Last Updated on April 8, 2022 by Stephanie
This post is for all my fellow teachers out there. If you aren’t a teacher, then head over to my other post that covers some of the same ideas without the teaching specifics. This post is all about grade books, curriculum plans, and the dreaded teacher planner!
Now, the honest answer to this question is that whichever works for you is the better option! However, I know that isn’t why you are reading this. You want answers.
Do you still keep a paper teacher planner and a paper grade book? This is not even a generational thing because I work with all years of experience and they each go their own way. I know new teachers who still plan with a traditional paper planner and colorful pens, and I know people who have been teaching for 30 years who plan everything online.
You want to know what is going to keep you organized and happy. If you haven’t checked out my post about building productivity systems, you should definitely check it out because they absolutely apply to teaching. Planning systems, to-do lists, etc. are all useless unless you use them and do so effectively. A system needs to work for you, and with teaching, they need to make things go faster.
What do I know?
A little background on myself. I’m in my 16th year of teaching elementary music. I have had anywhere from 22-27 sections of students a year. There are years that I’ve had two back-to-back 3 hours of teaching where my only break is lunch 3 out of 5 days in the week. I’ve also had years that are more relaxed because we’ve lost sections and I get some extra plan time during the day and more duties before and after school.
Full disclosure, I’ve also got my Master’s degree in Educational Technology, so I am a total tech nerd. Apple and I are best friends. I am absolutely biased toward using technology for making things easier for me. However, I do not believe in using technology for the sake of using technology.
I have used pre-made teacher planner books and grade books. I have created my own binders, I have used apps, and finally, I settled on my happy place of all things. Honestly, it took me until around years 13 and 14 to finally find out my best system. 14 years!
The background I’m giving you is not to validate myself or say that I know everything. I give you this background because I am about to give you my honest opinions here. When you see someone doing something and it is working for them, or they have been doing it longer than you… you should absolutely ask them how they do it. Those that come before us know more than we do, so use their knowledge! If it doesn’t work for you, that is fine, but at least you gained some new insights.
Now I’m going to go into the pros and cons of each, offering up my own personal opinions and different resources for you to check out.
Traditional Teacher Planner and Grade Book
If you’re a teacher, you’ve totally walked the aisles of Michael’s or Hobby Lobby in the past few years. You’ve noticed that planners and planning are all the rage. You can get a crazy amount of adorable things. Some popular names in the traditional planner world include Erin Condren and The Happy Planner. Several stores even have their own brand of planners and planner accessories. From the basic planner to sticker packs, to dividers, and extension packs. You can plan out just about anything. A lot of these companies create planners specifically built as a teacher planner. With many people using Cricut and Silhouette cutters as well, places like Etsy are EXPLODING with stickers and printables for you to use in your planners. We don’t have to stick with the traditional blue teacher planner and red grade book that the school districts give us every year for free.
- You get to use actual pens and pencils and art tools. (all teachers love these)
- Distraction-free because it isn’t on a digital device.
- No learning curve because you know how to use a pencil or pen.
- There are a million different versions.
- Lots of different accessories are available to personalize your experience.
- You don’t have to back it up!
- Erasing and Whiting out can sometimes make for a messy situation (You forgot about that assembly on Tuesday and did the plans for the next week already)
- There are never enough subjects or spots for everything you want (this is in my opinion, but I can usually never find something that works with my day or how I want to organize my plans!)
- Once you run out of pages… that’s it. (unless you use a binder or disc planner)
- A paper teacher planner is not always customizable.
- Honestly, writing in all the kid’s names… (maybe this is because I have 500+ kids every year, but that used to take me FOREVER)
- What the crap do you do with it when you are done?
Digital Planners and Notebooks
I was introduced to digital planning and notebooks several years ago and I will fully admit that I fell in love! I do very little planning or anything traditionally anymore and fully admit that my love for digital grows more and more.
During the year that shall not be named (COVID)… my year was a HOT MESS. We started the year completely remote teaching, then the school went to half and half. As for specials though, we stayed online with different schedules. Then we changed our schedule again, but we were still online. Yup, during the 2020-2021 school year I never actually taught a student in my physical classroom! It was insane. I grew so much as a teacher, and it gave me new tools and tricks for my teaching that I don’t think I would have ever discovered. I don’t think I would have been able to work through that year without my digital tools. Honestly, I would have had to get a different teacher planner every couple of months because my schedule completely changed!
If you are hesitant to start in with using a digital planner, please look things up and explore this world. Download my free digital notebook from the image below and grab an app like GoodNotes or Notability to try it out!
There are so many tutorials and freebies and videos for you to watch if you are new to the idea of digital planning. So now that I’ve told you how much I love it, let me tell you the pros and cons.
