There are a couple of questions that every school and every teacher should be able to answer;
What are you doing? Why are you doing it?
Which can be transposed as…
What are they doing? Why are they doing it?
The because, in both cases, should provide the narrative behind the decisions. A lack of clarity, or slight diversion, such as “lesson shared across a year group”, needs to be further questioned, especially if an observed lesson has raised questions for the observer.
This situation is one which, as an ITE tutor, can arise when a trainee is unable to respond effectively within a lesson to the specific needs of individuals or groups. A lack of rehearsal and consideration of their own class facing the challenges of the learning can lead to misconceptions being unchallenged and addressed. By rehearsal, I mean consideration of “What ifs”, not just practicing their script, anticipating concepts and vocabulary that might need further exploration.
Everyone makes multiple decisions each day. It’s just how life is. We normally don’t even think about the decisions in depth, especially if the situation has arisen before, so we have built up alternative (rehearsed) strategies. I can recall driving to my school, with my mind on the working day, and suddenly being aware that I had reached a certain point in the journey. Traffic awareness on the route had become “second nature”. The idea of “second nature” can be applied to many aspects of an experienced teacher repertoire, to the point where a trainee might ask for the rationale behind what they have seen effortlessly achieved, only for the observed colleague to become flustered. For this reason, I encourage trainees and mentors to observe together where possible, to identify less obvious, or harder to explain elements of the role.
It’s also why I encourage mentors to be a “parrot on the shoulder” of their trainee, to prompt in-lesson reflection and action.
To me, the idea of rational decisions in the course of a learning process allows for a post-experience evaluation of the impact of the decisions and actions. This, in itself, enhances the case for rational thinking, linking to the computer logic gate of “If-then-else”; if I do x in this way then I expect, else I will have to…
Teachers are the lead thinkers in their classrooms, not heads of year or heads of department, nor even SLT. The people who get to know the fine detail of learner needs are those in regular contact with the class. There will always be a difference between a Primary and Secondary teacher’s fine knowledge of their class, but the principle is the same.
Being the lead thinker, the decision-making thread should be clear to other and the class(es) before them. A longer-term narrative allows a teacher to place each item of learning within the linear continuum, making links with prior learning and also alerting the learners to the need to retain and refine their understanding so that it can be used for a purpose later in the process.
Other blogs on the site look at planning in detail, however I would propose here a simple tweak that would impact on teacher wellbeing. It was an action that I took as a Primary head some 20+ years ago, based on earlier experiences.
School level planning is important, putting topics in every subject into a coherent school map; ensuring “coverage”. Every topic had a “topic spec”, essential details and knowledge and links to internal resources.
In June/July, during a closure, time was given to continuing teachers to create an annual plan for their next class, organising the order of their topics in any way that allowed them to maximise the potential, as they saw it. This became the annual overview.
Each teacher then planned a topic of their own choosing for the fist couple of weeks of the autumn term; a getting to know the class/establish expectations topic. This meant that the only planning that they needed to consider was the first nine days and how they would set out their classroom; many did this in July and left a plan for the caretaker.
The second Friday was always a closure, half of which was allocated to planning the term in more detail, with better understanding of their class needs.
The teachers planned in any way that suited them, knowing that their plans would only be looked at if there were concerns for learning. In this way, duplication was avoided, and each stage of planning had a purpose.
Because the greatest resource that any school has is the teacher, who has got their mind around the topic in hand and the needs of the class before them.