Common planning time among educators is a crucial element in the success of an inclusive school. Planning time helps improve instruction by allowing teachers to share best practices, look at students' work, and plan curriculum and lessons together. In order for planning to contribute meaningfully to curriculum development and implementation, sufficient time should be built into the schedule rather than carved out of before and after school time.
Common planning time should be considered a district-wide and school-wide matter. The following ideas can assist districts, schools and individual teachers to maximize the time and resources that they have available. Not all of the ideas listed will be viable in every situation. It is suggested that districts, schools and teams use these tips as a springboard for further discussion.
- Hire regular substitutes or engage family volunteers to work with students during regularly scheduled blocks of time.
- Eliminate or reduce teacher administrative assignments or schedule these assignments so that co-teaching teams can be free during the same periods.
- Extend the lunch period by 15 minutes one or two times per week. Enlist specialists, support staff or family volunteers to supervise.
- Organize regularly scheduled large-group activities (lectures, music/art exhibits, etc.) that can be managed by support staff and specialists so that co-teaching teams can work together.
- Create a planning website as an additional support to the planning process. Unit outlines, lesson plans and resources can be shared among the team. A discussion forum can be included. Be sure that all team members are aware that information about students should not be discussed online.
- Make sure that the school community and families understand the reasons for incorporating common planning time into the schedule. Some may see it as taking away time from their child’s instruction without understanding the benefits. Information about common planning time can be posted on the school web site, the school manual or explained in a newsletter.
- Utilize an agreed upon protocol during your planning meetings to maximize your time together.
- Use the time to focus on curriculum and instruction. Avoid sessions focused on venting and complaining. The motto “We don’t admire the problems!” can help.
- If you decide to use before or after the school day to meet, try to make it as enjoyable as possible to encourage participation among team members. Share responsibility for bringing coffee and doughnuts or take turns bringing afternoon snacks.