Sunday, August 5, 2012

Time to Start Planning

Okay, so looking at the calendar, it's probably time to start planning the school year. For me, I have about 2.5 weeks before the kiddos walk through the classroom door. Some may feel it's "crunch time." This post is for me and for you. (I like to remind myself of things, because if we're not careful, even us veteran teachers can start to panic right about now.)

It is "crunch time" but DON'T start to PANIC. Think about this--our school year is wonderfully divided up into months, holidays, and perfectly segmented nine week periods and semesters. Divide your work up like that, too. Don't try to do it all at once, do a little at a time. Less is more, right? I'd rather see a teacher take the time planning one thing to make it "the best thing ever" than to see him/her take all of their magnificent ideas they have collected over the summer and years and make them "so-so."

This is the time of year I start drawing a map for myself. Think about what needs to be implemented all year. That is probably your priority, lesson planning and projects can come later. If you are going to have a theme, that is important but divide it into things that need doing before the kids arrive and things the kids can help with. Don't panic if all your stuff is not up at the beginning of the year. In fact, do this dividing up with all of your to-do's. Ownership for the kids is a big deal!

Here's more of a run down of what to start thinking about now. I like to get things done ahead rather than waiting last minute. Waiting is like "cramming" for a test for me and with that comes anxiety, stress, all those "nasties." So, if you are like me, "get 'er done," so you have time to relax and don't panic. You have at least TWO MAJOR PROJECTS to start working on now:
  • The first big event for most of us is probably Open House. Start planning what you are going to do.
  • Theme: what can the kids help with?
  • Rules: the kids can and should come up with these. You can always "guide" them to what you are looking for if you think they are missing an important rule. I teach 4th, so the upper elementary guys have had a lot of experience from previous grades. Every year they come up with a rule that I didn't think of but is great.
  • Procedures: start outlining these so you can teach them to the kids. What to do for each subject time, schedule, lunch, recess, etc. You know the drill.
  • Read-alouds for the first week:  Make a list that includes daily picture books and a chapter book if you do that. (Don't make lesson plans yet. Save it for when it's closer to "opening day." You need to get the other stuff done first and it needs to be fresh in your mind.)
  • The Summer Olympics: If you are going to teach this in your classroom, better start planning lessons (if you haven't already).
  • Decorations and classroom layout: start getting your classroom looking the way you want it to look when the kids walk in the door. Don't worry about anchor charts or anything that you need to teach, but start working on desk/furniture arrangement, behavior charts, etc. (the essentials). This is one of your BIGGER projects. (Ooooh, this might be IMPORTANT. This is a word of advice straight from my students: They absolutely love all the decor, BUT too much is a distraction, especially posters. PLEASE keep that in mind when you do all your "Pinterest" decorating. Don't make your posters and anchor charts "wordy." Don't have "blasts" of colors everywhere, pick a couple of colors and stick with them. Here's a good thought: "If it's too gaudy for your home, it's too gaudy for your classroom." Don't put up a lot of "un-necessaries." Remember, being a student is their "job." Help them do a good job by not getting in the way. If you are unsure, ask a colleague, or better yet, when the kids get to the classroom, make sure they understand that they have the right to ask for something to be taken down if they feel it is distracting. And make a rule that they are not allowed to do that for the first week because they need time to adjust. That's for the kid you know will ask you to take something down as soon as you explain the "distraction right.")
  • What major events do you need to start thinking about? Make a list and start thinking about them, but not necessarily planning lessons and projects (just yet). Here's an initial list of some "majors" I came up with (I am the "social studies" teacher and a major history buff, so I tend to need to start planning these now: Olympics (we already mentioned), it's an Election Year, 2012 is the 200th birthday of the War of 1812 (I'm an Ohioan so that's a big issue), Veterans' Day and Constitution Day (these are both "must teach by law," and I'll probably give specific ideas on these later)...I think that's good. You can see the fall is jam-packed, and I didn't even mention Columbus Day...(Don't panic. That's going to be my mantra for us, lol.) (See, I went back and gave it a soothing blue mantra color. =))
  • Second BIG project: Now's the time to go meet with your team. Collaboration is so important. Your team knows exactly who you are and what you're going through. Build a relationship with them (if you haven't) and go out to eat or get a drink. This is more of a reunion meeting than a planning meeting. Don't go in with your guns blazing thinking you're going to get down to business, that is the wrong mind-set. Meet to reunite your team. It's a "love-thy-neighbor" meeting. (You're teachers so you're conversations will eventually turn to planning anyway, but know that's NOT why you are meeting.)
So, I'll stop now so you can digest the above. Notice I didn't say to start making lessons (unless you consider the Olympics). You have time for lessons later. Hope my advice helps. Enjoy the rest of your summer! It's not over yet, so don't switch entirely to work mode yet. Proof--I'm leaving for a vacation on Wednesday =)


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