If I were to ask you how much time it takes you to do all of your lesson planning for a week, would you be able to give me an actual number? How many minutes or hours does it take you to write, finish, and prep all your lesson plan materials for the week?
Most of the time, when I ask teachers this question, their response is something along the lines of TOO MUCH TIME. And I believe it. Even without knowing the number of hours and minutes teachers spend on lesson planning, I bet it is safe to assume you spend more time lesson planning than you want. I would even go as far as saying you might be spending more time than you need to.
Teachers have to lesson plan but rarely have enough time to do it. I remember when I was teaching, I would:
- Get to school early
- Stay late
- Take stuff home with me at night
- Work on the weekends
Even with all of the hours I spent lesson planning, it felt like my to-do list was never finished. It was a frustrating, stressful, and overwhelming time in my life.
All the lesson planning and chasing a never-ending to-do list led to lots of feelings of frustration because:
- I didn’t feel good about work because I never got caught up on my to-do list
- My lesson planning was never “complete”
- I was constantly working
- I didn’t feel good about my personal life because my work led into my evenings and weekend
- I never felt fully present with my friends or family
Unfortunately, many teachers relate to all of the above. If you do, I am so sorry because this is such a tough place to be in – mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is exhausting and draining to feel like what you are doing is never enough.
Luckily, I have five tips to help improve your lesson planning circumstances. In addition to the five tips below, I highly recommend you listen to Episode #99: 3 Mindset Shifts Teachers Should Make Regarding Lesson Planning, where I talk about mindset shifts we can make when it comes to our thoughts around lesson planning.
Tip #1: Figure out your lesson planning preferences.
If the goal is to spend less time lesson planning, then you need to be effective with your time. To be more effective with your time, it’s best to lean into your strengths and preferences.
If you DON’T like waking up early and planning in the morning, chances are if you schedule your lesson planning time from 6:30 – 7:30 a.m., then it isn’t going to be your most productive time. So, think about your strengths and weaknesses and maximize your strengths.
I suggest you do a brain dump. A brain dump is when you take all ideas, tasks, worries, thoughts, etc., in your head and “dump” them on paper. For this brain dump, consider what your ideal lesson planning session might look like:
- Digital planner or paper planning
- Team planning or solo planning
- Get there early in the morning or stay late at night
- Batch plan for the week, or plan day by day
- Plan in one sitting or chip away at it during the week
- Plan everything and then prep everything
- Do you need to script everything out, or can you jot down a few key points on a sticky note and feel good about your lesson?
- Do you need to have a quiet and clean room before you start lesson planning, or can you effectively plan with a messy desk?
This process will help you get a clear picture of what you want your ultimate lesson planning goals to be so you can be more effective during the time you spend planning.
Tip #2: Determine the minimum time requirement needed to complete your lesson planning tasks.
This tip might be a game-changer for you! If you can figure out the minimum time requirement needed to complete your lesson plans, then you’ve basically given yourself permission not to spend a minute more on lesson planning each week!
I want you to think about how much time it takes to finish your lesson plans. How often do you sit down to lesson plan, work for hours, and feel like you have nothing finished? You worked on your lesson plans for an hour but didn’t finish anything. Knowing how long it takes to complete your lesson planning tasks is important.
Do a brain dump of everything you HAVE to teach during a typical day/week. The more specific you can get, the better.
- 5 Reading Mini-Lessons
- 5 Days of Independent Practice
- 5 Days of Picture books and Read-Aloud Questions
- 3 Days of Word Work
- 3 Days of Small Groups, and you see two groups daily, so that is 6 small group lessons.
- 5 Days of Morning Work
Once you have the brain dump of your lesson planning requirements for the week, go through each item and determine how much time it really takes you to complete that task.
Tip #3: Build time blocks into your schedule.
After you have determined the minimum requirement needed to complete your lesson planning tasks, it’ll be helpful to plan time blocks into your schedule.
What I mean by this is instead of writing work on lesson plans in your planner or on your calendar, you are going to schedule chunks of time labeled things like finish mini-lessons or prepare whole group slides.
Because you took the time to determine how much time it takes to finish each type of task, you can find the best time during your week to finish, not just work on, your lesson planning tasks.
Look at your calendar/weekly schedule and determine when you have time for lesson planning. Look for:
- 45 – 60 minute chunks of time
- Planning periods
- Before school
- After school
As you look for chunks of time for your lesson planning, start with the most important items on your list first, and don’t forget to build in buffer time. Now you will assign specific lesson planning tasks to certain time blocks. For example:
- On Mondays, you spend 45 minutes before school writing out your mini-lessons.
- You have a 50-minute planning period on Tuesdays, so you will prep all your small group materials every Tuesday.
- On Wednesdays, you use your planning period to plan all your writing lessons.
- On Fridays, you have buffer time built in at the end of the day to finish any task that didn’t get done… just in case!
By planning out specific tasks during these time blocks, you are preventing yourself from getting caught up in working on tasks that aren’t of high priority. This system protects you from spending too much time on lesson planning. You are planning and using your time wisely!
Remember, each of these time blocks aims to FINISH parts of your lesson planning.
Tip #4: Set Hard and Fast Boundaries for Lesson Planning
This can be one of the hardest parts of lesson planning. Whatever you decide your plan is, you should stick with it. It can be tempting to ignore the plan you have put in place, but that’s why you are creating these systems – to save time!
Once you start creating expectations but don’t hold yourself to them, it’s a slippery slope! If you have set the boundary not to lesson plan over the weekends but don’t stick to your time blocks doing the week before you know it, you’ll be lesson planning on weekends again.
Sticking to these boundaries will probably mean there are things you will have to say no to, but just keep the bigger picture in mind. You are setting healthy lesson planning boundaries to protect your well-being.
Tip #5: Always Plan with the Future in Mind
If lesson planning is a part of teaching that you do not enjoy, I hope you can take these tips and make a shift in your circumstances. My last tip is always to plan with the future in mind.
If you plan with the future in mind, I believe you will start to be more motivated to get something done in the moment instead of putting it off.
You won’t always feel like lesson planning, and you certainly won’t always want to stick with the amazing plan and boundaries you create, but any time you feel a lack of motivation, remind yourself why you’ve taken these steps. Remember how grateful your future self will be when you stick with it and finish the task now! Future you will feel so much more at peace leaving work today with lesson plans done.
- Identify your lesson planning preferences and lean into those.
- Determine the minimum time requirements for each lesson planning task.
- Create a lesson planning schedule with all the prep time you have available. Use each time block meaningfully (aka schedule for results)!
- Set hard and fast boundaries when it comes to the time you work on lesson planning.
- Always plan with the future you have mind.
Put It Into Practice:
- Download my free Literacy Block Schedules to help you get started maximizing your lesson planning time.
- Listen to Episode #100 5 Tips for Creating a Personalized Lesson Planning System to learn more about these time-saving strategies for teacher lesson planning.
- Join us inside The Stellar Teacher Reading Membership where you will get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing resources to help save time and create an effective personalized lesson planning system this year!
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Literacy Block Sample Schedules
Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough time to teach reading the way you want? This planning guide and set of sample schedules will give you tons of ideas for how you can set up your reading block regardless of how much time you do (or don’t) have.
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