I love Back to School time. From fresh batches of school supplies to revamped spaces, to unknown groups of students and potentially even colleagues. I love that everything is the same but not really and that every school year, we have the opportunity to bring to life the next iteration of our teaching personas.
But what I love the most about heading back to school is opening to a clean page in the calendar/lesson planner/specially chosen notebook and pausing to take in the potential of a brand new year. Of all the things I can think of that are important to consider when heading back to school, the most fundamental piece of advice I can offer is this:
Plan. Plan. Plan.
Know where you are going – and how you are going to get there.
When I consider all my years as a classroom teacher and now as a coach, I can’t emphasize enough the benefits of long-term planning. From my perspective, a fundamental aspect of an educator’s personal sustainability is knowing what your entire first semester looks like. Day-to-day planning is a silent killer. It seems natural at first; organizing your lessons for the next day. In a weird way, you feel like you are on top of things; even being responsive to the needs that surface in your classroom. But the exact opposite is true. You are unable to respond to pivot-worthy moments because you don’t know where you are going next. In fact, when a student comes up with a great idea worth dedicating part of a class period in some unexpected discussion, you freak out, because now, you don’t know what to do next. And this turns into late nights, not enough sleep, too much coffee, and a constant feeling of low-grade panic. Also known as Unsustainable, not healthy, the road to burnout.
So here’s what I hope might be life-saving advice.
Step 1: Figure out how much time you need to spend on your first unit.
Step 2: Figure out how many days you actually have during the suggested time frame, once you take into consideration holidays, field trips, assemblies, picture day, etc.
Step 3: Identify your summative assessment, and the rubric you will use to grade it.
It’s one thing to just write ‘TEST’ on your calendar, and another to use the rubric to identify the skills that will be needed for mastery of said assessment. And then you start to break it down, skill by skill, from the day the “TEST” is put on the calendar to where you are right now. Take caution as this can often be an anxiety-inducing thing, as you realize that all of a sudden you only have 18 actual contact days for a unit with a suggested time frame of 25-30. It is in these moments that real teachers are made. This is what you were meant to do. You know your content. You are the expert in the room. This means, that as you cross-reference the standards with the essential questions, you get to make some major decisions. Where do you focus your time so that you are best preparing your students not just for success on some standardized test down the road, but to be better human beings and contributing members of society?
Teaching is no joke. And you are the Teacher. You make these calls. And the only way to make them, and to feel confident that you are making the right ones, is to be dialed in with your plans from Day 1. And so you dig in. Slowly, an exemplary begins to take shape – one that is manageable during the allotted time. A vision of how the lessons will build off each other becomes more and more clear. Because you are now in control of your unit, not the other way around.
Step 4: Repeat for every unit of the first semester.
Even though it still feels like summer, and merely the thought of putting on ‘real shoes’ makes your feet hurt, the very best thing you can do right now is to plan. Your October self will thank you.
Here’s to a great year, Dear Educators.
Kristen Moreland is committed to bringing humanity back to education with more than two decades of experience in education worldwide. A soul supporter, a language artist, and a social justice gladiator, she is currently serving as an Instructional Coach at the Pan American School of Porto Alegre, Brazil. You can follow her on Twitter @kmorekin and on Instagram @educatorsforhumanity.