- It can be with you everywhere you go and depending on the app, it syncs with multiple devices!
- There are a LOT of different options out there.
- There are a LOT of different stickers and templates available.
- Notebooks and grade books are never-ending. If you run out of room, you add a new page. (and I love the copy and paste features!)
- Most are easy to back up.
- Infinite numbers of colors and sizes and pen styles and fonts!
- You can completely customize everything.
- There are so many different tutorials out there.
- Personal opinion – they are typically cheaper than traditional.
- Less paper waste.
- When things change (which they do all the time in education), you can easily duplicate and move things around without erasing your entire week!
- Easier for creating sub plans, communicating lessons to co-teachers, sharing things with other colleagues.
- A bit of a learning curve with different apps.
- You need to back things up on a regular basis to keep them safe in case of computer or device crashing.
- Looking online can be a bit overwhelming because there are so many different options out there.
- Make sure things are charged and ready for you to use.
- Certain sites or apps may not be able to be installed on your district devices.
My Personal Usage
While in my personal planning life I am a hybrid individual, I am totally digital at school. I keep a small notepad on my desk at all times to write down random things, but that’s it. For example, if a teacher comes in and asks me to email someone or check-in, I put it on that little notepad at the moment. My notepad stuff gets transferred to my to-do list app at the end of the day if something takes me longer than 2 minutes to do.
Like I said earlier, the best choice for you is the one that you will use! So here is what I use:
My Teacher Planner
For planning, I owe my husband the world. He introduced me to an AMAZING site called planbook.com. You can check it out for free, but it is very affordable. I don’t know what I would do without planbook.com to be completely honest. You can create your schedule, put in your full plans including any links to materials you are using, and you are ready to go. I print out my plans every week for each day because it is easier for me to glance at since I change classes every 30 minutes. My husband just keeps his open on his computer.
Things I love about planbook.com:
- The lesson bump feature – if you didn’t finish what you intended, you can “bump” it to the next time you have that class or that subject!
- The color coding – You can color code EVERYTHING
- Embedded links – You can embed links into your lesson plans for while you are teaching!
- Copy and paste – You are able to create a lesson and paste it into other classes with just two clicks!
There are more features than I use, but for what I do, I’m obsessed with it.
Google calendar is my life. That is all.
I use digital notebooks for my grade book and I won’t ever go back. I love that I can use it as just a checklist, I can use it for actual grades, I can use it for small notes, and I can have everything in one place! With that being said, I know that this might not work for some because some people need to put things into apps or spreadsheets to calculate grades. My grades get input into our reporting system for the district, but all of my notes and anecdotes go in my digital notebook. Here is a glimpse, of a sample page I created of what I put in my different checklists. Again, these are examples and not real students (I hope that’s obvious… haha).
All in one place and wonderful! With different types of pages available, it really is limitless in what it can do! You can make student information pages, meeting notes, to-do lists, goals, and so many different things. One of my favorite things is the ability to insert images. I do this with our school year calendar, my own schedule, frequently looked at school policies, and many other things. It’s awesome!
If you’ve read anything else that I’ve posted on this site having to do with productivity, you know that I’m beyond obsessed with the app ToDoist. I use it for my personal, my school, and my blog life. I won’t ever go back to traditional to-do lists. By the way, if you want to learn a bit more about effective to-do lists, read this post here. For school, it is an absolute game-changer. My personal favorite is its repeating tasks feature.
You know those things that you are supposed to do each month or every week, and you forget about them? That’s okay because, in ToDoist, you can set a task to recur every week or month or at a certain time. So, that day (or a couple of days before if you want) it pops up on your to-do list for the day. I have different sections like Grading, Planning, Team Leader, and Priority that have various tasks and things on it that are ready to go. During my weekly review on Sunday mornings (this absolutely changed my life and you can read about it here), I check in with my tasks so I can assign them a day or check in with them. I mentioned near the beginning that I keep a paper notepad on my desk always. All things from that notepad get entered into ToDoist at the end of the day if they aren’t done. Less of a paper mess on my desk and I’m a happy camper with reminders!
Next Steps – Should You Ditch Your Regular Teacher Planner?
If you are at all curious about digital planning and digital notebooks, I highly suggest that you look up some information. I feel like the customizable nature of digital stuff is totally awesome. Being able to add pages, create your own templates, and use unlimited numbers of stickers and decorations is well worth it. If you want to try out a digital notebook, try out the one in the link above! In my freebie section, I’ve also got some free digital stickers to try out as well. Ditching the traditional teacher planner might be difficult at first, but it was absolutely worth it for me.
If you already love everything about digital planning and love my teacher notebook, I’m going to have those available here on my site and on Etsy soon!
Do you want to know more about digital planning? Post in the comments below any questions you might have!