Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Purpose of Planning Time: How to Make the Day Seemless

After sharing our "Flow of the Day", quite a few followers and colleagues have asked a bit about how our planning time works. We have worked hard to minimize transitions and in doing this we do not use the "traditional" planning time method where the teacher coming in teaches one specific subject.
I asked a colleague and good friend (Jennifer Ohrling) to share a bit with readers about how she seemlessly enters into classrooms to extend, document, and embrace student learning. Jennifer is an incredible educator who has taught me so much about what it means to be a teacher. She supported me in my first year as a Kindergarten teacher and I often seek her out for her opinion or support!
Thanks so much for inviting me to be a guest blogger.  Many of your readers are interested in the Kindergarten Planning Time teacher model and I am happy to share what is working for our team. 

Recently I was talking to a mom (from another board) who has a daughter who is very anxious about being at school all day. The teachers, parents, and administrators have worked tirelessly to help ease the anxiety of this bright, articulate, playful little girl.  She seemed to be settling down until a recent morning outburst claiming that she was “not going to school today, there is health class today, I always have to stop what I’m doing for health class!”  This statement is incredibly powerful for adults evaluating how they enter a Kindergarten room. 

Last year a system wide memo was sent out by our school board to promote a model for planning time teachers. This model respects the Full Day Kindergarten program and supports a seamless day with limited transitions and fewer adults:  “The WRDSB does not wish to see planning time detracting from student learning by causing systemic and artificial breaks in a young learner’s day when this is preventable.” 
At our school, we took this memo quite seriously and the Administration and Kindergarten team talked about how the Kindergarten Planning Time role would honour the children's day and their learning.  I am not the health teacher, the music teacher, or gym teacher.  I am a Kindergarten teacher who endeavours to seamlessly enter a buzzing room of learning. 
When I arrive I slowly immerse myself into whatever is going on at the time (as of late it means you may find me dancing Gangnam style or to the Nutcracker in Tracy’s room).  I try to show the children that I am there for them and I value what they are doing.  
One of the ways I do this is by keeping my interactions with the leaving teacher to a minimum.  If the teacher has something to tell me before she leaves she will, otherwise they quietly leave the room and the children know that I am there. This gives the message to the children that their learning is important on its own and the adults don’t need to plan out what will happen next. 
Alternatively, Tracy will often stay in the room during her planning time because she is immersed in a child’s project.  When I see this happening I work to minimize the interruptions to Tracy by making myself available to the children I see walking over to her. 

For some classes I am in the room during a transition. I work with the ECE to determine how she would like the transition to happen (we have learned here at Howard that slow release to lunch, outdoor play, etc. works best). In some classes it means I have learned a song or bring a story book, in others in means that I use the tambourine for 5 minute warnings, and in other rooms I quietly tap each child on the shoulder to let them know a transition is coming soon.  

When I do approach the children during learning centres I am careful not to ask the age old questions; "What are you building?" "What are you painting?" or "How many puzzle pieces are left?"  I'm sure there is nothing more annoying to a child than an adult interrupting play with these closed questions.   
We are very careful with how we approach children at play here at Howard and rather use statements such as “I wonder how you knew how to make the base of your structure so strong”, “those paint strokes remind me of Van Gogh’s”, and “It sure takes determination to finish a puzzle.”  Often I just stay quiet and  when appropriate I begin documenting the child’s learning. 

Each year our Kindergarten Team participates in a book club to promote our own learning and growth.  Last year we read The Play’s the Thing by Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds.  In this book we are reminded of Erikson’s Stages of development and what is developmentally appropriate for  children:  “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality;  the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” (Erikson, 1950, p.222).  How true!

This year we are reading The Art of Awarenss – How Observation Can Transform your Teaching, By: Deb Curtis and Margie Carter.  This powerful title in itself tells us how important the observation of children is.  We do not interrupt an architect in the middle of his/her drawings, we do not interrupt an artist in the middle of his/her brush stroke, and we certainly don’t interrupt a construction worker while she/he is laying the foundation for our homes.  I challenge all educators to take a close look at our interactions with young builders, authors, and artists and determine the best way to promote their learning before walking into their learning space.

For those of you who have been assigned the role of health, music, or gym teacher I respectfully ask you to re-visit the structure of your time.  Ask yourself the following questions.  Is the class given ample warning time to finish up what they are doing before they transition to my activity?  Do I really need the full period (or 2) to complete my lesson or can I immerse myself in their learning first in order to make a connection during whole-group instruction?  Am I honouring the research about how long it is appropriate to directly instruct children?  Have I taken the time to connect with the ECE and classroom teacher about the tone of the room and how they prefer transitions to occur? 

It has been a wonderful year of learning for me as I step into the learning spaces of 6 Full-Day Kindergarten classrooms.  I have been teaching for 15 years (7 years in Kindergarten) and I can honestly tell you that I grow and change each year in this profession.  I will leave you with one last thought.

I often hear teachers referring to the need for Kindergarten teachers to “prepare children for grade one.”  If we are truly passionate about what we are doing and we are honouring this critical stage of development for 3-5 year olds, we are doing what is best for children RIGHT NOW.  When we nurture and respect these young learners by meeting them at their own developmental stages we help to create a society of students who trust adults, care about school, and see themselves as authors of their own stories.  What could be better than that?

Thank you so much Jenny for sharing your incredible insights with everyone! You truly make planning time a powerful and productive time in all of the classrooms.


  1. I am passionately curious about your FDK program!
    I thought this might be a post about your marvellous dance inquiry, but this is also a nice surprise, one I will be sharing widely with other friends who are embarking on the DK journey next year or the last year (like me). This sounds ideal, and it's so often the topic of conversation amongst K teachers when we are in a group, so to hear your school is proactively spelling out what is appropriate: swoon!

    That book sounds fantastic. Summer reading list just keeps growing!

    And that last note about grade one readiness... Thank you! I suppose it will take time before that comment is seen as nearsighted. It's up to us to trumpet the successes and skills of our students, but it can be discouraging at times to think of how the play is seen as, well, "just play". The students are so lucky to have you, and the entire team who work with them. Great post, you two!

  2. Hi,

    I am being interviewed for a Kindergarten Planning Time position and I was wondering if there is anything in particular that I should be discussing during my interview. I read most of your blogs on FDK and found them very helpful.


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  4. Do you have an email I can contact you please Tracy? Thanks!

  5. I am highly curious about what a "Kindergarten Planning Time Teacher" is! I have not hear this term here in the States. A Google search revealed nothing. Any ideas for learning by more? It sounds like what we would call our "Specialist Teachers" (P.E., Library, Dance, Music, Art, and World Languages). Is this particular to FDK?

  6. Our Planning Time teacher is what you would refer to as a Specialist Teacher. I think the definition varies between cities, countries and even school boards! In Ontario, we refer to these teachers are planning time teachers.