Planning Retreats


As a previous Grade 5 Coordinator, I know that one of the biggest responsibilities is leading planning meetings. So much pre-planning goes into this process. Having to think about the best way to approach, angle and guide this process  is challenging, yet also exciting! While I have a clear plan on how the learning could go, it is my role to provoke the thinking so we can shape our understanding together.

The most successful way to bring great thinking to the table is to create the opportunity for it. This happens in the way of running a retreat – a retreat for planning, a retreat for ideas to emerge. We have always done this as part of the PYP Exhibition unit. The team has always walked away from these retreats making concrete and meaningful connections and a shared vision on how to drive the Exhibition unit together. We get so much from running this and the protocols of thinking that come with it, to drill down to the core of our ideas and understanding.

But, why only for the Exhibition unit?

In my new role, I have a much wider responsibility to ensure that 7 teams are planning relevant, significant, meaningful and challenging units. At our school, we write ‘reports’ at the end of each unit. The trap that we were falling into each and every time was that when we arrived at the beginning of a new unit, teachers were ill-prepared and making things up on the fly. This is called reality – our reality. Having our 40 minute planning meetings were simply not cutting it. This is because teachers had finishing up on writing reports, following through with assessments to gauge student’s understanding of the unit along with all the other practicalities and formalities of day to day teaching. This simply was causing teachers more stress and angst and ultimately, students were suffering as a result.

To this end, we have now introduced 1/2 day planning retreats for each team. These retreats happen 2 weeks before the next unit commences. This gives teachers time to think about the learning, engage in conversations early and get energized about possibilities and ideas.

What does this look like?

It really is pretty simple. For one whole week and 2 days for the following week, each grade level will have planning time. Cover is arranged for their classes and we are able to dive into those deep conversations that simply can’t happen in a 40 minute time frame.  By the time teachers settled into the 40 minute planning meeting, teachers knew that students were about to walk through those doors again and any momentum worth running with is lost. It is this piecemeal approach that was getting in the way of designing the best provocations and ideas around the central idea.

The impact – what are are teachers saying?

Teachers now seek me out when the next planning retreat is and get in early to pick an ideal day for them. They feel more confident about that first week as things have been thought through. They can focus on writing their reports (well and thoughtfully and honestly) knowing that there is clarity, vision and understanding on how to move the learning forward for the up and coming unit.

Students are the clear benefactors in this process. Teachers are more focused. And as for me, I get to spend more time in classes, to see the planning transfer and transpire into the taught curriculum. Nothing better when a plan comes together!

The small cost in organizing ‘cover’ for teachers is well worth the investment. Give it a go!




  1. rupaljos

    At my previous school, teams would have a full day retreat to plan units while the class was covered. This enabled us to plan in depth (without continuous clock watching or getting bogged down with housekeeping issues), have great conversations and share ideas and resources. These retreats also gave Specialist teachers and the Librarian time to drop in on meetings leading to better collaboration. Retreats also help teams get a better vision of the unit before it begins, thus giving teachers more confidence and purpose. I think this system of planning is a great idea and really beneficial for both teachers and students.

    • Chad Walsh

      Hi Rupal – great to hear from you and share your thoughts. You’re right in saying that it allows time for sing;e-subject teachers to ‘drop in’ and be part of the planning process. Very true about the clock watching and the housekeeping issues that seem to take front and center. Could it be something you look at in your school?

  2. Judy Imamudeen

    I love how you frame it as a “retreat”–we just call it block collaboration here. (Not as sexy sounding. lol) Although we have monthly “speed dating” collaboration meetings, we only do this sort of extended planning 1x a semester. It’s a lot of work to orchestrate the cover and, depending on the team, sometimes the transdisciplanary elements are not fully fleshed out, so I can see why you might want to have them more frequently.
    I had a colleague of mine who works at a well known IB school in the Middle East who told me that she spends more time in planning meetings than actually teaching and when she did the math, that her TA teaches more than she does. That has always been in the back of my mind when I think about having these planning times during school hours. I’m advocating for “planning days” in which we have days on the school calendar in which we sit down and plan extensively, however, the kids are not expected to be at school. I think, in this way, it’s a win for the teachers and the students. Chad, since you’ve been developing these sorts of planning times, what are your thoughts about student-free planning days?

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