for resources every week when I sat down to do my planning.
I also had my Teacher Planning Binder well organized (I am still a paper and pencil planning kind of girl) so that I could pull out Curriculum Maps, Pacing Guides, my Calendar, and my Weekly Schedule quickly and easily and spread it all out in front of me on my desk.
(And by the way, I NEVER allow my desk to get cluttered – we will talk more about that in next week’s episode where I’ll share how I organized the endless stream of paper that comes across my desk every day).
So, whether you use a digital planner or a binder, be sure that you have everything you need at your fingertips so you can easily plan each week quickly.
Out of all the methods I tried over the years, I found that planning one subject at a time for the entire week was the most efficient way to plan.
I would pull out my weekly schedule and curriculum resources and plan all of my Language Arts activities for the entire week, and then put all of that away and then plan all of my Math, and then all of my Science, and so on.
I tended to use Language Arts as the foundational subject so I would plan that first for the week, and then plan everything else around that, so that wherever I could make connections across the curriculum, it would be first building on what we were learning in Language Arts, and secondly, in math.
I really worked to build connections across and between the subject areas so that the day felt more like a unified experience for my students and so that what we were learning made more sense to them.
By the way, as I mentioned last week, there are often some great extension activities included in your curriculum resources that we just never seem to have time to get to each week, especially in Language Arts and in Math, so whenever I came across something really great that I wish we had time for, I would make copies of that activity anyways and then file it either in my Sub Plans file in my filing cabinet, OR I also kept a drawer of “Extra Activities” that I could just pull from if my class finished their work early and I needed something extra to do with them.
One of the best ways to guarantee a more efficient planning session is to keep a list beside you of:
Things to Photocopy and Things to Buy/Get
I also liked to keep a separate sticky note list of books I wanted to see if our school library had that I could use to supplement or anchor some of the lessons that week.
This way, as I planned each subject, I would just add to my lists.
For things to photocopy, every time I planned something I would need to copy for the week, I would put a sticky note inside that book with a number on it for how many copies I needed to make, and then keep this stack of resources beside me until I was done ALL of my planning for ALL of my subjects.
As I mentioned, I would also keep a separate list beside me of things I needed to buy or get.
You might want to keep this list on a larger sticky note so that you can easily take it home with you for when you do your shopping that weekend.
I really tried to limit my “school stuff” to shopping for things I needed the following week on my weekends because to me, that was the really fun stuff, and the stuff I didn’t mind doing on my weekends when I was out doing other errands anyways.
Once I had planned for all of my subject areas, I took my pile of curriculum resources down to the photocopier and made all of my own copies.
This was rarely a job I asked parents to do for me because I wanted to be sure that I really had everything done before the new week started, and I didn’t want to take the chance that a parent volunteer I had been counting on suddenly didn’t show up.
Finally, I would put the sticky note of books I hoped we had in our librarian’s mailbox at the office with a note requesting that she pull these books for me if possible – but if you do this, be sure to snap a picture of it before you do this just in case it gets lost.
We were really fortunate at our school to have a fantastic teacher librarian who was willing to do this for us, but if you don’t have this option, it’s pretty easy to pull these books yourself, too.
Once I made my copies for the entire week, I brought the pile back, ensured I had removed all of the sticky notes for that week, and then I put all the copies I would need for each day IN THE ORDER I WOULD NEED THEM into my Monday to Friday drawers.
I had a rolling cart with one drawer labeled for each day of the week, and I kept everything I needed organized as I would need it for each day in each drawer.
That way, when I came in each morning, I could just check my schedule for the day, pull out what I needed, and lay it all out in the order I would need it (along with any extra materials) on the large counter I left clean and clear behind my desk.
This gave me a great sense of calm and peace and order because I always knew what was coming up throughout the day – AND, another great tip I learned from another fantastic teacher was to always keep a few fun activities photocopied and ready on that counter should we finish something early throughout the day.
Finally, as we talked about last week in the show where we talked about how to cope with Sunday night anxiety (and if you haven’t listened to that episode, I highly recommend that you go back and check that one out, too, because it’s such an important topic), I would recommend that you purposely plan something that YOU will look forward to to help ease into the week on Monday morning in a more positive way.
To help you do that, I created the Monday Morning Inspiration Packet that you can download by clicking below! It includes some fun and motivational conversation and writing topics as well as a fantastic morning play list of my favorite songs to start the day in a positive way:
So there you have it!
I hope that this information has been helpful for you as you continue to think through more efficient ways to plan for your week.
Again, if there is a topic or something in particular that you are struggling with or wondering about, or if you have a question and you would love for me to answer it on this podcast, I encourage you to join our new, FREE and PRIVATE Beginning Teacher Talk FB Group.
I also hope that you tune in for next week’s show, because I am going to be sharing some awesome tips for how to set up a paper management organization system so that you can keep your desk clear and keep the clutter away throughout the year.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember, just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one! Bye for now.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news from our team. 💛💕 Your information will not be shared.