Planners are a powerful educational tool when used properly. Planners can transform the way teachers think and teach, inspiring them to grow and develop a deeper understanding of a school’s philosophy and vision. When planners are not used correctly educators are faced with confusion. Coordinators will verbally explain their vision but the way the planner is organized doesn’t match the message. Planners should be aligned with a mission and vision, otherwise educators are confused by hearing one message and encountering another in their planners. For example, my colleague, who is a coordinator, had a vision of her team following the Reggio Emilia teaching philosophy. She explained to her team that they needed to drive their students towards curiosity and deeper learning, rather than teaching in timelines with rigid start and end dates. Her team tried their best to pursue this vision, but as hard as they tried they could not succeed. When I looked at the planners they were given I immediately noticed that they were “Fortnightly Planners”. A clear timeline on top of the planner caused teachers to develop a mental block. My colleague wanted to assess her team’s planners every two weeks, but this interruption was a major jolt to the team’s stated mission, which was to inspire students to pursue an inquiry-based deeper level of learning. Eliminating the rule that planners had to be turned in every two weeks would have erased teachers’ concern about having to continuously change their students’ learning plans. It would have been far more effective if the coordinator had kept track of progress by viewing the planners every so often, fine-tuning them along the way.
A different case where planners were misused occurred when another colleague was setting up a guided reading program, and simply printed a random collection of planners from the internet for her team. Each of the planners she pulled off the internet came from different sources – from people who had disparate visions and diverse reasons for the structure and content of their planners. Those random planners worked well in their own packages, but were not coherent when haphazardly thrown together. This colleague’s stated mission was completely at odds with her mismatched planners, resulting in confused teachers who couldn’t make sense of the pieces. It is fine to look at different sources when designing planners, but we need to keep in mind that when pulling them together, columns and rows need to be changed and modified to form a cohesive unit.
When planners are designed and applied properly teachers and students can achieve powerful, limitless outcomes. Planners that are fluid and individualized lead to empowered teachers who are organized and highly creative. Planners at a school need not look the same for all teachers and classes; they should be adapted to suit the needs of different classes.
An example of this is in the above framework based on the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). A mainstream teacher teaching Milepost 1 has a very different order to follow in their columns than the EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher or the MFL (Modern Foreign Language) teacher. To give the same planner to all teachers would be ineffective. The mainstream teacher needs to think about IPC milepost subject learning goals and how to link language and math to those learning goals, therefore their columns are accordingly ordered. The EAL and MFL teachers need to think differently in order to meet their requirements. They have to start from the end point of the mainstream teachers' planner and match vocabulary/grammar provided to the Common European Framework of Reference - CEFR. Had all the teachers at the school been given the same planners, the vision of the school wouldn't have been achieved and neither the EAL or MFL teachers would have been able to connect to learning taking place in the rest of the school.
Another reason for individualizing planners is to meet the needs of classes with multiple levels. The row below is a portion taken from an MFL planner. This teacher had only beginner level students in their class - students were at the CEFR A1 level.
Now, what happens when the situation changes at a school? Sometimes the number of students decreases and classes are combined. If we were to leave the planner exactly the same, what would happen to the teacher? How would the teacher plan for all the different levels? The original planner cannot remain the same. Below is a possible solution – by putting all three levels on one page of the planner, the teacher is able to easily scaffold learning, and he or she has a bird’s eye view of where each group of students is headed. All of the students are still following the same IPC unit, but the beginners are provided vocabulary at their level, and their objectives are chosen at the A1 level etc. A similar assessment can be given to all students; however, it will be modified to suit the abilities of each group. Now the teacher is empowered and has the control and freedom to be creative. The impact on the students is that all their learning needs and goals are met, with no group left behind.
Planners also serve to remind teachers of the things that are important to a school. For example, a planner can remind teachers to incorporate school values or students’ personal goals into lessons. Planners can also serve as a checklist for how a classroom should look: This can be especially useful for a school that is following the Reggio Emilia philosophy – key words at the top of the planner can help teachers visualize their classrooms’ set-up. Planners are not only a powerful tool for teachers, but also for administrators and coordinators who are mentoring and evaluating staff. The detail and information a teacher provides while crafting a planner speaks volumes to their understanding. Sections or boxes in a planner that are incomplete or lacking details may indicate a lack of comprehension in those areas. You can also see if a teacher is over-planning and trying to meet too many objectives in too short a time span. Is the teacher reflecting cohesive thinking? Does the assessment match the objectives the teacher is trying to achieve? As a mentor, I find that simply sitting with a struggling teacher and helping them fill out their planners by explaining what needs to go in each box has been far more effective than any PD I have ever given. Sometimes it takes months for teachers to experience a shift in their thinking and discard previous planning patterns and so they can build their planners according to the school’s philosophy and vision.
Thinking beyond individual schools to education as a whole, planners could be part of the answer to keeping up with the times. Student needs and classroom situations constantly change, and planners need to evolve alongside them. Something as small as flipping the order of planner columns can contribute to teachers’ professional growth, helping them to better meet their students’ needs. For instance, switch the CEFR column with the IPC Vocabulary/Grammar column in the above MFL planner. How does this affect teachers’ thinking processes and planning strategies? Unleash the power of the planner!