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No Teacher, No Plans, Now What?
Updated Solutions for Teachers, Principals, and Subs
From the secretary to the teacher across the hall, and even the principal, when teachers are absent, it's a ripple effect that impacts everyone. This article offers proactive solutions for unexpected teacher absences, ensuring colleagues aren't left scrambling to piece together last-minute plans.
Gone are the days of hastily copying worksheets for subs and students.
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To ensure substitute teacher readiness, we recommend a unique solution: store spare laptops in the main office, specifically designated for their use. These laptops should be configured to prevent access to any sensitive student or teacher information and provide dedicated folders on the desktop for each teacher's substitute materials.
Understandably, many teachers are hesitant to have substitutes use their school computers. By providing dedicated laptops for substitutes, we effectively address this concern. But how many should you have? That depends on the size of your school and the average number of substitutes you have each day. We recommend having a minimum of three.
To streamline the process further, consider creating a one-page document with essential information. This can be a hard copy that is laminated and kept in the office, or it can be a document stored on the desktop of each substitute computer, as well a combination of the two will work. Below is a list of common needs for substitutes, but each building may have unique requirements that should be added:
A map of the building
Laptop login and essential connection information for tasks like attendance, Wi-Fi, smart boards, and projectors
A concise list of school-wide expectations, including hall passes, student conduct in the halls, and tardy policies, ensuring consistency
The bell schedule and clear emergency expectations
Administration names and contact information
Inside each teacher's folder, there should be a Word document containing the following information:
Teacher’s name and schedule
Classroom emergency procedures (including where to go in case of fire, tornado, or active shooter scenarios)
AM, PM, or between-class duties
The name and room number of a nearby teacher who can offer assistance
A list of rules and procedures
A digital seating chart (consider using the linked free online tool that doesn't require creating an account and offers easy drag-and-drop options for seat adjustments)
Information about pull-out or in-class supports
Names of a few reliable students in each class
Bathroom and hall pass policies
For the Teacher
Resource links below are great!
The days of coming to school ill to avoid creating sub plans, or driving into school ill just to pull something together for the day are over. You can now provide all the information a substitute may need via the internet. Most teachers, regardless of the substitute's quality, prefer not to hold students accountable for information they didn't teach themselves. Hence, having a backup plan is crucial.
Use the ideas below to create an easy-to-follow document with links and directions. Send it to your principal to be uploaded into your folder on the 'substitute laptop.'
Bonus: If students are working online, a sub does not have to deal with common classroom disruptions like "I don't have a pencil," "I left my book/notebook in my locker," or "I need paper."
Creating Your Plan
In the remainder of this article, you'll find numerous digital resources that can be assembled in various ways to create your substitute plan. Since most educators use Google Classroom, placing your sub plan there and providing the principal with a link to add to your folder will work seamlessly. However, if you do not have Google Classroom, creating a Word document with directions and links to be added to your folder is a viable alternative.
As you explore the following resources, keep in mind the diverse learning needs of your students. Offer choice when possible, this can accommodate varying learning needs, as well as promote engagement, contributing to a more harmonious and productive learning environment. When students are offered choice, effort, performance, and learning are positively impacted (Edutopia, 2021; Marzano Resources, 2010).
Vocabulary is an essential skill for all students and can be customized to suit their needs. Here is a link to academic vocabulary words curated by Marzano, categorized by grade level and subjects. Choose from this list for your sub’s lesson plan.
Below, you'll find links and ideas for a vocabulary lesson, most of the digital resources do not require creating an account. Feel free to select what best suits your class.
Flashcards: Explore Quizlet’s pre-made flashcards, or encourage students to create their own. Research has shown that two highly effective learning strategies are recall and spacing (Agarwal & Brain, 2018 ). Online flashcards are ideal for implementing these strategies, as cards are never lost, and students can review them consistently throughout the year.
For practice and engagement with the words, consider these options:
Frayer Model: Define words using the Frayer Model, either as a whole group, in pairs/small groups, or independently.
Concept Mapping with Whimsical: Utilize Whimsical to create interactive concept maps. Encourage students to explore this tool, allowing them to visually demonstrate connections between words. Take for instance, the word 'government,' students can establish associations with terms like Congress, President, 3 Branches, and Laws. Download and save concept maps for future discussions.
Creative Expression: Allow students to choose from writing a short story, poem, or haiku; creating a rap or lyrics; or illustrating the words. They can select 4-8 words for their project.
Word Games: Organize teams to play games like Pictionary, Balderdash, or Password.
Traveling Story: Start with a story beginning, and then have each student in the room add their own sentence to continue the plot. The goal is to have them each include a vocabulary word in their sentence. You can pause the story at any point for discussion and better comprehension. This can also be done in small groups. Provide a starter for each group and have the, collaboratively create a short story using 4-6 words.
