Lesson planning has never been a strength of mine.

If you have ever worked with me, then you are aware that I struggle with lesson planning. Organization, time management, in fact, anything to do with paperwork I typically procrastinate because I dislike it so much. Being a special education teacher does not help due to the sheer amount of administrative tasks we have to complete (not including teaching the kids). So, to the chagrin of my administrators and co-workers, we slog along knowing that it won’t get much better than it is now (although I have come a long way).

But you have come to this post hoping for tips, so I shall deliver some in a few short lines. What I have learned over the last decade in education is to work smarter not harder. Here are some of the strategies I use to make my lesson planning less painful.

Pick and Time and Stick to It

My lesson planning time is Sunday night. Typically before watching the Walking Dead (one of my wife and I’s favorite shows). I tried to complete them during the school week, but I was usually too exhausted to make it meaningful. I also tried completing them during the weekend day, but between kids, pets, and the bustle of the house there are too many distractions to make the process efficient. Settling at a time when the kids were in bed was the best decision for me because I could devote my time and energy to the process.

In addition to picking a time and specific day, I also chose a length of time that I work on my plans. I typically will carve out two hours for lesson planning. If I give myself too much time, I tend to get lost in the details and over plan which brings me to my next point.

Don’t Over-plan

Maybe it is because I like the chaos, or maybe I like to live on the edge, I try to plan just enough to get by. I like to compare lesson planning with following a recipe for cooking. All the best cooks know that you add something a little extra in every meal you make. Improvisation is necessary for teaching (especially in special education). Adding that special ingredient into your lessons comes from practicing and knowing your craft and using plans that focus on the big picture will help you to do that.

In the inclusive classroom, as well as in the special education classroom, over-planning is a big mistake. You never know what is going to happen so it is best to keep things loose and your objectives broad. In my experience, there are things that I planned to take one writing segment that takes up the whole week. I love that my job is always a little different every day.

Create a Template

Don’t reinvent the wheel. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. These are familiar phrases that echo in the back of our minds. Using a template for your lesson planning will help you out tremendously. You can choose from hundreds of various examples just by using your search engine. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as it is something that you are going to use. Think of the template as the backbone of your teaching.

Something that I started to do recently is writing all of the standards that our class was working on for nine weeks at a time. That way I was not looking up each standard each time. If your administration wants you to single out each standard every week, you can either highlight the ones you are covering in class or change the typeface to bold for those weeks.

Use an Online Lesson Planning Application

Our school uses OnCourse for our lesson plans. Planning on a web application is extremely convenient and having my lessons available on my smartphone or tablet has been a game changer. There are plenty of other online lesson planners, but I would choose one that allows me to share my plans with other educators. With most everything trending toward paperless records and forms in education, it is only a matter of time before teachers will not be given the option to use an online planner. It is better to stay ahead of the curve

Put First Things First

It is likely that I will never like to lesson plan. But it is a mistake to think you can go on in your teaching career believing that you can just stumble through your day with no plans at all.  The professors in your teacher education preparation courses made you write comprehensive lesson plans until you were delirious to sear in your brain the essentials of a solid lesson.

Despite my lack of affection for lesson planning, I know that my day and my students would suffer without them. When you put first things first, you end up with more time for the activities that you want to do. Here is to all who toil and trudge every week just for the privilege of teaching kids.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Thomas Levinson/Flickr