Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house; not a creature was stirring…except the poor woman asking for Y3 Stone Age planning on my Facebook feed. On Christmas Eve! A cringe-worthy but sad reflection of how far people are prepared to go in their quest for outstanding. Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day saw other such requests – requests that evoke irrational responses and that angry red emoji face, as I reach for another beer.

If teaching was Star Wars, then planning would be Darth Vader – there’s potential good in it, but it lost its way a long long time ago and is mainly a massive pain in the R4. Like Vader, it’s obvious – from what I read across various Facebook groups – that many schools have turned to the ‘Dark Side’ in their approach to planning – luckily not my school!

Five years ago, I predicted that ‘Medium-Term’ planning would become extinct; that ‘Unit Plans’ would be wiped off the face of the Earth. Today, I’m surrounded by planning paranoia – fuelled by social media – to produce a blue-print of what you think a lesson might turn out like. A document that’ll get filed in one of those annoying plastic wallets and discovered in a folder on a shelf in your stockroom, when you’re having a clear out on your way to another year group. A document for SLT to comment on and fill a staff-meeting with because the woman – who was supposed to be showing you how to safely get out the apparatus – cancelled last week. A while ago I broke free from the chains of traditional methods of ‘planning’ and – ironically – took my teaching to new heights. I became a Jedi-Master.

Before I summarise what I did, it’s important to say that planning can only be made easier through a whole-school approach that recognises the strengths and weaknesses of its different teachers. A one-size-fits-all approach to planning is lazy policy, born out of the hand-outs of effective leadership training and the fear of inspection. This kind of approach will cause your best teachers to leave for another school and your struggling teachers to leave for another career. What makes me laugh, is that we’d never get away with such an approach in our classrooms. You’re going to need a fluid approach based on trust; one that promotes work:life balance and is tailored towards supporting what your staff members need. I’m daring to suggest an approach to planning created by the very people planning to teach: teachers.

So here are my Top Five ‘tips’ for a better work:life balance at the expense of hours spent ‘planning’…

(1) Let Go – Trust Your Instincts…

I hate the term ‘planning'; only ever seen as accepted in the form of a document supposedly representing your vision for the lessons you’re hoping to teach; evidence of ideas you’ve thrown together in the shower or those ‘It might just work…’ moments you dream up in those most unlikely of places. It’s restricting, suffocating and shouldn’t be seen as the end product of anything. Some of my best teaching sequences are planned in 20-second conversations with my year-partner at the photocopier. If I’d have sat at a laptop and spent two-hours producing ‘planning’ for it, it risks losing its integrity and spontaneity – it becomes too formulaic; too final. Let’s just wind it up and see where it goes. Let’s whip out a school timetable and note our idea/activity for those five English lessons. I know what I’m doing; I’ll have more time to dedicate to resources; my pupils aren’t being drip-fed and I’m excited by the unknown element to it – there’s no ceiling on where it’s going or ending. Plus, I’ve spent time with my own kids, nailed a Buble classic on Thursday night karaoke and watched Match of the Day without a laptop on my knee.

(2) These Are The Droids You’re Looking For…

Ok…so number one might be a pipe-dream for many of you. Yes, I’m suggesting you remove the term ‘planning’ from your life; that you stop producing formal documents of your ideas and trust what’s in that head of yours. If you won’t – or can’t – move towards a more informal way of documenting your proposed teaching sequences, then you can at least adopt this little weekend-saver.

Often, the thought of not having anything prepared for your Monday lessons can ruin you on a weekend. You’ve got marking to do and you at least want to rock-up prepared on Monday morning. Imagine having a Monday that plans itself. A Monday that could be delivered by C3-PO whilst still impacting on standards. You’d feel warm and fuzzy all weekend…without wine. Mondays would be Newsround on BBC iPlayer – a chance to catch-up on current affairs and enter into quality discussion. English would be focused spelling and handwriting – a regular carousel of activities and games, with opportunities for self-assessment. Maths is split between focused vocabulary work (see my Flippin’ Heck post) – or times table games – with an element of outdoor learning led by your pupils. You’ll have your set afternoon with an agreed activity noted on this week’s timetable; it’s practical with an enquiry feel and doesn’t produce a written outcome. However you jigsaw it together, you engineer a Monday that’s a little more robotic than what you’re used to; a little more self-managing, and one that works for you and your pupils. They’ll love the routine element to it; familiarity will promote reduced anxiety about returning to school after their ‘three sleeps’ at home. You see, we have more on common with our pupils than you think.

(3) You Don’t Need To See My Planning…

Fear around other people’s expectations of YOUR planning is a path that leads to the Dark Side. In my opinion, the only reason to call on a teacher’s planning, would be if standards in said teacher’s classroom were unacceptable. We work on a commonly used triangular approach at our school: Progress, Children’s Books and Quality of Teaching. If I’m deemed outstanding across these outcomes, then it doesn’t matter what form my planning takes – who cares whether it’s annotated or not? Fight your corner. Ofsted themselves don’t ask to see what lessons look like on paper – they don’t want it or need it. My kids make great progress, their books are awesome and my teaching is at least good. You don’t need to see my planning.

(4) Make The Jump To Light-Speed…

Speed up. Get slicker. Cuter. I’ve been my own worst enemy over the years with regards to planning. I swear down, there have been MI5 missions planned less meticulously than some of my English lessons. Set yourself a time limit and stick to it; you’ll soon become more chilled-out; more relaxed and your pupils will reap the benefits. Never plan a full week of Maths – a couple of days is enough for you to enter pupils into the world of symmetry. I’ve spend hundreds of hours planning Thursday Maths lessons that never made it off the page – they looked beautiful on my weekly planner though.

(5) Primitive Life-Forms…

We all love a bit of technology; some of us more than others. I worry about some people though – those death-by-flipchart teachers. The teachers who go into full-blown meltdown over a faulty projector bulb or other heinous events that may lead to a technology black-out and require them to ‘wing it’. I guess here lies the main issue around planning. There are people who need to feel totally prepared; to have their flip-charts and PowerPoints as well as their ‘planning’. Then there are the people like me. I’m not suggesting any single approach is better, but I bet I worked less hours than you last week. My pupils continue to thrive and their families think the world of me because their children race to school in a morning; they’re happy kids, and no amount of planning can help create that. Get back to basics; to what really matters. You can’t sustain hours of planning on top of hours spent producing flip-charts – that’s planning twice…three times if you count when you first pieced it together in your head. Make something give. Bring balance to the Force…

Done…my work here is.

May the Force be with you…