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.
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.
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:
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:
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 Planboard‘s mobile version is far better.)
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?