Race and Write: Create teams, line them up, give a definition, and say "go." One person from each team races to the board and writes the word associated with the definition provided. Alternate runners and leave the word list on the board for reference and discussion.
This is a rich resource you will want to explore. In this Google Deck you'll find 13 exceptional slides, many of which provide links to valuable writing resources. Here are two standout examples:
New York Times 177 Questions to spark writing: These prompts encompass both persuasive and creative writing.
Jason Reynold’s series Write, Right, Rite - This series features audio and video content that offers inspiration. It engages not only students but also teachers and substitutes.
Khan Academy is a versatile resource benefiting both substitutes and teachers. Access the “Getting Started” page here. It supports various instructional approaches, including direct instruction, reinforcing learning standards, independent study, differentiation, and empowering students to select their learning topics.
Bonus: Khan Academy recently released a free ChatGPT Cheat Sheet for generating lesson plans, which can be incredibly helpful.
This online reading resource is ideal for grades 3-12, offering standard-based lessons. You can access news articles, poems, short stories, videos, and historical documents, which can be easily integrated into Google Classroom. CommonLit includes guided reading questions within texts, as well as discussion questions. You can filter texts by various features, such as language, gender, or lexile range, and it's available in over 13 languages.
The New York Times is a treasure trove for educators. The Learning Network provides a weekly collection of lesson plans, writing prompts, and activities. It includes a "Student Opinion" section where students can respond to questions posed by the Learning Network. Additionally, there's a "What's Going On in This Picture?" feature for analyzing photographs and answering related questions. The "Word of the Day" feature helps students learn new vocabulary words and use them in sentences. It's an invaluable resource!
Time Kids - Government:
These relevant and current articles are tailored for middle and high school students, with a 'read aloud' option available.
This AI-generated discussion prompt tool is user-friendly. Simply paste the article link into Parlay, and it generates discussion questions instantly.
A resource for simplifying text, Rewordify offers a simple way to make text more accessible and equitable. Just paste a URL or text into the box, and it provides a simplified version. It's free and doesn't require account creation. I would strongly recommend that all educators offer this resource to their students, providing them with a valuable tool to aid in their comprehension, especially if they are reading below grade level.
While there are many ways to utilize ChatGPT, for now, let's focus on how it can assist with substitute plans. You can create an account and use it for various educational purposes.
Ask ChatGPT to create a lesson plan on a specific topic, like "Westward Expansion." The tool generates assessments, activities, scaffolding, and objectives. Whether you need it for problem-based learning or a flipped classroom, ChatGPT can adapt the lesson plan to your instructions (Edutopia).
Use ChatGPT to craft engaging, higher-order prompts for class discussions on various topics (Edutopia).
For additional time-saving ideas, check out the Edutopia article
Chat GPT can support differentiation effectively. To do this, paste the lesson's text into your chat and employ the following prompt: “Create three versions of this text for different reading levels – one for a first grader, another for a fifth grader, and another for a tenth grader.” (Larry Ferlazzo) If using GPT-4, simply paste the link to the material you're using for the lesson, followed by above prompt.
Student Reflection: Providing Insights for Teachers
This reflection activity is a valuable resource for substitute teacher days, offering insights into your students’ opinions of what took place while you were out.
How to Use:
When you have a substitute teacher, follow these steps:
Leave clear instructions and allocate time during the day for students to complete their reflections on the Google Slides.
Alternatively, you can assign it as homework.
As the reflections are online, you can review them before returning to school, gaining a clear understanding of how the day went.
Sample content: Google Slides
Create a meme for the day: Consider the entire day or class period and sum it up in a single meme. Include a few words to explain.
Favorite Moment: Share your favorite part of the day, include a picture demonstrating the activity and a short explanation as to why it was your favorite.
That's all for now. We hope this article helps make your day with a substitute less stressful! Would love to hear your feedback and your favorite resources we shared today.
Until next time,
In case you missed these three articles chalked full of valuable insights, check them out now.
About the Authors
Debbie Leonard M.Ed. and Marcey Aronson
Debbie and Marcey are seasoned middle school educators and state-certified Master Teachers, each with over 30 years of experience. Their instructional journey began in challenging environments where lock-up rooms and physical restraints were part of their everyday experience. Out of desperation, they developed CoreTex, a unique brain-inspired approach that has proven successful across various classrooms and content areas. By tapping into the emotions that drive learning, cognition, behavior, and motivation, they have created a dynamic learning environment that helps all students achieve their full potential. With years of reading, researching, and collaborating on neuroscience, psychology, and emotions, Debbie and Marcey are innovative educators who inspire others with insights to become more effective practitioners.
Marlon Wayne has spent the past decade leading consumer goods & services companies, and leading venture finance and analysis initiatives across Salt Lake City, Fort Collins, and San Francisco. As a technologist and supporter of new ventures, he brings the analytics skills sharpened by his time at Google and market dynamism developed by his years as a founder to the BrainZones team.
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