Making It Work:
Getting Started With Long Range Planning
When I began my teaching career I was working in a large county school district, on a cart, in three schools with almost no resources before the dawn of the Internet. I would hear about teachers who were “long range planning” and was completely mystified as to how one would even begin that process. I was struggling not to drown! When I got a few years under my belt long range planning started to make more sense. After taking Orff Level I, I was not sure how I had gotten by for so long without planning ahead. For me, long-range planning does not mean that I don’t write daily lesson plans but that I know where we are headed, what concepts are coming next, and how much time we need to get there. It is important that my plan is flexible and allows for changes, differentiation or improvements and leaves space for new ideas. Here is how I approach my long-range plans.
We teach on a four-day rotation schedule. The first step is to go through the calendar and count how many class periods I will have in each marking period. Next I factor in when I have performances and block off some time to prepare for our presentations. Now that I have a solid estimate of contact time for each grade level I can determine what content we will explore and when we will tackle each concept. I list the content, concepts and vocabulary for each marking period. Then I choose lessons, songs and projects to reinforce my choices, outline or revise the necessary formative and summative assessments and pencil in approximate target dates to administer assessments in order to be prepared for report card deadlines. Lastly, I add music and cross-curricular standards to the final document.
We take a project-based approach, and my long-term plans are an outline, not detailed daily plans. Our “performances” are student generated, and not separate from our curricular goals. When I mention that I block out time to prepare for performances, I am making sure to begin the project early enough for it to be complete on the assigned date and ready for the stage. I am required to schedule concerts in May before the upcoming school year. When I was teaching elsewhere and had to schedule concerts “as we go” I would pencil in dates when I would like to schedule performances. It was a little less precise and sometimes I had to adjust. Prior to implementing a long-range planning strategy I was often scrambling at the end of each marking period to be prepared for report cards. Now I seldom have last minute assessing or grading to complete. I am confident that I have allowed enough time to be prepared for performances and presentations and I am more relaxed with the students when we are working.
Each school, district or state will differ in the best way to approach long-range planning. I have a lot of flexibility in my curriculum choices; others have a more prescribed curriculum or more guidelines on which concepts should be taught when. In my previous school district I did not have a schedule sometimes until the morning of the first day of school. I was not able to gauge contact time as accurately. I did find it helpful to have a basic outline of teaching ideas and projects for each grade level. It took some of the pressure off of daily planning. I often had to add or take away from my long-range plan, and it was easier to edit than start over every week. I became much more consistent in meeting learning goals with my students even in an ever changing teaching situation. The best part is, after the first year it becomes easier to edit and modify long-range plans leaving more time to enjoy your students.
Please share your strategies and resources for long-range planning in the comments below. My ideas may not work in some situations, and your solution may be just the inspiration someone needs to successfully plan ahead. If you have obstacles to long-range planning or questions leave those in the comments below too. We can all put our heads together to “Make It Work”!