Common Planning Time

A MiddleWeb Blog


Common planning time and team meetings are essential for a successful co-teaching relationship. Teachers are always busy and sometimes the seven hours (give or take) we have at school each day doesn’t seem nearly enough.

But, there are ways to make the most of every minute. Here are some suggestions, based on what seems to be working best for us at my middle school — although we’ve certainly had situations where my teammates and I had to be creative because of scheduling conflicts.

Work with your principal or the person who creates the schedules before school starts.

The teams and co-teachers in our school are fortunate to have a principal who schedules common planning time into our schedule before school begins. We plug in the specific days and times we want to meet, but when he creates the schedule at the end of summer, he asks special education teachers when we want to teach our academic support classes.

I appreciate this immensely because I schedule our common planning time first, then my support classes afterwards. I consult with my teammates to ensure we have times and days that work for each of us. Each subject teacher has a prep period when the special ed teacher on their team is also free to meet and plan together. In addition, we must set aside team meeting times twice a week and share this information with our guidance counselor (who meets with us monthly), and our ETL (educational team leader) who schedules annual reviews and 3-year reviews.

What can you do if you have only a few blocks in common or none at all?

If you work in a school in which your schedule is already locked in and you don’t have the luxury of 4 “common preps,” you can still make things work. Say you have two common planning periods per week — which can happen if my colleagues are absent or have to cover for an absent teacher in our building — you may be able to split the time into two “mini” common preps.

If you don’t have any common time, you might be able to have a working lunch. And/or you might plan in the morning before the kids come, even for 10 minutes at a time, or after school for 20 minutes. The important thing is to actually sit down and plan. Any amount of time is better than none.

What’s a good use of co-planning time?

If we have a full period to plan (46 minutes), we sit side by side with our plan books, pencil (with a good eraser in case we want to change/adjust), textbook (if we use one), novels, handouts, etc. We start off with mapping out the daily routines first: checking homework, Do Now’s, etc. Then it’s on to our discussion of the week’s ideas — maybe we’re starting the division of fractions in math, introducing a unit on the moon phases in science, taking up a new novel in ELA, or learning about Egypt in Ancient World History.

We then discuss each day and how we want to implement our ideas and reach our goals. If we are finishing a unit on changing fractions to decimals, what day or days we will review for our test and how? Will there be a study guide as class work which then becomes homework? Will we teach the kids how to create a “cheat sheet” or use stations? Will we play a game in ELA around the novel we’re reading?

We also discuss “who is doing what?” For example, in ELA I am terrible at grammar, but I can create and present writing prompts to emphasize verb practice (“Describe what you did for Thanksgiving and then circle all the verbs.”). We all have our teaching strengths and weaknesses, and it’s crucial to be honest with one another about what we’re comfortable with and what our partner might be better at addressing.

Often, my colleagues have deeper preparation in the content area (especially in Earth/Physical Science and Ancient History) but I have good ideas to help students organize their history portfolios or master science concepts with hands-on activities.

We also use our time together to create and tweak projects and fine-tune our tests and quizzes. And one very important upshot of our co-planning: it provides me with a heads up of what I need to do with the special needs students in our academic support class.

Next: Team meetings

In my next post, I’ll give you a closer look at our team meetings and activities. I don’t hold our school up as the perfect example of co-teacher integration, but I do think that we’ve reached a place where we’re able to work pretty smoothly together, thanks to lots of good leadership, good will, and good lessons learned.


Laurie Wasserman

Laurie Wasserman is a National Board Certified 6th-grade special needs teacher in Medford, Massachusetts. She has been teaching for 32 years, has written articles for Education Week, Teacher Magazine and Education World, all about her love of working with kids who “learn differently.” She is also a co-author of the 2011 book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Public Schools Now and in the Future. Laurie is a member of the Boston Writing Project, and Teacher Leaders Network, as well as a new teacher mentor.

1 Response

  1. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Laurie, I enjoyed reading about how you make the most of your common planning time. You discuss what you are teaching and how you plan to do it. It’s so important to include the process of teaching as we plan together…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.