Colleague A: "Would you like to plan next week’s Year 9 history lessons together?"
Colleague B: "I can’t, I’m far too busy designing all of next week’s lessons from scratch."
This is clearly a ridiculous conversation. In what world would such a ludicrous situation ever happen?
Oh yes, it happens all the time. In teaching. And yes, it is bonkers.
Quick read: A short guide to effective planning from Mark Enser
Quick listen: Why we need to think carefully about the 'what' of curriculum, as much as the 'how'
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We need to get over whatever it is that stops us collaborating: ego, pride, habit, hatred of sharing, ignorance…I am sure there are myriad issues at play. Because we are busy enough as teachers to not need to pile more work on top of ourselves needlessly.
Planning with other teachers can save huge amounts of time because you can share out tasks. One colleague might make the starter, one might design a practical activity or group task, and another might find a relevant past-paper question, thereby cutting planning time in half.
But more than adding efficiency, planning together can engender critical learning opportunities. Most CPD activities fail to have an impact because they:
Ignore teachers’ current knowledge and beliefs.
Disregard their current needs.
Provide abstract and generalised knowledge instead of concrete, specific answers.
On the other hand, collaborative planning starts from exactly what teachers already know and believe about teaching their subject and their perceptions of the department’s needs. For example, "We need to change the way we teach simultaneous equations, as students performed badly last year" or "We need to spice up Shakespeare’s sonnets because we’re making them dull."
It also provides a concrete lesson plan and resources that can be used again and again.
Making new teachers feel involved
Early career teachers often feel like fish out of water, but collaborative departments have been found to be less isolating.
New teachers can learn from colleagues without feeling like they are being singled out or patronised. They might also add new strategies to the department's repertoire from their wider reading, which can be incredibly empowering.
Colleague A: "Would you like to plan next week’s Year 10 chemistry lesson together?"
Colleague B: "I actually have my own way of doing that, which I’m really happy with."
Colleague A: "Great! Why don’t you share what you do with the rest of us so we can learn it, too?"
Some teachers fear planning together will reduce their sense of personal agency in designing and crafting their lessons. It’s a fear I encountered within my own department. But everyone I work with is now a total convert. They feel they have more agency instead of less, as their best ideas are used throughout the department to improve the education of four times as many students.
Tips for success
Of course, collaborative planning is easy to get wrong. In my experience, these points should keep you on the right path:
Do it regularly and timetable it in, eg, once a fortnight.
Decide in advance what you are going to be planning so that colleagues can collect their thoughts and come to the session mentally prepared.
Switch between planning individual lessons in detail, and discussing and editing overall learning sequences.
Allow all members of the department to suggest the lessons or topics they want to focus on in a session.
Don’t set an agenda; allow space for discussion and debate.
Ensure tasks are divvied up before the end so each member knows what they need to prep.
Model willingness to fail and to learn, making the sessions a safe space for learning.
Colleague A: "Would you like to plan next week’s Year 7 French lesson lesson together?"
Colleague B: "I’d love to!"
Emily Seeber is head of science at Bedales School in Hampshire. She tweets @emily_seeber
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