How to use PPA time to become a better teacher

Reading books, watching YouTube or using Twitter may raise eyebrows, but it can have a huge impact, writes Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts

teacher ppa time

A senior leader is on a learning walk. 

Passing the humanities office, she’s surprised to see a teacher slouched on a comfy chair. 

Feet up, he has a mug of tea in one hand and a tattered paperback in the other.  He doesn’t even notice her looking through the window. 

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Back in her office, she checks the timetable. He’s on a PPA. And this is the same teacher who just complained about how long it took to write reports!

Five minutes after the SLT member’s stroll, the reclining teacher rises. 

This engrossing book has finally enabled him to grasp a previously misunderstood facet of the history of the American West. He can’t wait to share it with colleagues.

A narrow view 

The teaching profession often has a narrow view of how PPA time should be used. 

In my experience, it’s the norm for PPA time to be spent on the following:

  • Marking students’ work.
  • Creating lesson resources, such as handouts or PowerPoints.
  • Writing lesson plans.
  • Photocopying lesson resources.

All of these things certainly come under the banner of planning, preparation and assessment. 

At times, some are necessary drains on our dedicated time. But are they always the most fruitful way to spend the precious hours getting ready to teach?

Take our horizontal history teacher, for example. To judgemental eyes, he’s passing time flicking through a book. 

To more discerning eyes, he’s spending time working on arguably the most vital component of his pedagogical practice: subject knowledge. 

Telling off a teacher in these circumstances – and this has happened to some of my teaching friends – is myopic and misguided.

Do the right thing

We should see more of this kind of thing during PPA: maths teachers doing sums, music teachers practising their vocal range, French teachers reading Le Monde

Gary Player, the South African golfer who is considered one of the all-time greats, famously said: “The more I practise, the luckier I get.” 

If I was to apply Player’s dictum to my PPA time, it would come out as “The more I read, the lazier I get.”  

I spend lots of time watching lectures on YouTube, ploughing through academic journals, looking for common misconceptions in students’ books. 

I spend hardly any time creating PowerPoints, dreaming up lesson objectives or writing feedback in my students’ books. Some of my best PPA time has been spent scouring Twitter threads or chatting with real-life colleagues who know more about a topic than me. 

Professor Rob Coe has identified things that we see students do that mislead us into thinking that learning is taking place. He calls these “poor proxies for learning”. 

Well, I’m going to politely suggest that some of the things that teachers spend their time doing during PPA time are poor proxies for planning.

Knowing more enables me to “cut corners” with planning. 

Player’s ironic comment recognises that behind the facade of fortune (or in my case, the impression that I’m winging it) are hours of time dedicated to getting better at the thing that matters most.

Mark Roberts is an assistant headteacher in the South West of England

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