‘Too often teachers spend every night planning lessons into the early hours. This must stop’

If lesson planning isn’t improving the teaching or the learning then it’s pointless, writes one celebrated former headteacher

Colin Harris

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Planning is the bane of every teacher's life, or so my daughter, also a teacher, keeps on telling me.

It is a major factor in the teacher workload crisis, mainly because far too much time is spent on it.

Far too many teachers spend every night planning and marking into the wee hours - often because they feel this is what’s expected of them.

Of course, heads need to recognise the part they play, but equally teachers need to control the amount of time they give over to planning.

Firstly, all teachers need to have a clear model for planning in their head, for example.

  • The lesson needs a hook in
  • The lesson objective needs to be clear and achievable
  • Modelling of the learning required is essential
  • You need to know when assessment opportunities will arise
  • Then set the task leaving time to review the learning

Whatever the model it must sit comfortably with the clear understanding of what the pupils will need to master in the block or sequence of lessons. Good teachers have that ability to get inside their pupils’ heads and know the sequence of learning and so the teaching that is required.

All teachers need to aim high but they do need to stop aiming for perfection all the time... The difference in the two is so time consuming and is just not achievable with everything a teacher does.

Of course the internet can be used to facilitate this: for a video, a lesson idea or a resource, but limit your time to perhaps as little as a minute, because what you are seeking probably doesn't exist if it takes longer. It is also essential such research does not limit your thinking or your creativity.

There are several other very simple elements that when firmly adhered to can save you both time and produce better lessons.

  • Prioritise the time you spend on your planning based on your expertise. It might seem obvious but spend more time on the stuff you know less well.
  • If you share planning with another colleague then make sure this is equitable, don't take on all the responsibility.
  • Use your PPA time wisely. Remember this is for planning, preparation and assessment time and so should be used as such.
  • Make sure you use the expertise of your colleagues. Use their planning if appropriate and share yours. The most important thing is not to replicate things that have been done already.
  • Remember plans are to work from rather than a “prestige document”. Of course another colleague should understand it but it is not a university 'essay'.
  • Plans should be kept and amended rather than reinvented again.

Ultimately planning should and must make the task of teaching and pupils learning easier. In many ways it is as simple as running through the lesson in your head.

Most importantly it must not take over your life, and if it has than this needs to be addressed. The adage that planning should improve a teacher’s teaching and a learner’s learning must be adhered to.

So another resolution for 2017, teachers stop reinventing the wheel and stop wasting energy that should and must be used more productively in the classroom.

Colin Harris is a former principal who is now supporting teachers and school leaders

For more columns by Colin, visit his back-catalogue

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