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Things You Can Do Right Now to Prepare for an Uncertain School Year

I think planning for a school year always involves a degree of open-endedness and uncertainty. But this 2020-21 school year takes the cake when it comes to uncertainty. Here are some things you can actually work on right now to get a handle on your prep for the upcoming year.

I truly wish you all the best!

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If you don’t know what you’ll be teaching:

  • Clean out and organize your files: Google Drive, Dropbox, computer hard drive, flash drives, paper files, etc. All that “teaching stuff” we’re so famous for collecting like little pedagogical rodents is only helpful if we know what we have and where to find it. If you tend to use resources only with one certain grade, have a file for each grade, and maybe sub folders within the grade for categories and/ or subjects. For example, I had a 10th Grade Folder, and within that, a folder for Literature, and within that, a folder for each unit. If you need to, just create a “To Be Sorted” or “Misc.” folder for a while until you get everything under control. Work on it a little at a time.
  • Create or edit your behavior management plan: If you at least know roughly what age you’ll be teaching, you can think through your behavior management/ classroom culture. I created a worksheet for reflection and planning that includes a section on classroom management. It’s a great tool to gain some clarity about where you’ve been and where you’re headed. Get it for free here. If you felt like not much worked last year, spend some time pursuing new resources and ideas that you can try this year.
  • Gather general materials: Review games (this post gives instructions for my students’ favorites!), emergency sub plans, meaningful time-fillers or activities for early finishers, general rubric templates, classroom decor items, etc. I have a helpful free Teacher Desk Supplies Checklist you might want to download to give you an idea of what you’ll need for yourself. 
  • Design systems: How and where do you want students to turn in papers? (I have some suggestions in my Teacher Survival Tips post.) How will you begin class? What will your routines and transitions look like? What will you do for brain breaks during class? This will be adjusted according to the exact classes you teach, but there are general systems that you can put together that you know will work for you. These will work hand-in-hand with your behavior management plan. 
  • Come up with answers in advance: You’ll eventually be asked questions such as:
    • Will you be available for tutoring? If so, when? Will you charge for tutoring? If so, how much? 
    • Will you offer a help class? How often? How will it be structured?
    • When a parent asks for extra resources for their child to use at home to practice X, what will you point them to? 
    • Check out my post with 20 Questions Every Secondary Teacher Should Have an Answer To for more important questions to think through before the school year starts. It wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and write down your answers too. You could also include an FAQ section in your syllabus (grab my syllabus for free here) with some of these questions and your answers for students and parents.

If you know what you’ll be teaching: 

  • If possible, find out where the deficits are likely to be. I know this will vary greatly based upon different teaching situations, but if you can, seek out the previous teacher(s) for the group of students you’ll likely be getting this year to see where you need to start and what holes in learning you’ll need to fill in before you can move forward, and plan accordingly.
  • Start with the big picture. One of the most helpful yet difficult tasks I had to complete during my teaching career was to compose a document for each class I taught outlining the goals and objectives for the class overall, then broken down into the goals and objectives for each unit. Maybe you’re also required to create a similar document, or you’ve inherited one from a previous teacher. I’d encourage you to use this document and let it guide your long-range planning. If you use Common Core, or similar standards, let that be your starting point, not something you add in at some point during your planning. Maybe that seems like a big, fat DUH to you, but I’ve seen too many teachers absolutely floundering in their planning because they start with a cool activity they want to do, a book or idea they want to teach, and then try to cram that material into the framework of standards or learning objectives. It is my belief that we are doing our students a great injustice by not teaching something just because we don’t like it, or the opposite, just teaching something because we do like it. If our core focus all year long is not equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need to both function well in society and advance further in their education, we are failing them. We must always teach with a goal in mind and with objectives that can be evaluated. This brief article from Harvard about goals and objectives is extremely approachable and helpful. Even if you don’t yet know whether your learning will be blended, all online, or all face-to-face, keeping the standards and goals the center of your general planning will keep everything on track.
  • Map out a long-range plan. Again, even if you don’t know exactly what your learning model will look like this year, you can set milestones for learning achievements throughout the year that can guide your more detailed planning for when you have more specifics. Get out the calendar and your standards/ goals/ objectives, and set up a tentative plan of where you’d like to be at the end of 1st quarter, and so on. Estimate how much time you’ll need for each unit.
  • Gather materials you know you’ll be able to use no matter what. For example, digital activities that could be completed at home or school. (If you teach ELA, I have a grammar review digital bundle that is perfect for in the classroom or distance learning.)
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What else are you doing (or going to do) to plan for an uncertain year? I’d love to chat with you in the comments.

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