Tim Oates maintains that one feature of successful education systems is their curriculum coherence. Nothing much changes over time and this enables everyone in the system – teachers, publishers, students – to focus on learning rather than constant adjustments to the content.
I have never worked in a system with such a long-term view and it’s a difficult thing to judge. Should we welcome changes to curricula if they are improvements or should we hold steady? I’m not sure that English education would be in a better place now if it had held on to the deeply flawed 2007 National curriculum. However, I do see the advantages in holding steady; it allows you to plan for the long term.
I suggest that we should take the long view and approach lesson planning as a ratchet rather than a constantly spinning wheel. If you have a strong set of curriculum resources, planned well in advance and shared, then you have efficiency. When a new teacher joins a team then she can start with what is already there rather than a blank sheet of paper. Good minds can be put to use in making refinements and tweaks rather than constructing the basics of each lesson from scratch, a thousand, million times.
Some see such a long term plan – laying out in December what will be taught in May – as inimical to formative assessment: How can you plan lesson three until you’ve taught lesson two and collected evidence of what the students know? This is a false choice. You can plan your lesson well in advance and you can adjust it on the basis of any assessment evidence that arises. Moreover, children are not vastly different from year to year. They will still have the same difficulties and misconceptions. Planning tomorrow’s lesson under pressure on a dark winter’s night is unlikely to result in optimal work.
Many schools and departments don’t operate like this. Teachers hold their own resources which they largely keep to themselves and it is easy to see why. Imagine you are in a team with Jane who happily takes everything that you pass on to her but who never gives anything back. Or imagine you work with Bill who tries hard but produces resources that you simply cannot use. These are the centrifugal forces that militate against good, shared planning.
Which is why this is an issue that really does need a bit of leadership. Common agreements must be made around curriculum documentation and teachers need to be held to account for their contribution. Instead of hiring an outside speaker for the PD day to come in and talk a load of old nonsense, leaders should consider using this as an opportunity for subject teams to work together.
Clearly, there is not enough time for every resource to be produced within a team meeting. Teachers will still need to go away and work on their individual contributions. But teams can discuss key issues and set agendas. Teams can review assessment data and suggest improvements that need to be made for next year. In fact, I’m not sure that there are many other reasons for bringing teams of teachers together.
In the last two school years, I have had the privilege of teaching two different Year 12 subjects for the first time. My strategy has been to get alongside the experienced teachers of the subject from the outset and try as much as I can to start where they have left off. I don’t want to make my own mistakes. I don’t want to make poor decisions just so that I can feel autonomous. I want to succeed. We should share our planning knowledge across teachers and through time so that people don’t have to figure everything out for themselves.
Forget the gimmicky, fast food, Sunday night, compliance driven approach to planning. Instead, plan a lesson that will last.