Unifix Cube guns, Beginner bakers, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam look at the huge topic of teacher’s time. Do most problems come from the powers above? How do teachers know what to prioritise? Plus, Adam and Andy discuss the value of watching yourself teach on video - as cringey as it may be!
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Hi. I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi. I'm Robin Potter.
Hi. I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
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Welcome back to another School of School podcast. It's going to be a sparkling episode. I can feel it now. Andy, Robin, how are you both keeping? Sparkling, exactly.
I knew it from the outset. I could just tell from seeing you both that that was the type of mood that you're on at the moment.
One of the things I think comes up time and time again, I'm going to put this in the context of the classroom, but I think this is true for most of us, whether it's in the role of parents working or just generally living is, how do we create more time in the classroom? When I go into schools, and I'm sure this is true of a lot of businesses and whatnot, it's very rare you have people that say to you, "Do you know what? I've got so much time on my hands. I don't know what to do. I'm sitting here twiddling my thumbs," and I will say, "I'm just a bit lost." It seems impossible, but the flip side is absolutely true. What's good time management? How do we create time for ourselves and how do we create more time in the classrooms with our students? But like I said, I think they can be expanded out to work and perhaps life in general. I want to throw it open anyway.
I think first off, don't overplan. By that, what I mean is don't plan too much. Be realistic what you can do. Don't set yourself up for failure. If you're going to say, "I'm going to do this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, this, this and that and this as well," then clearly by the end of the day, you're not going to have accomplished that. Set yourself clear expectations and goals about what you're going to achieve that day. By the end of this class, I want my kids to know this. Just be clear about that and then be flexible about how you get there. Do some lesson planning. I think that's a big part of it. I think especially, it's not just teachers, it's anybody and it's even in the workforce or whatever. Just set yourself a clear objective for that day.
Say, by the end of today, I need to have accomplished this, or by the end of this lesson, I need to have accomplished this. But the pressure's there. The pressure's there. There's so much stuff in the curriculum and so many things you want to say as a teacher and so many things you want to do. You set yourself up for failure. So I think that's part of it.
Robin, what do you reckon?
Well, it sounds easy enough when Andy's saying don't overplan. Yeah, I get that and yet we all have a tendency probably to do it. Then does that mean we actually have to schedule in time as in making sure we have enough time to... So I'm thinking from a teacher's perspective. Maybe there's nothing on the agenda. They know what they want to accomplish by the end of the day, but maybe they have to, in some way, shape, or form schedule this open time in to their day. Does that even make sense?
Yeah. You've got to plan your time, right, because there's a finite amount. So you need to know what to do. Then if you want to create time for yourself, you got to look at efficiencies. I've worked with a lot of colleagues and planning's one of them, and there's great swathes. There's these huge folders full of very elaborate planning, but in terms of how much of that planning will help you in the classroom, there might be some of it that's not as pertinent to what you're looking at because you've gone above and beyond or you've gone over. Or the flip side of that is that I think that as a teacher, you're not just planning for the students, but yourself. 20 years of teaching, I should have far more experience than when I was an NQT. I think that one of the traps that I know, I don't know, an NQT that hasn't fallen to it, myself included, is you try to be awesome at everything, and it's impossible. It's too difficult.
I don't think there's many professions where you expect if you started out as an apprentice baker or something like that, that you can bake anything to Michelin star standards. So I think that it's also prioritising. Right. Today, this is what I'm going to get right. This is one aspect of my teaching that I'm going to get right and I'll be aware of these other things, but this is what I'm going to try to focus on. Make it a habit so I don't need to think about it anymore, and then I can start to look at something else and prioritise that in terms of the impact on children's learning and your own expertise and those things. But I think the point that Andy made, I was doing a bit of training this morning and I couldn't stress that enough, is be absolutely crystal clear on what's being learned.
Because if we just said, "I don't know. We're going to learn to count today." Okay, good. Wonderful. To what? To where? Then what? It's so wide that if you are not clear about that, when you find yourself in the thick of a classroom lesson and you're going, "Oh, flipping heck. Is it backwards in twos, fives, using quarters? What's going on here?" We need to be really clear and that's what you need to achieve. I think that that does free up that time because once you've achieved it, you can look at it in more depth. You don't have to think about something else because that's all that needs to be achieved. I think sometimes when I say something like that aloud, it sounds like, oh, we're shortchanging the children. But no, it's absolutely being crystal clear and being planned for that. Obviously, there's other things that can happen, but I think that that point of being really clear on what you want your children to learn in that time. That's crucial to managing the time in the class.
