1. Don't over-resource
Beautiful resources can really help to hook in your little learners and make their work feel special. However, be very careful not to over-resource your lessons. We've all been there - you're planning your next week's lessons, have a great idea for some awesome project and before you know it, you have spent hours making worksheets and guides for every step of the process. DON'T! Firstly, you don't have time. I don't care who you are or how efficient and organised you are, I guarantee that you have better things to do. Secondly, it doesn't always help. So, my absolute number one top tip is to think before you make! Ask yourself: will this improve learning? Will it be useful? Can the children do this without a worksheet? This leads into a little frustration of mine: I can't tell you how many times I've inherited a class of KS2 children that can't set their work out neatly on a page and are terrified by a blank sheet of paper. It does them a world of good to learn these skills and to begin to make their own choices about how to present their work. I'm not saying that you should never make a nice resource - take a look at my other posts and you'll see how much I love to make something special for their lessons - but consider what is worth your time. Spend your time wisely, preferably on things that can be re-used, and don't be afraid to download other people's resources. As long as you check them and adapt them to your class, there is no shame in using another teacher's ideas and activities - that's why we have blogs like these and resource-sharing websites: teachers helping out teachers.
2. Don't over-mark
Your time is precious. I am far from work-shy and completely understand the value of effective, timely feedback, but my time is limited and precious. So, this tip has 2 points:
a) When you plan your lessons for the coming week, think about how much marking you are giving yourself. If you have planned for the children to plan and write an extended piece in English, you know that you will need to be marking each day in order to feedback and help them to improve with each lesson. So, that week in Maths, aim for activities that you won't have to spend much time marking. Look for arithmetic that they can self-mark - this is not lazy, it is actually BETTER TEACHING! The children get instant feedback, can self-assess after seeing how they've done (we so often ask them to self-assess when they don't know if they're doing it right!) and you can address misconceptions immediately. All you have to do then is take a quick scan through to get a feel for what has been learnt. You could also look for more practical and team activities and games. The same applies to all of your subjects - take a good look at your week overall and make sure that you haven't planned lots of lessons that each need lots of marking.
b) You don't have to mark everything in-depth! Targeted feedback, linked to the learning objective and their next steps, is great and can really improve learning, but consider this: if they don't read it, it's not helpful!! If you have spent the time marking, build looking at it into the next lesson. Ask them to tell their partner what they did well and what their next step is. Also, remember that you don't have to 'deeply' mark every piece. Sometimes, it's fine to just focus on one point. For example, with longer writing pieces, I often just look for their next step. For Topic work, sometimes you want to ask them questions to extend their thinking and push the learning on, but you can't do that every time! Sometimes, a check and a tick is all it needs. Always remember: you are marking to feed back to the children and help them to learn more. You are NOT marking for your head teacher, the parents, or inspectors. If your teaching and marking has purpose and are helpful to the children, it will show.
3. Plan your whole week together
This one links to the ones above. Look at your whole week together, not just a subject at a time. The first things that I do when planning a week, is fill in a timetable overview. This is a piece of planning that I'm not 'required' to do, but it is the most useful thing that I do. Here's an example:
This helps me to 'see my week'. With this, I can see:
4. Be Flexible
Allow yourself to be flexible - don't be too tied by your lesson plans. I'm not going to lie, I hardly ever stick to my lesson plans! There are several reasons for this and, in my opinion, they are all worthwhile:
1) I spot something that needs fixing - we've all been there: you make a link to prior learning only to find that they haven't got the foundation knowledge or skills that you hoped they had. In this case, there is no purpose pushing on as if they have, just because it's in your plan. Fill the gap first!
2) They're bored - I plan what I think is exciting and fun, but they don't feel it. Change it! I have even been known to ask them 'how shall we make this more fun? What do you think would be a fun way to learn / practise this?'
3) I'm bored - sometimes I'm going through my planning in the morning with my TA and I'll just say 'well, I'm not in the mood for that - let's do something else!' I don't mean that I don't teach the objective or play party games instead, just that I spice it up a bit. Often, my TA will have an idea, or talking through it with her gives me an idea.
4) Big events - big things happen. Children notice. This could be a world event, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, and the children will be distracted by it. Don't tell them not to think about them - they will and should. Show them a children's news report, such as Newsround and ask them how they feel about it, how it will impact them and, if relevant, what we can do in response (fundraising, prayer, supporting each other). Sometimes, there will be a big event in the life of a child. This could be good or bad. Generally, I'd address bad things privately - if they are upset about something, I try to find a time early on in the day to have a chat with them and check that they are okay. If it's a good thing, I guarantee that they will not settle until they have told everyone!! They want to share their excitement, especially with you, and that's fine! Let them tell the class that they have a new puppy or a baby sister or a new rocket-shaped bed. They will tell people anyway and this way, they feel that you are celebrating with them and they won't be disrupting the class by miming it out across the room!
5) They have an idea or interest - the children will often show a keen interest in a particular aspect of a lesson or will ask a question that takes learning in a great but unexpected direction. I know that we have objectives to cover and targets to hit, but children will learn better if they are interested and engaged. Wherever you possibly can, try to follow their interests.
The weekly timetable plan helps with flexibility - you can easily see how a change will impact your week and where you can jiggle things around to fit in. Don't carry on with a lesson that is not working - sticking to a plan is not conducive to good teaching.
5. Let them laugh if it's funny!
This one is short but sweet: let them laugh! We need to teach children to be resilient if they are unintentionally the source of the humour - if you are the 'butt of the joke', 'the clutz', 'the one who made the ill-advised comment', it is far better to learn to laugh it off than to cry and feel picked-on because the others are laughing. Plus, hidden laughing behind hands and sniggering feels mean. If everyone is laughing with the teacher and it's all out loud, it's not some hidden embarrassment. You have to apply the same philosophy to yourself - I have done all sorts of embarassing things in front of my class! Falling down, walking into things, saying the wrong word - it's funny! I maintain that it is not cheeky to laugh as long as they know when to stop.
So, there you have it. My top tips to an enjoyable year. Enjoying your job is SOOO important: for you, for your class, for your colleagues, for your partner - for everyone. With the new school year upon us, if you only make one resolution, make it to do everything you can to enjoy yourself. Enjoy your class, enjoy your lessons and you'll be a wonderful teacher!
Hi! I'm Mrs P: passionate primary school teacher!