How to enhance teacher planning for effective learning

Teachers can spend an inordinate amount of time planning lessons with often different planning processes and expectations at the teacher, team, department, and school level.

This disparity and lack of school-wide planning processes often leads to tension amongst leaders and teachers and can become a barrier to embedding best-practice pedagogy.

teacher back staring at mood board
teachers discussing during meeting

Education Horizons’ 2021 annual survey of teachers, school leaders, and administrators – which was compiled from over 1,000 respondents representing more than 590 schools (56% independent) from every state and territory in Australia – highlighted some compelling priorities with regards to teacher planning.

The top priority for school leaders (57%) was ‘consistently embedding best-practice pedagogy across the school’ and for teachers it was ‘improving workflow to reduce workload’ (42%). So, where should teachers and schools start in embedding best-practice pedagogy across the school and improving workflow to reduce teacher workload?

Systems researchers will tell you that implementing system-wide educational improvement needs to be deliberate (Sinek, 2009) and that “the key to changing systems is to produce greater numbers of system thinkers” (Fullan, 2005). So how can school leaders leverage the systems research to achieve their priorities? The key is to identify where actions and changes in their current systems can lead to embedding best-practice pedagogy.

Where do schools start?

The first step is to examine your current teacher planning systems to determine how effective they are in meeting your pedagogical expectations. This step is critical in ensuring best-practice pedagogy is embedded across your school.

Key questions to consider:

  • How visible is teacher planning to leaders and teachers?

  • To what extent do our teacher planning systems embed best-practice pedagogy that focuses on improving student learning outcomes?

  • Is there a consistent approach to teacher planning?

  • To what extent do teachers collaboratively plan together?

  • To what extent do our teacher planning systems improve teacher workflow?

Once you have answers to these questions the next step is to consider the common planning processes you want all teachers to undertake. I recently worked with two schools as their Visible Learning Consultant. They wanted to embed best-practice pedagogy which focussed on developing teacher clarity – a teacher influence that has been found to be linked to almost two years’ growth in student learning (Hattie, 2009). Writing effective learning intentions and success criteria was one of the pedagogical tools they were learning and practising.

As we progressed through the workshop, I realised that neither school had a consistent teacher planning system in place. Everyone was doing something different. Some teachers planned whole units, while others planned lesson by lesson with significant variation in their level of detail. I suggested to both groups of school leaders that they consider creating a consistent teacher planning system across their schools which would facilitate collaborative planning across teams and departments and consequently, reduce teacher workload.

Both schools chose to implement the suggestion and created a unit overview planner which required teachers to include the curriculum standards and content descriptors (from the Australian curriculum), along with the concepts, skills, context, learning intentions, and success criteria for the unit. This was the best-practice pedagogy they wanted to consistently embed across the school.

I recently returned to School A to conduct their Visible Learning (VL) School Capability Assessment to review their progress in terms of implementing their VL plan. As part of the process, I talked to teachers and school leaders, as well as numerous students across all classes. I also reviewed a range of unit overview planners. What these discussions and documents highlighted was the significant progress the school had made in embedding best-practice pedagogy across the school. Students now talked about what they were learning and how they knew when they would be successful, rather than telling me what they were doing in class. The change in their teacher planning system had made a significant difference to student learning.

Kim Edwards

Kim Edwards

Read part two of this article to explore how SEQTA provides collaborative teaching tools to support the teacher planning process with our syllabus warehouse.

Bibliography

Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership & Sustainability: System thinkers in action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement. London, UK: Routledge.
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Penguin.
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