Is your school suffering from planner malfunction? Classic symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following: teachers are confused about expectations, inconsistencies between classrooms are the norm, especially in terms of how lessons are being taught; the staff suffers from low morale, teachers frequently feud about ‘the correct way of doing things,’ leading to a lack of cooperation and cohesion between staff; there is a mad rush to evaluate students just before report card time, and students are confused about what is expected from them. Below are some general causes for planner malfunction and the ensuing consequences.
A. Date: Do you have a space for the date and length of time of a unit plan at the top of your planner? If you are following a thematic curriculum, such as the International Primary Curriculum (IPC), with clear routing mapped out for the year, fantastic. If not, and you wish your staff to plan units around student interests, then putting a space for an expected length of time or a date to mark when you will be reviewing planners is not effective. Straightaway the teacher is thinking about the time frame, instead of letting the unit of inquiry flow naturally.
B. Random Squares vs. Rows and Columns: If your planner isn’t arranged in rows and columns, it makes it very difficult for teachers to follow a train of thought. There will be a tendency for teachers to complete the planner in an unorderly fashion and fill in the boxes they are most comfortable with first, even if the boxes are numbered in order. The result will be ambiguity in the classroom and lessons being taught at random – which can be confusing for students.
C. Sequential Columns: The value of the ordering of information in your columns cannot be underestimated. The order of information teachers fill out has a direct impact on teacher thought processes and how they will present information to students. An illogical ordering leads to the scattered delivery of information, and this has a direct impact on student learning.
D. Multiple Levels/Split Classes: Do you have space for teachers who need to plan for multiple levels and objectives on one given planner? If you do not, those teachers will have to plan units on separate planners, which may or may not suit your needs. If you had hoped that those teachers with multiple levels or split classes would scaffold activities, you may have prevented them from doing so. Their train of thought has been split in two entirely different directions.
E. Specialist/Learning Support Planners: Have you provided your specialists (music, P.E., etc.) the same planners as the rest of your staff? This is fine if you want your specialist teachers to run their programs in the same manner as your mainstream teachers, but your specialist teachers will not be able to connect to any of the themes or inquiries taking place at your school. If this is not your goal, then you will need to readjust your specialist teachers’ planners so that the first thing they do is check mainstream planners and match their learning objectives to those.
F. ESL (EAL, ELL....)/Learning Support (SEN): Does your support staff have a set of unit planners they can fill in alongside mainstream teachers? If not, why not? You are basically throwing the teams up a creek without a paddle. If you have provided them with planners, are the planners the same as everyone else’s? If so, why? Ask yourself what those teams’ aims are: do they share the same goals as the mainstream teacher or do they support the teacher? Does the planner lend itself to scaffolded learning? Does it allow for alternative learning objectives if necessary?
A. Disconnected Daily Planners: Do the daily planners you have provided to your teachers merely include a date at the top and time blocks to fill in throughout? If this is the case, you can expect that your teachers are simply listing activities and busy work in each time block without thinking about why they are actually doing the set activities. They have no reason to refer back to their unit planners between day-to-day lessons and make sure that between day-to-day lessons the learning objectives they have mapped out in their unit plans are being met. Consequently, at report card time there will be a mad scramble to note where students are at and what they have achieved. You will probably also notice a cramming of objectives and subject matter as teachers realize they are running out of time to complete their units.
B. Teacher Choice: Are you allowing teachers to plan their days however they choose? If so, this will largely explain the inconsistencies at your school. This means every teacher is approaching their lessons as they see fit, perhaps without particular aims in mind – not as you are expecting. In all likelihood, the same mad rush as mentioned above to evaluate the students and cramming in course matter just before reporting period will be occurring.
C. Specialists/ESL/Learning Support: Same as the unit planners – if you have provided your staff with specific day planners that connect to unit plans they are expected to follow, have you differentiated the planners to accommodate the varying needs of staff who are not mainstream teachers? If your expectations differ for non-mainstream staff members, then you will need to provide them with the appropriate resources and tools so they can meet your expectations.
Can planner malfunction be cured? Absolutely. But before applying any fixes to your planners, take the time to re-acquaint yourself with your school’s vision, philosophy, values, and curriculums. Any planner adjustments you make will not help you to achieve desired results if you do not first have a clear purpose and a concise educational framework mapped out. If you would like consulting advice on frameworks and planners so that your school can reach its full potential, contact us!
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