Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Effective Education: The Planning and Decision Timeline

Every educator knows that the work you do in the first six weeks dramatically impacts the entire year. Ruth Charney hits that point home in her book, Teaching Children to Care. The patterns, protocols, and information we share with families, students, and colleagues during the first six weeks sets the stage for the year to come. Similarly, the schedules, plans, and organization in place also serve to create a strong foundation for a year of great teaching.

With this in mind, what is your planning and decision time line with regard to preparing for the year ahead? When do you create schedules, plan the curriculum program, order supplies, and set up the classroom?

Spring Scope and Sequence Review and Refine
This year our administration responded to our requests for spring scope and sequence meetings. Substitutes were hired to replace us while we met as grade level teams to assess and refine our English language arts and math programs. Both meetings were very successful and we were able to enter the summer study months with program outlines.

Professional Learning
Our system presents two professional learning institutes: The Wayland Math Institute and The Wayland Literacy Institute at the end of the school year. Although it's a bit of a stretch to fully invest yourself in learning after the busy school year, the institutes prove to springboard summer study and provide you with something of value to bring to your students the following fall.  I can think of no better time in the year for these dynamic learning events--events open to educators outside of our system too which make the learning rich.

Early Scheduling
Our scheduling begins in the spring when teachers are able to share their needs and desires with regard to the school year. Schedulers create the schedule during the summer months. They shared the schedule recently, about a month ahead of the start of the school year. Again, that's very helpful. Numerous emails have been sent to and from staff members as the schedule is refined and augmented with specific grade level concerns, needs, and innovation. This really helps us when it comes to family/student communication and expectation, collegial collaboration, and field study/special event planning.

Calendar Creation
The schedule share fostered the creation of the year's calendar. We share a Google calendar as a grade-level team and as a school. This helps with common planning.

Team Meetings
The schedule also fostered a team meeting--a time for the teachers on my team to meet and share ideas, plans, and questions for the year to come.

Class Setup
Having a scope and sequence, calendar, and schedule in place also supports our need to set up the classroom in ways that will work.  Without those organizational pieces, it's difficult to create a learning environment that matches the goals and order of the program.

Specialist Schedules
Schedulers include our reading intervention, art, music, physical education, instrumental music, and library on the master schedules. The first few days of school prep will find us coordinating our schedules with the many specialist teachers we work with including special educators, physical therapists, speech teachers, occupational therapists, guidance, English Language Learning (ELL) teachers, and adaptive physical education specialists.

Just like a good party, the school year is served well by thoughtful organization and lead time. Having most schedules set, materials organized, and plans made creates an atmosphere where the teacher has the time, focus, and energy to do the job well by responding to each and every child rather than worry about organizational matters, matters that could be done ahead of time.

As we think about schools today, what is the best decision and planning time line--the kind of plan that ensures well organized classrooms and coordinated teacher schedules so that most time with students is thoughtful, focused time. Essentially I believe the planning for the new school year should begin about nine months ahead of the year. I also believe this planning needs to be "loose-tight" ensuring that all current goals are met, but leaving room for the responsive, serendipitous learning that's equally important.

What does your school's decision and planning time line look like?  What planning and decision making strategies have served your school, educators, and students well?  Let's share these ideas as we move schools forward.