My blog this week was inspired by an article written by leading educator, Colin Harris, published in the TES, 5th January 2017
In his article, Harris states, ‘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.’
This idea is very difficult to square with the mind-set of a typical teacher who is a perfectionist by nature. They were the children at school who strived to hand in all their work on time; who cared about neatness and presentation; loved to read and study and achieved a high level of academic success as a result. When work was deemed inadequate, they spent time drafting and redrafting their assignments until they met the required standards. Translate that to an adult who is told their lessons are not ‘perfect’ OFSTED ones and that their students are not meeting required standards and it is hardly surprising that they use the same strategies that helped them achieve in the past. They draft and redraft worksheets and rewrite resources in the belief that their students will understand and retain more, will succeed as a result, and that all their worries will be over. The notion that they can cut corners and still achieve this will be contrary to everything that they did to bring about success in their own academic journey and so it is little wonder that, in response to being told that what they are doing requires improvement, they simply work harder. However, this approach is wholly counterproductive to teacher wellbeing. It fosters resentment towards both students and school managers and wastes energy that would be better spent in the classroom.
Duly inspired and somewhat empowered by Harris’ article, I set out this week to use only the planning time allotted to me to: a) see if it could be done in that time and b) determine whether my lessons suffered as a result. The time allocated for lesson planning and assessment is generous in my school, being five periods of 70 minutes. In practice one free period is often taken for other things such as mentoring, covering or observing lessons and giving subject support to students. Therefore, I reckoned that true prep time worked out to 12.5 minutes per lesson. This gave me no time to write handouts of my own. I had to rely on already published resources such as the student notes I bought for the A level Psychology course, text books and work sheets downloaded from TES and other sharing sites. My PowerPoints have been minimal this week (one or two slides in addition to the standard lesson introduction slide that is a requirement of my school). I have relied more on video clips to teach basic concepts. My presentations have typically consisted of one slide with a hyperlink to the clip,some key terms, the lesson question,a page or handout reference and another slide with some short closed questions for AFL.
The result? Happily I can report that somehow I did get my planning done in the time allotted and that my lessons have not suffered in terms of quality or engagement of the students. Weirdly, I felt more inclined to change tack if something didn’t work as I had not invested countless hours preparing it. In this respect, the lessons were better as, being able to adapt to student need, to recognise that something isn’t working and change it accordingly is what being a teacher is about. I would encourage all teachers to put aside their perfectionist tendencies, to never write their own resources again and to try this approach. It can be done; plan minimally and rest well.
Wishing you a work free and stress free weekend!