How I Stay Organized: Weekly Lesson Planning Tips & Tricks
In this post, I’m going to tackle two questions I get asked all the time: “How do you stay so organized throughout the week?” “Do you do all of your lesson planning at home?” I’m going to share my organizational tips and tricks with you, as well as my personal weekly routine I use throughout the school week.
Truth: I used to spend hours and hours lesson planning at home every night. Finally, I told myself, “No more!” I knew in the near future I wanted to start a family and that the hours and hours I was spending each week on plans would not be possible – or healthy – for a balanced life. So, I devised an organizational “system” that worked for me.
(Disclosure: This may or may not work for you, since everyone’s school is different and planning time varies across school districts. I get 40 minutes of uninterrupted planning time four days a week – Tuesdays are set aside for data meetings. I also get 20 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after school when I am not assigned to bus duty. Making the most of every minute at school allows me to better spend my time at home for my family, friends, and “me” time. Feel free to use the following tips & tricks as a guide and a foundation for setting your own weekly schedule. My hope is that it gives some manageable ideas on ways create a schedule that you can stick with throughout your planning time and school hours.)
On Monday, I pull out all of the activities, materials, printables, and assessments that I know I’ll need for the following week. No matter what happens in my plans or in our schedule at school, these are routine activities we always, always use and need. In my first grade classroom, these items include:
In the picture above, you’ll see the weekly checklist I got from my sweet friend Ashley over at Schroeder Shenanigans in 2nd. You can edit the checklist to include anything you want. This is a LIFE-SAVER for me! I edited my list to include things I need to copy each week, assessments, things to plan, and monthly to-dos. In my district, we need to upload our plans to our district Dropbox, so I also have a spot to remind myself to do this each week. I use this list every week when I’m planning so I never miss anything! After you edit your checklist to include the routine weekly tasks for your classroom, run off multiple copies and stash them in the back of your lesson planning binder. Every week, pull out a new checklist and keep it visible throughout the week as you work through each “to-do.”
TUESDAY: COPY DAY
Tuesday is copying day. (Cue depressing music.) I take my pile of printable assessments, and activities that I had gathered on Monday, and I spend some quality time with my BFF, “The Copier.” I copy all of my materials for the following week. Why do I make copies so early in the week? I like to do this EARLY because then I’m not fighting for the copier on Thursday and Friday when everyone else is making their copies for the following week. It also doesn’t leave me panicking when the machine jams up, breaks, or looks a little like this:
On Tuesdays, I also pull any content related activities I want to use for next week. I’ve spent a lot of time organizing my materials over the past few years and it has REALLY paid off. One thing I’ve loved doing is transferring my printable and copies to a binder system instead of filing cabinets. It just makes more sense for me to grab a binder filled with resources instead of sifting through a pile of random papers that are spilling out of file folders. I am a teacher who loves to be a “resource leader” in my school. For example, if a teacher friend is looking for science ideas, it’s easier for me to grab my Science Binder and have all of my science units organized for her. Of course, once again, you need to figure out a plan and a system for filing your papers that works for you. Binders work for me. Binders did not work for my sweet friend Kristin, who recently shared a hilarious post about her love for file folders that you can read here. Remember, whatever makes your life easier will help you stay organized.
In the picture below, you can see how I have organized all of my materials into monthly thematic binders and binders by subject. If I have little centers or task cards to store, I store them in a sheet protector within the binder. This keeps everything nice and tidy.
The ADORABLE binder covers in the picture above are from my sweet friend Haley O’Connor.
You can find them in her TpT store by clicking HERE.
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY: FILL IT IN!
Now that everything I need for next week is copied and pulled, lesson planning is much easier on Wednesdays and Thursdays! I simply plug all of the activities we are doing into my lesson planning template. I type out my main subjects on Wednesday and I plan my small reading groups on Thursdays. By Thursday after school, my lesson plans are done! Finally, I print them off and save them into our district Dropbox.
