A One-Hour Calendar Setup Activity That Can Save You Planning Time (and Sanity) During the School Year

This is a one-hour activity I recommend all teachers do before they start planning for the school year. I find this is one of the best things teachers can do to get their heads in the game and develop a feel for the flow of the year to come. It’s also something you can do before you ever set foot in your classroom. Think of it as a favor to your busier, less-rested mid-school year self.

Step 1: Get yourself a big, blank desk calendar—the bigger and blanker, the better.

I usually use the store-brand calendar from Office Depot, but you can probably find these in many stores. The main thing is to have a nice, empty surface that avoids visual distraction. You also want a calendar that aligns with the school year rather than one that starts in January.

Step 2: Look up the master calendar on your school district’s website.

You’ll want to be able to make your planning flow with the natural breaks of the school year, but also not to have to keep looking up this calendar. Get all relevant dates on your own desk calendar now and move on with your life.

Step 3: Label important dates in Sharpie.

This will give you a visual of how the school calendar may affect your plans—actual days off, but also days that present extra distractions or make kids more likely to be absent. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, for example, might technically be a school day, but it’s a terrible day to start the first chapter of a novel or introduce your multiplication unit.

Step 4: Label the final day to turn in grades for each quarter.

If you’ve ever been caught off guard on Report-Card-Eve, you already know why this is important. But it’s also a good idea to keep it in mind as you plan for the flow of the school year. If you’re scheduling a due date for a major project, you need time to get that project graded and into your grade book. You may also want to schedule a low-maintenance activity for the day before grades are due, in case you have last-minute grades to input.

Step 5: Use a pen to add other important dates that are unlikely to change.

This should include any standardized tests you may have to prepare for, assemblies that require a break from the regularly scheduled program, or other reminders specific to your school.

OPTIONAL Step 6: In pencil, loosely map out what you’ll actually be teaching.

If you know exactly what subjects you’ll be teaching, and have access to a reliable curriculum or pacing guide, you may be ready to loosely map out what you’ll be teaching. If you can’t do this right now, don’t panic. If you can do this right now, don’t go into too much detail. In either case, long-term plans are only one corner of the lesson planning triangle, and they should consist of simple overviews, not detailed, day-by-day lessons. The goal here is to avoid planning your entire year based on something that may change, but also not to be paralyzed by the fact that you can’t plan everything.

Extra credit: Input all important school-year dates in your phone calendar.

You’ve already got that calendar in front of you, so add all the relevant dates into your phone calendar now. Make sure to add alerts for events you’ll want to be reminded of ahead of time. Would you like to have a one-week heads-up before grades are due? A countdown to the big statewide test? This is your chance to do future you a favor by setting up those reminders.

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