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"It's That Time Again!" For me "That Time" is a milestone of sorts. In September of 2012 I'll be entering my twentieth year of teaching; and I couldn't be more excited. This feeling stems from the fact that teaching today is drastically different from when I began in 1992. Today it's so much better. It's better because the availability to reach, inspire and motivate students is so much more vast. The age of communication, social media and technology has made education so much more accessible; so much more exciting; so much more engaging; and, most mportantly, so much more FUN...
Bindered lessons WERE ongoing works in progress. Each and every lesson HAD sticky notes on it containing comments on how to improve it for the following year; each revised lesson WAS paper clipped together and returned to the unit binder. Teaching today is binder-less; the difference between 1992 and 2012 is that today it's all about "Teach-nology." My organizational technique of the bindered lesson is re-developed into Smart Technology interactive software lessons. Now the lessons are revised via computer the same day or instantaneously. They are stored on a mobile hard-drive device and backed-up in several locations, synced with my class web page and accessible year-round. It's overwhelming to think things have changed that drastically in such a short period of time. However, some things WILL NEVER change.
High quality lessons, whether developed on typewriter or computer, are awesome; and this will never go by the wayside. These extraordinary lessons can't stand alone. Each lesson must be meticulously placed in it's proper place over the course of a school year. One lesson builds upon another to create a unit of instruction; units build on other units to complete a curriculum. To accomplish this task it takes tremendous skill and organization. Educators are notorious for being organization gurus and that's certainly no anomaly. Given the vitality of this trait to the profession of education I have learned that there is nothing more important than "Vision Planning."
Here in lies the gist of this blog: Put all the lesson plan binders or teach-nology stuff aside and focus on the big picture, the entire school year. Think of each school year like building a NEW house. Each lesson represents one brick. Quality brick homes that endure the test of time are not built without first having an exceptional design. Great designs come from pooling together the best from other homes (or in this case previous years); it's not necessary to reinvent the concept of building a house, you're trying to perfect the dwelling. Bad News is: nothing can replace the hard work involved in creating your original design or your Vision Plan. Here are some of the steps I take to create my Vision Plans:
1) Create a calendar of the entire upcoming school year. The ancient method of paper and pencil for each month work best because in education nothing is ever written in stone. Make sure to plot the days that have altered times (half-days) or no instruction (holidays, etc). Later I even plot out the staff meetings, workshops, etc.
2) Get local, state and national curriculums (core standards) together and search for common benchmarks. You will find (should find?) that many or most overlap. These items should be prioritized and be present in many of your lessons. Intertwine these benchmarks in varying ways, in a multitude of lesson formats, throughout the school year. As you revise lessons the prioritized benchmarks can be inserted. The goal is repetition of the benchmark/s to attain depth of knowledge for students.
3) Organize or jot down any lessons that are unique, special and/or on-going throughout the school year. For example I employ a "Jeopardy" review game that continues game-to-game and year-to-year. It's the Jeopardies vs. Jeopardettes; we keep score. Maybe you: utilize Pre-Post Test/s at the beginning and end of the year; have students partake in a writing initiative given quarterly; implement some elongated Project Based Learning assignments; conduct field trips; set-up guest speakers or visitations; etc.
4) Set ONE professional main goal for yourself for the upcoming school year. A few subsidiary goals are okay but don't overburden yourself; be realistic. Some examples might be to create a new technology integrated project based learning assignment coupled with a field trip. Or you might want to implement a new methodology in class management. My main point here is that you need to plan on implementing something new BEFORE the school year starts; never implement a big picture and/or Vision Plan idea mid-stream in the school year.
5) Plot the amount of time needed for each unit of study; literally count the days.
6) The lesson topics or titles are then plotted on the day/s they will be covered within each unit of study.
7) Lastly, make sure that any altered Vision Plans for the upcoming school are reflected in your class syllabus, web page and/or notifications that go home. There's nothing worse than an incorrect date, different class procedure and/or wrong information being provided to the students or parents.
Master Educators out there, I know that this blog entry may not contain anything new for you. But sometimes I have found that if someone else writes about their experiences I find some useful tidbits. For those of you in your first decade of teaching I hope this is helpful information. From personal experience, I know I would have benefited from this in my first few years in the field of education. "Vision Planning" for the upcoming school year is essential to bringing together all facets of your instruction into crescendo. "It's That Time Again;" another opportunity to impact the lives of many young people in a positive way, cherish it, the years go by quickly.