Organizing Collaboration – Co-Planning with Google Drive

(In response to the #saskedchat Blogging Challenge, Week One: Organization)

Not long after I started teaching, I was chatting with my mother (an educator herself) and sharing all of the exciting things about my new classroom. The kids are great, and middle years is surprisingly fun, and, and and… “…and the staff thinks I’m organized!”

I should have just said that I’d seen Bigfoot. It would have been more believable.

I was too lazy to find my tablet, so please enjoy this beautiful mouse art
I was too lazy to find my tablet, so please enjoy this beautiful mouse art

The truth is, I don’t know how possible it is to lead a classroom without having strong ideas about how to organize it, and while I’m happy to let my car house my 20 pairs of shoes and mystery boxes (among other things), my school life has always been well-maintained. I may not be able to tell you when my poor little Fit had its last oil change, but I can tell you exactly where my February Math assessment from four years ago is stored. It’s possible that the time I spend making sure that my classroom is running smoothly is a large part of the reason I’m less organized in other aspects of my life, but that’s a post for another day. Really, as far as organization goes, that’s the extent of my strategy: pour extensive time into it.

…I’m sure that there’s a more efficient way, yes.

This is a clean Honda Fit. It is clearly not MY Honda Fit. (It belongs to Wikipedia.)
This is a clean Honda Fit. So it is clearly not MY Honda Fit. (It belongs to Wikipedia.)

What I’d rather take a look at, though, is how organization and collaboration fit together. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an “internship enthusiast” (or someone who’s just very excited about the internship process). I love the co-teaching opportunities that internship brings, and I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some amazing interns who I just couldn’t learn enough from. This year, I’m now job-sharing, which means I’m planning and teaching in the mornings and my partner leads the afternoons. Both setups have some fabulous possibilities and opportunities, and both have required a lot of communication so that everyone is “in the know!”

With co-teaching comes co-planning, and for that, I’ve gravitated towards Google Drive.

I’ve heard excellent reviews about Planboard, be it through #edcamp sessions sharing it or friends raving about it. (@FNGraham, I think that you were the first!) I’ve heard enough to feel comfortable endorsing it to my colleagues, several of whom have started to use it. But for me, having spent the last few years doing frequent co-planning, I’m not sure if it’s quite ready to do what I need. My understanding – perhaps I’m wrong! – is that with Planboard, the file can be shared (easily!) with others, but not necessarily edited. That’s fantastic most of the time, but not so much when your revision history looks like this:

Google Drive co-planing in action
We’ve got lots to say!

I snapped at such a place for a reason. I’m fairly diligent about connecting the key outcomes covered in a day into my plans (and have encouraged my interns to do the same) for a few reasons, and in Planboard, they’re fully integrated. In Google Drive, I create a template for the day plans and copy and paste the outcomes over from our good old Saskatchewan Curriculum. It’s easy enough, but Planboard is designed for it, and I really do want to be a more efficient person someday.

All the same, the freedom of Google Drive makes it easier to set up exactly the way you’d like it to. My current system looks like this:

Check out those stylish folder covers
Check out those stylish folder covers

Each week gets its own file, and all previous weeks are banished are moved to the world of “Previous Weeks.” Assessment and flexible groupings are tracked so my partner and I are always up-to-date with what the other has covered, and long-range plans are easy to access (and easy to share with administrators and colleagues).

My move to this format (away from good old Microsoft Word) was done specifically for the co-planning aspect, but it came with some extra perks. I feel far less tethered to my school laptop, so planning at home has become infinitely easier. I’m equally happy with the fact that, should my school laptop be forgotten at home (or smashed, or…), these files can be accessed and edited anywhere else, including my iPad. The Drive format doesn’t seem to edit perfectly on mobile platforms, but it’s at least readable, which is the most important thing. (My understanding is that Planboards mobile version is far better.)

See? They even have a tablet on their website. (Courtesy of
See? They even have a tablet on their website. (Courtesy of

Back to the intern thing. What I ended up loving about this approach – and hadn’t though much about previously – was how easily it opened up back-and-forth dialog. With the internship process, so much emphasis is placed on giving feedback to the intern. That’s important, but it neglects to mention the insight and expertise our pre-service teachers hold themselves.

With this co-planning, everything that I was planning was as laid out as my intern’s lesson plans. It allowed me to model what planning strategies worked for me, and it also encouraged my interns to be able to leave ongoing feedback and suggestions with my teaching. As our relationships strengthened and we became more comfortable with one another, their feedback was able to move from “I like this…” to “what about including…” or “could we try?…” – which enriched my teaching and highlighted their own development as reflective practitioners.