You can download a weekly sample of my lesson plans below. I am blessed in that my district does not require us to write super, super detailed plans. We are expected to list the standards we are focusing on each week and have an instructional plan in place by Monday mornings. You can download the plans below to get clickable links for the resources I used by clicking HERE. You must download in order for the links to work.
Many people have asked me if I have an editable version of the lesson planning template I use available. You can find templates such as mine from A Teacher’s Plan by clicking here.
FRIDAY: THE FINISHING TOUCHES
Friday’s are saved for “putting everything where it goes.” I also write my classroom newsletter on Fridays so that it is ready to send home on Monday. The piece of furniture in the photograph above is literally falling apart. If you bump into it, it may crumble to the floor. (It must be well over 15 years old!) It’s also my FAVORITE item in my room. No, it’s not pretty, but it keeps me super-organized! It’s a large table-like paper sorter that sits against the wall behind my desk. When it breaks, I am going to cry.
I did find two similar pieces on Amazon, in case you are wanting something similar for your own room (and because I have a feeling I will have to trade my paper sorter in for a new model someday soon!). I’ve included two heavy-duty versions, and some cardboard versions that are more economical. (The following links are affiliate links. This means Amazon tosses me a few extra cents if you happen to purchase anything – at absolutely no extra cost to you! They help me keep my little corner of the internet up and running.)
My organizer has six rows to it and I’ve assigned each row a day of the week. On Fridays, I plan out my papers that I’ve copied for each day across the coordinating row. In the first column, I place my morning work. The second column contains math printables. The third column is reserved for our whole group reading activities, and so on. ALL of my activities and papers for the week are placed in this paper sorter, making it super easy for me to know what’s next and where things are! It also makes it easy for a sub to find what he or she needs if I was ever out for an emergency.
On Friday afternoon, I also lay out my plans for the following week on my desk, along with a brand new checklist or the following week. (Now, I am ready to start again the following week.)
WHAT ELSE SAVES ME TIME AT SCHOOL?
I refuse to spend any of my personal time prepping the classroom for little things like moving lunch choices back and behavior clips back. Why? Because this is not actually MY classroom. The classroom belongs to my students. My kids all have a job to do at the end of the day, and they love it!
They put the lunch choices back so they are ready to go for the following day.
You can grab these lunch choice signs for free by clicking here.
A couple of kids straighten up the library and even straighten up desks at the end of the day. (Yes, they know which lines on the floor the desks are supposed to be lined up on. Can you say O-C-D teacher?!) 😉
(Editable Classroom Schedule Cards shown above can be found here.)
There is even a job on Fridays to go into my paper sorter and set out Monday’s reading log for the week and Monday’s morning work template. This is one less thing I have to worry about on Monday morning. In addition, my kids come in each morning and “pick up” their morning work on the blue bookshelves. Why am I explaining this? Over the years, I have seen too many teachers spend their precious time each morning putting a paper on every students’ desk. Hear me out: Your students – even kindergartners – are fully capable of walking over to a designated area and grabbing their morning work as part of their routine. Try it. I promise you won’t hate it. 😉
I even teach my first graders how to turn off the Smart Board at the end of the day and how to turn off my projector on my desk. Kids NEED responsibility in the classroom – this is what makes a classroom transform from “my classroom” to OUR classroom. It also frees up precious time for YOU to enjoy your evenings and weekends!
I hope you found my weekly schedule and routine for lesson planning and preparation helpful! I no longer spend hours of personal time at home on lesson planning and prep work. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do spend some of my time at home on school stuff. However, that time is now spent on interventions for my kids and differentiating my new activities to better meet my kids’ needs. Having a designated routine for the week has made me a much, much happier and less stressed teacher. I find that I’ve learned to appreciate my classroom and my time at school more, because I am not constantly thinking about it and stressing out over it 24/7. I know that making my family a priority ultimately benefits my students, too. Instead of getting a teacher who is burnt out by November, they have a teacher who is eager to see their smiling faces every morning! Being a happier and healthier wife and mom, means that I am a happier and healthier teacher for my sweet students.
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