6 Ways Not to be a Slave to Planning

As teachers we often laugh (or scoff) at the suggestion that we only work 8:30am – 3:00pm each day.  We have after school meetings, planning or profession learning sessions (all very relevant) and there is always a couple of hours work to do in our classroom at the end of each and every school day.  Then there is the work we do at home in the evenings and on a Sunday to get ready for the week ahead. As primary school teachers we usually teach across 6 – 8 subject areas and are expected to be at least proficient in understanding each area well enough to teach it in exactly the right way to ensure learning and achievement for every student.  No wonder we burn out!

The quote below makes me cross.  Where did the idea come from that in order to be a good teacher, you have to ‘consume yourself like a candle’ in the service of others?  When did working every possible hour in a weird competition with your colleagues about who spent the most hours on the weekend in their classroom overtake the value of simple, focused teaching?  (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way)

I am here to suggest that it is time to pull back.  Is all of that time we spend planning and preparing elaborate lessons really adding that much value to our students’ learning? What if there was another way to approach our planning that enabled us to go home each night and pursue a hobby or spend time with our nearest and dearest? What if you didn’t have to spend every waking moment thinking about work AND you could teach well?  The answer is that you can!  Now, let’s be clear. I don’t have a magic wand that makes everything super easy and I don’t have a ‘no prep’ template that you can use for everything.  You do need to plan and prepare. That’s a key part of our professional responsibility as teachers, however you don’t have to give every ounce of your being to your profession. That’s a recipe for a melt down and quick exit from the job.

Here are some ways that you can plan effectively, efficiently and simply.

  1. Decide on a simple weekly timetable that has a decent percentage of time taken up with sustainable routines.  Sustainable routines are things that are done the same way at the same time each day. I call them sustainable because you can add new content and skills with minimal time or brain power – for you or your students. You teach the steps or processes and then switch out the content each day or week.  These routines are great for things that you can teach in short snippets where the knowledge and skills can be broken down into small chunks. Examples of this are phonics, phonemic awareness, morphology, maths facts and handwriting. This might sound boring, but believe me, it drastically reduces cognitive load for both you and your students.
An example of a routine that can be done every day.

2. Plan units of work in one hit before you teach them.  Science, Art, Health, HASS and non-number strands of maths can all be planned 10 weeks ahead. Sure it takes a big push to get it all done at the start of the term, but the huge win here is that once you have it planned you don’t have to put mental energy into thinking about what you are teaching at the same time as you are teaching it.

3. Use a simple, backward design template that follows an explicit teaching model for this planning.  Using the same planning template for all subject areas helps you get into a flow as you become familiar with the steps.  If you don’t have one you can download mine below.

A simple planning outline for an English Unit of Work

4. Work with your colleagues, using an agreed upon planning template to share units with each other. So one person plans for science, the other plans for HASS and then you swap units.  You can still adjust to suit the students in your particular class, but you don’t have to start from scratch all on your own. These units can then be saved for next year so that you are building on your previous teaching.

5. Utilise downloaded, pre-prepared units or programs carefully and critically.  There are times when TpT and online subscription sites are your best friend, but there are times when they will create more work for you.  For example, I wanted a term’s worth of morphology work. Now I could have planned the whole thing from scratch, or I could pay $10 and download a resource from TpT. I did just that. What I downloaded covered good content and created one of the sustainable routines for explicit teaching that I talked about in point number one.  This wasn’t by any means the only teaching I did in morphology (I also addressed the morphology through the Text Based Unit that I wrote for English) but this took care of the nuts and bolts part of the teaching and saved me a considerable amount of time. 

On the other hand, when I wanted to teach a unit on the solar system, I had to write this from scratch. I found that downloadable units didn’t take my students through the explicit teaching model and support them properly. Nor did they include vocabulary teaching as part of each lesson or address the Australian Curriculum sufficiently to enable my more developed learners achieve a B or an A.  Had I decided to use a downloaded unit, I would have had to alter it so significantly that it would have taken more time that writing my own. However, I did use the downloadable PowerPoints about core content as a resource.

6. Keep things simple.  Trust me, I have gone through my own infatuation with paper mache and elaborate displays and have come out the other side to tell the tale!  Does it really matter to your students or their achievement if you spend an entire weekend making the world’s best 3D display or Insta-worthy draw labels? If it’s fiddly, forget it!

Simple Early Years Display from a Text Based Unit – The teaching materials become the display
Upper Primary Display from a Text Based Unit – Teaching Materials also become the display

Taking a systematic approach to your planning means that you significantly reduce your cognitive load and reclaim your life. Once you have sustainable routines and systematic unit planning processes in place you will find that things become a little simpler.

And rather than trying to consume yourself in the service of the profession, please keep the Dalai Lama’s words in mind. We need dedicated teachers like you to stay in the profession for a very long time!

In a few weeks I am running a Teach Along all about Text Based Learning about how to plan systematically to teach skills and knowledge at the ‘top of the rope’.  You can learn more about this Teach Along and book your place here.

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2 thoughts on “6 Ways Not to be a Slave to Planning”

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Absolutely. It can be hard to find something that is easily implemented and not expensive! I ended up getting two. The first one covered prefixes and suffixes and the 2nd covers Greek and Latin roots. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Root-Words-Prefixes-and-Suffixes-Morphology-Notebook-1524805 and https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Ultimate-Morphology-Bundle-Prefixes-Suffixes-Latin-Roots-and-More-3796362

      Take care,


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