So, at the end of the day, the platform’s far less important than the collaborative mindset behind it. I’ll continue to use Google Drive for now, and I’m going to play around more with Planboard. Those out there – do you have experience using either of these tools (or both) in a co-teaching environment? Or what else have you tried?

8 thoughts on “Organizing Collaboration – Co-Planning with Google Drive

  1. kwhobbes February 3, 2015 / 6:43 pm

    As an admin, I liked using Google Drive for sharing of all sorts of forms and other wonderful information with teachers! I’m sure they were just as excited when a new form was shared with them! As a teacher, the flexibility of Drive is great and I can that being able to edit in real time with a partner would be an awesome advantage to planning.
    I have no experience with Planboard but have hear some good reviews too. There is another planning tool that incorporates Sask Outcomes but for the life of me I cannot find the link.
    Planning can be much more fluid with tools that allow for integration of different ideas and input from different people. Also, I like to be able to actually input the links to what I was going to use right in the plans with the outcome and the assessment linked as well. It just makes things much easier when you have access in one place with a few clicks! Great ideas Amy. Thanks for sharing!

    • Amy Lawson February 5, 2015 / 1:15 am

      Are you thinking of this one? – {Digital Learner Solutions}

      It’s a fantastic resource that I’d like to use more in the future… the developer, Cory, works with our school division and is incredibly helpful!

  2. stangea February 4, 2015 / 1:08 pm

    I find you certainly need willing colleagues if you are intending to collaborate. My daily plans and more importantly my curriculum documents and lessons, replete with resource links our shared on my Google drive with my grade like team at school and the interns I have had in the last few years. Something of a disappointment to me that they have not embraced my resources to the extent that I would like them too. More importantly, they have an collaborated in developing stronger resources and strategies for grade four and five. It is such a missed opportunity for all of us, but it underscores the theme of our blogging this week and that is workflow. It seems we all develop our own idiosyncratic way of organizing our professional lives and bridging the gap remains a challenge. For example, our school is immersed in Microsoft outlook as a sharing tool, however, some of the strongest features are ignored by my colleagues. Even The calendar is poorly used by many colleagues. They think the program exists simply to pass on emails.

    • Amy Lawson February 5, 2015 / 1:33 am

      Sharing those things with your team is fantastic… and it is disappointing when they’re not being utilized! When I was in my third year of education, a few of us put together a Wiki site to collect unit plans and ideas with the same intent. Unfortunately, it didn’t really get rolling until the semester was almost finished, and so it didn’t really “take off.” Google Drive makes it much easier to access plans, so I’m hoping my junior team and I will be able to continue sharing things like we’ve started to. A little bit of headache trying to get the right “system” can lead to a great payoff in the end, but like you said, the organizing to get there can be a stumbling block!

  3. Ferrah February 4, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    Funny that my own post was going to be about Planboard…until I went all “new age-y.” While I am a Planboard devotee, I think anytime you find the tool that works best for you, you’ve won. A tool that easily allows you to include outcomes, FSLs, etc and move things around quickly is a perfect way to organize a day. I will need to look into the collaborative possibilities of Planboard. Also I’ve seen your day book for real and you ARE incredibly organized! Thanks for this post!

    • Amy Lawson February 5, 2015 / 1:34 am

      Back at you! (Although I’d love to peek at your Planboard plans sometime! πŸ™‚

  4. Eriko February 5, 2015 / 5:24 pm

    Thanks for the great tips, Amy.
    As I am joggling life with a baby, student life, house keeping and returning to work in few month… and so on, I cannot even make a to do list often. I feel like I am loosing my head sometimes.

    With co-learning in my ECMP355 project, I definitely plan to use Google Drives with my team.
    I’m also going to look into Planboard, it was mentioned in Mr. Hadden’s blog too.

    • Amy Lawson February 8, 2015 / 2:03 am

      I’m so impressed by everyone who manages to juggle a busy life and parenthood. The biggest force pushing me to pursue my MEd when I have was to finish it before kids came into the picture. I didn’t trust myself to find the motivation to finish it up otherwise! Your ability to juggle it all so well is inspiring to me. πŸ™‚ I hope that I’ll be able to navigate the different “worlds” when they do arrive! Are you interning in the fall?

      Let me know how using Google Drive works with your team! I find little things that it can do quite often – Kelly just retweeted a great article about different “add-ons” fro it – and have loved it so far. I hope that it works for your group!

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