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Be Prepared:  How to Plan Ahead, No Matter What

pandemic classroom

Amid a relative pandemic lull, epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists everywhere are imploring Congress to think ahead and provide funding for relief in future disease waves that are almost sure to come. Unfortunately, the request has not been granted to date. Reactivity seems to be an established norm in so many areas of American society. However, education doesn’t have to be one of them. With proactive planning, teachers can anticipate roadblocks that are likely to lie ahead before they even exist. Not everything can be predicted, but there are a few ways to meet the endless complications and changes that come our way with a little more preparedness.

See What’s Brewing…And Fix It

Any classroom teacher knows that tiny details can derail an entire day. From a management perspective, the little things become even more important. Consider something as simple as a seating arrangement. Students who show signs of being off task consistently can improve their focus if teachers do something small, like changing desk configurations or switching up a seating chart. Likewise, making shifts to the way students are grouped helps to ensure lessons go smoothly, whether that means switching up established clusters of students or intentionally placing kids together in combinations that can be mutually beneficial. In the moment, it’s easier to ignore brewing issues and turn a blind eye, but that always winds up coming back to haunt us in the long run. Instead, fixing problems before they intensify and spiral into something much bigger and less controllable is a much more sustainable path.

Stay Grounded

There is so much pressure associated with curriculum pacing. Some of that stress is external and beyond any individual teacher’s control, but there are ways to ease the burden a little. Instead of considering how long it might take to cover every bit of recommended content, try to zero in on a realistic pace for the next several weeks ahead. All teachers adjust practice from year to year, and much of our success relies on self-awareness to make changes for the better. When we assign or plan too much work, the stress load for everyone involved increases without adding much benefit to students or to ourselves. Instead, making sure lesson plans reflect a realistic progression will be much more likely to result in reaching desired learning goals, even if unanticipated obstacles occur.

Keep Grades Balanced

Sometimes, grade books are highly skewed toward one large task, such as a culminating test or project. This is not the time to assign something that everyone’s grade hinges upon, especially if it also happens to be collected near the last day of the marking period. Instead, providing a battery of smaller assignments that support targeted outcomes is a more effective way to gauge student learning, particularly in unstable times. In addition, making sure that the timing of assignments is spread out evenly throughout a marking period helps to ensure that if a pandemic wave rises and large numbers of people start going home sick, there will still be enough information recorded to determine what students know and what they still need to work on.

Don’t Get Too Attached

We all love it when life goes exactly as we planned. However, to paraphrase the old saying, when we plan, higher powers laugh. Sometimes, teachers really look forward to working on a specific unit or assigning a project that both they and students love. While it is easy to get attached to doing something that has been planned so carefully, agility is important in these troubled times. With any longer-range assignment or plan, have a shorter and less complex version available in the event that instruction is disrupted. That way, students will reap the benefits of a slightly modified version of a much-anticipated experience rather than not having the opportunity to access it at all.

Find the One Thing

Suppose everything falls apart sometime between now and June. What is the one thing students need to know before they leave for the summer? Prioritizing is difficult, but it is a skill every effective teacher needs to determine what is most urgent and important from an instructional perspective. If I know that my class cannot successfully meet learning targets for the next grade without knowing how to multiply two-digit numbers, then that skill must be prioritized above a lesser need. With so many competing priorities, it can be immensely difficult to simply focus on one, but by identifying a “buck stops here” learning target, teachers can sleep a little more soundly knowing that even if things fall apart, that one goal will still be met. In all likelihood, life will not become that dire, and students will meet multiple outcomes. However, picking one to start with is a wise move.

Planning ahead comes naturally to teachers. However, if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that even with the best logistical skills in the universe, we still can’t control everything. Having said that, we can do better than the legislators and other leaders who are not showing enough proactive action. With some small changes to both classroom management and instruction, not to mention some brainstorming, teachers can weather the storms ahead with flexibility, agility and a hefty dose of self-awareness and compassion.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

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