I love it when a plan comes together……..


Written by Gillian: Planning, a key skill in teaching and a necessity for effective progression and avoiding your brains exploding out your head. I’m a serial planner. My friends have often remarked that on weekends away or holidays, I had to know the meal times at breakfast. None of this taking it how it comes, when am I eating next? ( In case I fade to a mountain). I tend to sit on a Sunday and plan the logistics for the school run, pick ups, the sneaky coffees etc. I also plan the clothes for work ( that’s usually so I don’t need to iron).  I usually have an alternative plan just in case something goes wrong ( always carry spare mascara and emergency ten pounds)….which is not a bad thing when you are a teacher.

I remember at teacher training learning about planning a lesson, learning how to plan for the delivery of skills, learning how to plan for a unit of a work.
I didn’t learn how to plan to balance my work and life. I didn’t learn how to plan for all eventualities and I certainly didn’t learn how to plan how to cope when the troops were not on form.

I remember that initial period when I first started teaching and my planning was ridiculous. Way too long and not focused enough to be balanced. I adjusted living patterns to work round my planning and this is where my ability to survive on 4 hours sleep was born. Lessons of 40 mins that took 3 hours to plan!
It was just as Higher Still came in and I was the only Spanish teacher in the department. I was asked to develop the language unit and sort out the planning.  Big smiles, “not a problem “I heard my self saying. Inside I was screaming that I had pas de clue.

Eventually I realised that something was going to have to give and I learned very quickly to get smarter at planning. It still took me a long time but when I moved school to a department where people collaborated and shared, I found planning much easier and actually enjoyable.

My planning was always very childlike to look at. Probably sketch notes before they became trendy.  I would start with the main topic in the middle and jot ideas round it, then sub headings in a different colour then join them all up with arrows and drawings.

From there I could slot information into any old column that was thrown at me while still retaining my glitter covered version. That method of planning has always stayed with me and I have worked on it with students and student teachers.

I remember having the most fabulous class of Advanced Higher French students and there were 7 of them. 6 of them were double linguists doing Art or Music as well. One of them was doing double Advanced Higher Sciences and her planning was always linear.  Not a mind map or coloured pen to behold, never.  I’m not trying to make sweeping generalisations but as a linguist and musician………

As my teaching career has progressed including a stint in teacher training in China I have adapted my planning for curricular delivery into a style that suits my teaching as well as trying to maintain a decent work life balance.
This has been particularly magnified as my role in initial teacher education has increased.

It’s all very well saying to students that they are spending far too long on planning and not sleeping enough, but if no one is showing them how to plan effectively then how can they?

I delivered a session with my post-graduates a few weeks ago on planning for a unit of work and what a hoot that was.  I took them through various categories of planning, taking in elements such as input, output, assessment, Blooms taxonomy, etc. We started off with the question ” what do we want the weans to learn?” And worked outwards from it.  It was really interesting to watch them interact with each other, discuss what they thought were the key linguistic points, the skills, where wider achievement came in, how assessment would be built on and ultimately how do they coherently plan it.

Looking at how they presented it was interesting (mind maps, diagrams, pictures, flow-charts, paragraphs) but they all had so many different ideas and to listen to the productivity in the class was magic.  However, it’s all very good to stand up and give it some welly, extolling your love of planning with coloured pens, but no amount of beautiful planning is going to help if you can’t cut it on the floor.

One of my students teachers did her placement with my old department. She  arrived to us like a wee bird with a broken wing, and in the 6 weeks she was with us, I witnessed a transformation. A transformation in her confidence, delivery, planning and being more herself.

Watching her in the session at Uni about planing was interesting , she was used to my way of working so she got it and got stuck in about it head first, letting her creativity out and not being freaked out by it. So many of the students were a bit hesitant and no matter how much I tried to hammer home that were delivering the same thing but in different contexts, some of them were clearly aching for a teacher’s book. We then had the discussion about how you could deliver the same things in a different context and would they be brave enough? Here is a wee box, now do me a favour and get outside it.

Creative planning is a brilliant way to get some loving back into even the challenging aspects of our subjects, ( the subjunctive or past historic for me) and get us really examining our teaching and learning.  Otherwise we might as well forget skipping into work every day.

The aforementioned student is going back to the department for her last block and we were looking at the unit of work that I wanted her to cover and gave her carte blanche with the planning. Did I not feel like Hannibal Smith from the A-Team when she brought in her plans…….colour coded, mind maps, arrows, numbers: all the info that could be put into columns if need be (nobody puts my planning in the corner).

I love it when a plan comes together.

Image from pixabay.com

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