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Gordon: Planning to learn and learning to plan

Community voice

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013 1:04 p.m. CST
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(Mary Beth Versaci - mversaci@shawmedia.com)
Paul Gordon

The last time I wrote in this space, I talked about the positive impact creativity, problem solving and collaboration have on our students and staff, and what the district is doing to foster those “Learner Characteristics” in students.

Today, I want to spend a little time talking about the crucial role teacher planning plays in learning and what District 41 is doing to foster effective, well-planned instruction. Our approach to planning stems from a powerful, foundational belief: all students will learn given the proper amount of time and support.

The best thing we can do for our students is to give them teachers who have mastery of the content, who are alert to the needs of the whole child and who bring a range of strategies to the learning needs of their many students. This is a huge expectation and one that teachers can only fulfill if they have time for quality planning.

By planning, I do not mean prepping, which is about the routine logistics of getting ready for class. Planning is a demanding enterprise requiring deep thinking, collaborating with colleagues, analyzing student data and, most important, working with the end result in mind.

The research supports what I’ve learned from experience: planning is essential for quality instruction. If we understand the importance of quality teaching, then we have to give teachers time to plan.

In recent weeks, District 41 has been giving elementary math teachers at Levels Two and Three (grades two through five) some designated time and the support of our specialists and administrators to backward plan their math instruction.

Although we are starting with math, in the future, we will be finding ways to provide time for all our teachers to engage in this type of focused planning. We are always reluctant to take teachers away from their students, but in this case there is a big payoff for learning.

Our math teachers are going deeply into the learning goals of the new Common Core standards and aligning their instruction to the higher performance bar we are bringing to our students. Special education, english as a second language teachers and content specialists are all part of this effort to plan instructional strategies for all learners—those who are already soaring, those who are ready to take off and those who need a little more time and support. The most powerful piece of this is that teachers are learning with and from each other by sharing their experiences and expertise.

Teaching is a complex and demanding profession. Because we ask the world of our educators, we will continue to find ways to provide planning time so that all of our teachers can continue to do the very best for all their learners. 

Paul Gordon is the superintendent of Glen Ellyn School District 41.

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