Planning

One of the more challenging areas in the school where I was working last year was the way we planned Music lessons.  Much of this was my own fault as I have spent most my career planning my own lessons and not delivering other people’s.  We were all in charge of a year group and planned lessons for that year group.  That sounds incredibly easy but you have to remember that this school had a thirteen form entry. It is the biggest British international school on a single campus in the world.  So my planning workload was pretty minimal as all I had to do was plan Year 2 Music curriculum lessons and Year 4 First Access violin lessons, put them on the server and copy resources to the Moodle.  But the flip side was we had a lot of classes to teach.  It was nice to work in an office and bounce ideas collaboratively. But the difficulty is simply trying to teach another teachers plan.  Every teacher is different and focuses on something you might not necessarily focus on yourself.  So the problem was having to be consistent about something that it was very hard to be consistent with, as you don’t ever fully understand what you are teaching if you didn’t plan it in the first place.  

It is also difficult to make learning build up when you have many people trying to implement what is naturally a fragmented system.  So my lessons were full of aural, Kodaly and songs but other people barely had any singing in at all as they were much more instrumentally focused.  You might think this is a good thing as the children could really experience a varied curriculum.  But in reality, the lessons I taught the worst were the ones where I found it hard to implement the planning and the most successful ones were the ones I planned myself as I knew exactly how to move the children on.  And I guess it was the same for the other teachers.

One of the reasons I chose this school was so I could experience more year groups.  In the last five years I had only taught EYFS and Key Stage 1 so it was a welcome change to have some Key Stage 2 classes.  It was probably the best way of divvying up the workload by working this way but the consequences were that you couldn’t really teach the children in your own manner.  What many educational theorists seem to misunderstand is that a teachers personality is tied to their pedagogy and the actual content of what is being delivered.  You can’t get motivated and excited about something that you yourself aren’t too bothered about.  It is good to be open minded and try new techniques but if it results in poorer quality lessons then there is a problem.  

I think if we had a better overview of the whole curriculum over many years and where we were heading it would have been better.  And I can see now why some schools (often North American ones) ask for a certain type of teacher in job adverts, specifying an Orff, Kodaly or Dalcroze approach.  If you want collaborative planning then you need all your team to understand the way you are going and why you are travelling that way.  Music teaching can be incredibly diverse and there have been vigorous debate when it comes to educational philosophy.  Even something like the Kodaly approach has arguments.  One debate, between “fixed doh” and “relative doh” has been going for over 80 years.  And still doesn’t look like being resolved!  (For what its worth, I’m a “fixed doh” convert.)  

In the UK, there is a big focus on reducing workload and one of the ways they are thinking of doing this is by having more centrally planned resources and planning documents.  Some teachers are distraught as planning for them is something personal and creative and they don’t want government meddling in that.  I think the answer is simple, we need to do common assessments but not dictate the way we get there.  That would mean in practice that all subjects should have centrally common low stakes testing and assessment at least every term of every year group.  How you get there is up to the teacher but there should be a plan for each lesson and a PowerPoint or flipchart if you might need it.  We have to have something in place in case we need to arrange emergency cover or if a new colleague really needs the guidance.  And with multiple year group entry you do need to have some consistency for clarity and progression purposes.  For example if you have communal singing you need to learn the same songs.  But if you insist that other teachers use your plan, you can end up really upsetting good teachers.  It shouldn’t matter how the lesson is planned, so long as we get to students to the same place.

I’ve been using Microsoft Teams to start making collaborative planning documents and resources.  I think this is s a better way to spread the workload and communicate with colleagues and to work to each others strengths.  As a start we have a unit title, a focus, a set works link and three songs.  This also stops the need for many meetings as the work can be shared out and refined. Hopefully with a whole years lessons and plans uploaded to Teams we can spend the time refining and improving lessons rather than reinventing the wheel. And if teachers want to do their own thing, that’s fine but they can’t complain about planning workload as there is already something available.