Sunday, January 17, 2016

Transitioning Planning Formats

In a school leaders Facebook group I belong to the following question was posed a couple of days ago:

I am interested to hear from leaders who have transitioned from traditional classroom planning formats (ltps, weekly planning, daily planning) and how they have achieved this. Examples or links to curriculum statements would be great to look at. I'm looking for a more dynamic, and responsive-to-student-voice way of doing things.

I responded saying that I would chuck some stuff up there, which immediately got lots of quests for "please-send it-to-me-too" and then I started thinking ok- what is it that people want, and what examples can I provide that are easy for other schools to follow?

So here goes:

I believe what you are wanting to transition to is a flexible way of learning and a way to be truly responsive to individual learners needs. In fact I think, amongst all the terms floating around out there- MLE/ILE etc I prefer the term Flexible Learning Environment the most myself.

In my experience first of all teaching in a FLE type situation in the early & mid 2000’s and then leading in two different FLE school situations from 2005-2015 the biggest thing you need to do as a leader is give your teachers permission to innovate and experiment. 

And this means you have to take away some of the demands of things like traditional long term plans where not only is “topic”  listed but also some quite in-depth literacy and numeracy AO’s and LO’s. Also think carefully about the language you use and that your teachers use. There is a big difference between "doing a topic" and "inquiring into a concept." And if you are truly inquiring into a concept- you cannot plan it all out before the learners even begin to inquire.

If you want new ways of learning for learners, then you need some different ways of teaching and then you definitely need some different ways of planning.

Teachers cannot plan an in-depth long term plan with specific writing and reading objectives ten weeks into the future, and also be truly responsive to learners needs. We all know learners are unique and trying to plan for each learners needs 10 weeks into the future is not being responsive. We also know that time is precious and freeing up teachers from some of those old requirements gives them time  to innovate and experiment. They might make mistakes and get some things wrong, but they can’t do new innovative stuff and be bound to all the old ways.

So in actuality I don't have a lot of easy formats and templates to share because if you are being truly responsive and involving learners in the process then that planning has got to be a lot more short term. I see teachers doing most of that work on a daily basis. Rather than the time spent on long term plans at the start of terms, and weekly plans at the start of weeks, I see the great time, and skill, needing to be spent each day evaluating and giving feedback to student learning and diagnosing what workshops are needed to be run on an individual and small group basis to move each learner forward in their learning.This of course requires a really flexible environment, and personally I think a collaborative environment helps greatly too. I know when I was teaching in our Year 6-10 community in 2014 this was where the time we used to spend planning was actually spent. Each day reading student work and giving feedback on it, and developing any workshops for the next day around what learners needed from what they were doing that day. (This was in an environment where 90% of the student learning was inquiry based.) We had the commitment to teaching skills as needed rather than to a pre determined set of AO's or LO's. True responsive teaching, requiring huge flexibility. We did use timetable and learners spent some time developing there timetables for the week on a Monday, but also had to revisit and make appropriate alterations each morning in line with emerging needs in there inquiry learning. You can read more about this here

I would say though that old adage of you value what you measure, and you measure what you value stands out as well. If we are valuing collaboration, and perseverance and creativity, and those things that are being talked about as the skills employers want in young people, then why is so much of our measuring still on the traditional stuff. If that is what we measure then that's what our teachers are going to see we value, and in turn thats what our learners will think is the most important. At TKAS we developed learning muscles written about here. Learning muscles were the focus of refection first and foremost- at the end of a day, during and at the end of an inquiry. Learning areas were reflected on too, but not until learning muscles were reflected on. If you ran out of time- as many teachers I think still do with reflecting, then that dispositional learning can often be that thing that its forgotten What message is this giving teachers and their learners? Yes we sill measured national standards and NCEA progress but this was not seen as our first priority. bur first priority is helping young people grow up into the best possible well rounded versions of themselves they can.