I also think if you work in a school or in an environment where you're not really supported properly by either the administration or some of the purchasing decisions that they've made so that you don't have the tools that you need, you don't have, let's say the content or the scheme of work worked out already for you and the teacher is expected to do all these things and plan all of this, that's just too much. Then if you're in a situation like that, that's not a healthy environment and it's not conducive to success, because teachers probably don't have the expertise, so if they do get there, it will take them a tremendous amount of time to get there and they may never get there. They may just not be able to do it. As a school administration, if you're setting up your teachers that way, you're effectively largely setting them up for failure.
You got to be working in a supportive environment where you're getting the tools and you're getting the materials that you need to be successful in your job. That's a big part of it for sure. But there's a tremendous amount of pressure. I don't know. I think there's this myth. We expect everyone to be superhuman. You got to be able to do this, this, this, exactly what you're saying. You got to be great at this. You got to be great at this. You got to be great at this. You got to be great at this. You got to be great at this. Hold on a second. Nobody can do that. So what's the responsibility of the administration? I touched on a few points, but what's the responsibility of the administration? Make sure that teachers have the time to do what they need to do. And what is it that they need to do? What is it they shouldn't be doing with their time?
I think in response to that, like you're talking about the materials, if the planning's done for you, what I can never get my head around is when people just repeat the planning so it's on a piece of paper to hand to someone else or something like that for accountability to say, "Yes, I'm planning." Well, if you're not planning your lessons and you're just not going to, it's not about handing them in. You shouldn't be in the profession. You need to know what you're doing when you're working with children. Let's assume that when you're going into a lesson, you are undertaking planning that you need to be effective to support their learning. But I think one of the other things that I've seen happen, I think this can happen really easily, is that people operate in a silo.
They're in their classroom and they look out the door and everyone else is seemingly got it sorted. They're having a chat at 4:30 and you are still busy planning to late that night and those sorts of things. I think that one of the things that I know I found really difficult as an NQT and having worked with a lot of NQT, newly qualified teacher by the way, and working with a lot of trainees is the help that you need to prioritise. I think that that's a really difficult thing to gauge. I think that the more you stay in your classroom, it almost equates to I just need to do more and plan more in order to do this. Whereas you might look at it and say, all right, some of these things will lead to... You're right. In your classroom, these things might be great. You might need to do this or do that or do something else.
Asking your colleagues. How often do colleagues will often talk to each other and say, "How are you, Robin? How are you, Andy? How's your day today? You're going all right? Are those kids behaving?" "Yeah, they're great." "Oh, cool. How's everything going?" "Yeah, pretty good. Thanks." But you might not be really specific. Like the first five minutes when they walk in the classroom, what can I do to ensure that they settle really quickly? Do any of you have any idea? Those sorts of really specific questions that just say, because that's when I start to lose them, then I panic, then da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, and all those knock-on effects that can take place. I think it's yeah, using your colleagues.
Yeah, and I think that's a really great point you've just made, because I can certainly see it from a new teacher's perspective where they probably are overplanning, if anything, because they want to make sure they cover the material and that they've got enough material and da, da, da, da, da, da, but at the same time, and you touched on this, but you've got teachers who have been teaching for years and they've figured out the lesson plan. They've got their routine as well. That doesn't necessarily mean they're using their time effectively either.
They found their comfort zone.
Or that they're right in what they've done for 20 years.
That's exactly it.
So having those conversations and in particular, maybe having those conversations with new teachers, with more experienced teachers and having them have a discussion may turn some light bulbs on for both of them to say, "Oh, yeah. Gee, I'd forgotten all about that. Yeah, I could tweak my class so that this would give me more time with the students." Then the new teacher's thinking, "Yeah, okay. I realise I don't have to do all of this in order to be effective in the classroom," and that would free up some time. So yeah, I think that's an excellent point you made, Adam.
