New-Teacher FAQ: Should I start planning on my own or wait until the collaborative planning meeting with my department?

You may be told that your department does something called collaborative planning, in which teachers meet to plan ahead, share ideas, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Though many new teachers hear of this legend, the reality can be very different.

Why you may not want to wait for a collaborative planning meeting to start planning

Teachers who have taught a subject before have often made their plans already. Some are possessive about the work they’ve put in. Others have little interest in changing their style or already work together informally. And everyone is busy. As a result, so-called collaborative planning sessions can turn out to be disorganized meetings that involve neither collaborating nor planning.

Why you may want to wait for a collaborative planning meeting to make certain decisions

In some schools, your first collaborative planning meeting will provide important information information that could change the course of your lesson plans for the year.  You may receive a curriculum or benchmark calendar your school wants you to follow. Or you may find that your department or grade level shares a calendar or discipline strategy. If you’ve put a lot of work in before receiving this information, you may find you’ve spent your efforts in the wrong places.

How do you know? And, if you don’t know, how do you prepare without spinning your wheels unnecessarily?

The best way to find out where your school falls on this continuum is to ask your mentor teacher or another trusted advisor at your school.

If you can’t find someone to give you clear answers, here are some basic guidelines:

Do begin planning for your first day as soon as possible.

You’ll make adjustments as you go, but it’s hard to feel confident or calm if you have no idea what you’re teaching the first day. The first day is also unlike any other day in the school year and requires a highly specific type of lesson plan. You’re teaching less content than you will on other days. You’re also meeting your kids for the first time.

Try to plan your first week in as much detail as possible, but still leave room to adapt.

You will undoubtedly realize you need to change some things about your weekly lesson plans after you meet your students. At the same time, you’ll probably end your first day exhausted and with some unexpected items on your to-do list. Plus, your feet might hurt. So you don’t want to have to start from scratch planning your second-day lesson.

Should you try to plan your whole year ahead of time? Well, that’s a whole different question.

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