A school Vision is held by the community, and I think should be driven by the BOT and community- we are just the people that come in and out of that community. But as a staff we should be shaping the learning principles and practices the link to that vision. Having a clear easy picture of what the learning principles and practices are is important.

2015 TKAS Curriculum Delivery Picture
For me most of the documentation for staff was around learning muscles and learning principles. Regardless of what was being taught- whether it was  a self directed inquiry at Year 10 or  reading inquiry at Year 3 it was the learning principles rather than the reading, or science or social science that teachers really focused on as far as planning, implementing and reflecting. It was those things that they step back from and look at over time and evaluate if one is being neglected, or needs developing further.

For each learning principle it was important to define exactly what that meant for us.

We developed range of templates to help this.
(Example of our positive learning environment statement here)
(Example of our co constructed learning statement here.)

A planning sheet where collaborative teaching teams could think about the term ahead and discuss how they were going to meet that learning principle.
(Example- co constructed learning)

A reflection sheet where collaborative teaching teams , or individuals, you reflect on the term gone and how well they met that learning principle.
(Example-real life learning)

An observation sheet where leaders or teachers could observe each other- either in practice or in discussion- taking note of the particular components of that learning principle. (With some warning signs of the things we might see if this learning principles wasn't being truly enacted.)
(Example- positive learning environment)

When we did reflect on learning areas it was through school progressions and over time we were re-writing those progressions to fit under the headings of our school learning muscles- again giving a clear message as to the importance of those learning muscles.

An example of Level 2 reading progressions

If you want an innovative learning environment you can't expect teachers to try new things and teach in different ways but still be bound to the planning that was for a different way of teaching.

If you want a flexible and collaborative learning environment you can't simply put some classes and teachers together and then allow them to timetable all flexibility out of their programme by running exactly the same programmes they always have, using the same curriculum procedures, just on a bigger scale.

Students need to be helped to learn to self manage and be accountable for their time and developing their own timetables can help this, as long as there is space within a students timetable for them to explore and get into uninterrupted periods of learning- if their timetable is just a list of teacher workshops and a list of "must-do" and "can-do if finished must-do" activities then there is no purpose to having more kids and teachers together. 

The value in collaborative teaching is when we do things really differently and use teacher time differently and then means giving up some of the old traditions we have in classrooms that suit no understandable purpose apart from "thats what schools have always done."

And if you want  learning that really engages learners in a purposeful rather than compliant way, and isn't just focused around individual subjects but around cross curricula real life learning then some of those old requirements of things like long term planning need to be changed. Rather than teachers being compliant with paperwork they need to spend time really knowing NZC and being able to identify learners next steps from the cross curricula learning they are doing to help them move to deeper understandings and more complex learning. And this needs to be responsive. Just like effectvive learning can look really messy, so can and probably should, effective teaching and therefore by extension planning isn't going to be something that looks neat and tidy and pretty, or even consistent. For us we used an online forum to record feedback to learners,and anecdotal notes on learners and notes between teachers of what workshops and teaching was needed for individual learners. We had the time to develop a system that worked for us, because we had released ourselves from that long er planning that didn't serve any purpose. 

My advice would be free your teachers up as much as possible from the old paperwork requirements to experiment and try new things. Of course you need to know whats happening in learning programmes, and there needs to be some overall school connection. Figure out ways with your teachers for recording this that give them time and freedom to be truly responsive to learners needs.


  1. Karyn, thank you so much for sharing this valuable post. It solidifies many of my hunches and makes me feel confident in demanding new things. While I know that our journey will be filled with mistakes, adventures, and much to reflect upon, I hope that we too will be able to share our insights in the way you have today :)
    Look forward to catching up again sometime!

  2. Karyn, thank you so much for sharing this valuable post. It solidifies many of my hunches and makes me feel confident in demanding new things. While I know that our journey will be filled with mistakes, adventures, and much to reflect upon, I hope that we too will be able to share our insights in the way you have today :)
    Look forward to catching up again sometime!