I think the other thing, there's a couple of people that have had a massive influence on my teaching. One of them, Peter Sinclair. If you're listening, Peter, I hope you're well. Thank you for all of your input. But what Peter used to say in terms of behaviour, because the reality is that in a lot of classrooms, some of the biggest time losses is due to behaviour, because we're dealing with stuff and then we've dealt with it for five or 10 minutes and it's a very simple thing, but it's actually quite difficult to do. Often, we just deal with the behaviour and we deal with the end result. I know someone just throwing a ruler across the classroom, so that's what we're dealing with. But Peter always used to say, go all the way back to the beginning. At what point did the idea of throwing the ruler come in? Then why did the idea of the ruler being thrown come in? And what happened before then and da, da, da and try to get to that origin and think why did that go wrong.
I think I've used this example on previous podcasts where I said that there was someone who put the hardest question up on the board. The children came in. They were meant to just start on the questions by themselves, well versed in that, but the hardest question was at the top, so immediately, the children disengaged. Then there was behavioural problems. The teacher had to spend the next 10 minutes trying to calm the class down and getting them to think, "No, we can do this maths." Whereas actually, if the third question, which was the simplest question, was at the top, everyone's gotten in and that's where the behaviour started. But if you didn't think about that, you'd probably just be saying, "Oh, it's Robin again. She's always kicking off at the beginning of maths lesson, da, da, da," but actually, Robin might be really nervous about the maths and looked at it and thought, "I can't do that. No, I'm not going to look stupid. I'm going to talk to my mates. You've lost me."
The second point and then I will be quiet. The other thing that I've used that I found massively helpful, but you do have to really be ready for is video yourself teaching. It's one of the most effective, cheapest tools that you can ever do. Obviously, it's brutally honest. It's horrible, is it? No one has answer phones these days, but if you listen to yourself on voicemail, you just go, "I don't sound like that. Well, no." But I think that's another thing that it is amazing what you pick up when you watch yourself teaching and how skewed your timing is. If you were asked to write down, what did I do in this hour lesson and give me the timings for each of it, I can almost guarantee that when you look at it back on video, you'd be like, "Hey, did I really? Did I talk for 15 minutes? I thought it was five." Yeah, you lost the kids at 10, so yeah, that's saying something. Now we've got a problem. Those sorts of things I think too can be really helpful, but yeah, it's brutal.
And also, watching others teach is huge because you will see things. For sure, you'll pick up tricks and see how they manage particular situations and say, "Oh, yeah, I never thought of that. I could use that." But there's also the insights that you get by watching someone else where you go, "Oh, why did you interrupt them there? They were almost there." I think that that's one of the things that teachers are often not aware because it's just way too much going on in the classroom at any given point. They're not necessarily really aware of what's actually going on. I know that sounds crazy, but it's not because you become almost obsessed with your own performance that leading a classroom is like acting a play in some ways, but more like improv and you start becoming a little too conscious about your own performance and your own ideas about how the lesson should go and you start interfering with what's maybe a natural process and it creates turbulence in the class, which might be good in some instances, but it can throw off what's actually happening.
There's this saying which has mystified me. It's not really mystified me, but there's so many interpretations to it. It's teach less, learn more. Stop making the classroom your stage for your performance and spend more time observing and watching and injecting yourself where you're needed as opposed to trying to orchestrate the whole environment because you might find that you'll be able to... But that goes back to setting your expectations for the day. So know what it is that you need to achieve. You've got an hour. Know what it is that you need to achieve in that hour. Set it off in motion and then step back and observe. When you need to intervene, intervene, but just be mindful as why you're intervening. If the kids are not going exactly the way you want them to, that might be okay as well and you can let it go.
Just jumping on the back of that Andy, but what that takes is something you mentioned earlier, that's up to school leaders to make it happen. Because the reality is is that for two teachers to be in one classroom, yes, it can be organised around release time from classroom, those sorts of things, but the effectiveness of it and the value it can give teachers, I think, is huge. I think the other thing just off the back of that is to watch someone else teach your class because of exactly what you said. When you are teaching and you've got your class, your lens is totally different, but if you are watching someone else teach, you're starting to listen to the conversations your children are having in a totally different way.
