Teaching Tip 2: Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Lesson planning has been the bane of my life. Or at least it was until I started to get good at it. I think a lot of teachers – regardless of whether they are school, circus, or any other kind of teacher – hate doing lesson planning. Lesson planning takes time, and in this day and age time is something of a precious commodity. But I don’t think that’s what really bugged me. It wasn’t the time; I can always make time for stuff that’s important. It seemed like a lot of effort for something that wasn’t very important and didn’t really make any difference.

But as teachers all know lesson plans are really important and do make a big difference.

But if we know they’re important, and we know they make such a difference, then why don’t they seem important when it comes time to sit down and write them? And why are they always so much effort?

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Thinking about it, it’s not so dissimilar to how people behave with something like their health or fitness. We all know that to be healthier we should eat better and exercise more but knowing that doesn’t make any difference. The only thing that really makes a difference is how something occurs to you. If it occurs as a lot of effort and a waste of time, then guess what? It will be a lot of effort and a waste of time. If something occurs and simple and easy then naturally it will be simple and easy for you.

I thought of lesson planning as as a waste of time; as a lot of effort for very little benefit; and as something that I shouldn’t have to do. I always felt like there was something better, more enjoyable or fun that I could be doing instead. I’d have thoughts like “I can just make it up on the day,” or “I work better when I do it on the fly.” And all of those things combined, my thoughts, feelings, my emotions and attitudes, all perfectly fit together and had lesson planning occur like a chore. No wonder it was so hard to get myself to sit down and do it! Who’d want to do that?!

And then I started teaching 2 and 3 year olds. Winging it and doing it “on the fly” just didn’t cut it any more. There was no way I could deliver effective sessions without some thought, planning and preparation.

So I started to find a way to plan my sessions that worked for me. I now plan out my entire term (or half term) using broad themes – three weeks working on body tension, then three weeks working on forward rotation for example – before breaking it down into what exercises, games and drills I’ll use in each session to develop that theme. At first, doing that took a lot of mental effort. But now, I’ve got years worth of lesson plans to draw on, as well as the templates, experience and knowledge that’s come with delivering hundreds of sessions. It occurs as something simple and easy.

And every week I arrive ready to teach a class and don’t have to think about what I’ll teach. It’s right there on a sheet of paper including what games to play, how to set up the room, what equipment I’ll need – everything. Everything that I need to know is right there and I don’t have to think. I arrive at my sessions with clarity, peace of mind and focus (which is especially good if I’m teaching on a Sunday morning!) and am able to have more fun with my kids because of it.

How does lesson planning occur to you? Ask yourself the following questions as you think about doing your lesson planning (I recommend writing down your answers):

  1. What are your thoughts about it?
  2. What are your feelings?
  3. What are your attitudes about lesson planning?
  4. What’s it like for you when you walk into a class without a plan?
  5. What’s the impact on you, your students, your employer, your class, parents, anyone else

Don’t just settle for the first thing that pops into your head. Do some real thinking. Enquire into it. It’ll take some mental effort but your first though will rarely be your best thought. It’ll take some energy to do it right. You might want to go back over your answers again.

What would your experience be if you walked into your class with a fully thought-through, kick-ass plan? What would that be like for you? Would that be worth some of your time? If it is, go write your plan. If not, go back over the questions above and then take some time to create an outcome that would be worth it to you.

After I started planning my sessions really rigorously my students started to improve much more rapidly, and when they started to improve they started to practice at home too, increasing their rate of learning.

The title of this post is “Plan your work, work your plan.” Once you’ve got your plan written make sure you have it with you. Don’t leave it at home (I’ve done that), don’t forget to print it out (I’ve done that too), and don’t ignore it once you get to your class (yeah, I’ve done that too). Run your class using your plan and when it’s over take a minute and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work – include anything you did/didn’t do, anything that was/wasn’t safe, anything that could have been explained better or was explained particularly well and anything else you notice. Rinse, repeat.

Got questions or suggestions on lesson planning? Use the comment box below.