You're starting to observe behaviours to see, oh, yeah, that person's just doing this and this is where... Oh, yeah, okay so I could just, like you said, let them go for longer. Or I didn't need to do this, or actually, this reassures me that I can do this, this, and this. That takes the thinking of good school leaders in order to make that happen.
And a lot of experience. That takes a long time to get there. That's the thing too, is that if you say newly qualified teachers need more support with that kind of stuff than someone who's been teaching for a long time who will already have come to that zen moment where they can release themselves from their inner voice. It's the inner voice that gets you. It's the, what's my next step? What should I be doing? What am I not doing right? Where have I gone wrong in this lesson? It's all that internal dialogue in your head that you need to be able to shut it up and actually observe what's going on. A lot of it has to do, I think, with belief in yourself, self-confidence and self-awareness and all these things. Videotaping your class, watching other teachers, watching your students when they're being taught by someone else brings you that level of zen, dharma, self-awareness that you need in order to really take the pressure off yourself and just become the orchestrator, but not the lead role.
The children are in the lead role. You're the guy who puts the curtain up and down and turns on the lights. You're the lighting director or the curtain, depending on what it is, and it's making it about their progression. But if you can get to that level, then what you realise is that your planning doesn't need to be so intricate, but it's just maybe three or four questions. What are they going to learn? How am I going to know when they're there? What is the telltale sign that they got it? At what stage can I say, "Okay, I don't need to teach this anymore because now they know it. Now I just need to let them practise it." What's the indication? What does that look like? If you don't know that going into the class, then all you're going to think is, in order for the kids to learn, I need to do A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
It doesn't work that way. Learning is so messy. So all you got to say is, okay, at this point, this group here, they know what's happening. They can just keep doing what they're doing. If I even talk to them, I'm just interfering with their thought processes. These guys here, they don't have the building blocks that they need to do this. I need to go and intervene now and just simplify the question for them to get them to where I need them to be. But it's like teacher as a reflective observer is where you need to get to. I think if you can get there, then you'll find the time starts showing up. But that's like a zen thing. That's like you need to go meditate on a Himalayan mountain for a while to get there.
It is. It is. Go on, Robin. You go.
No, I was just going to say even a confidence thing too. You have to be confident that you can let the students lead.
Yeah. The confidence, again, this comes from the school administration. That's what you should be aiming to make your teachers become as a school administrator. That means don't make them waste their time trying to make up lessons where they're not really sure if they're any good or not, or they're scouring the internet to find a bunch of worksheets to fill in the time because they just... Don't let your school descend to that level. Why don't you just give them the good stuff? Just go and figure out what the good stuff looks like. Go get it and give it to them and say this is the good stuff. Doesn't need to be the best in... It's better if it's the best, but give them something and then let them do all the other hard bits. Don't waste their time scouring the internet looking for stuff. God, the amount of time teachers spend, waste creating their own lessons and trying to find stuff, it's unbelievable.
My last little top tip if you're new to the profession is you're going to reach a stage where you get, it comes back to what we've been talking about, what Andy was talking about just a moment ago, decision-making. I think that some of the longest lessons you'll ever teach is when it starts to go wrong at minute one. It wasn't that long ago, I had one of those. I was paid to go into a school to model a lesson with I don't know how many teachers watching. I said, "Oh, for this lesson, we need the cubes, the interlocking cubes. That's a really important part of it." And within the first five minutes, it was obvious that these interlocking cubes are brand new, out of the packet. The children had never seen them and I had to make a decision at that point that they were going to play with the cubes for a good five, 10 minutes.
That was the brave decision because what I think was being expected is that at the beginning of this lesson, I should have just charged on regardless. Make three. Make three. They're busy making guns. They're ååbusy making constructions because it's the first time they ever had their hands on these things. I think it's those sorts of things that also, not just buy your time, but it's the perception of time, because some of those lessons can feel real long. It's not gone right, but sometimes, making those decisions, just that whole soldier on regardless. Sometimes you just have to go, "Yeah, something's gone wrong here. Let's take stock for a moment," but rest assured, you do get there. Well, you try to get there.
Good tips. Thanks, everyone.
Thank you. Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.
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