Throwing Baby out with the Bathwater

It’s a vivid analogy and one which holds as true as it ever did – after all, babies still need baths, even in 2013.  It means, of course, that in the rush for modernisation (whatever that means), we sometimes lose our grip on what’s important.

Twins 1

All around me in the twittersphere, I hear the relief of educators who genuinely believe they have been liberated from the tyranny of planning, by Ofsted’s assertion that they don’t need to see session plans.  (They do, however, want to see a “well planned session“.  Go figure.)  The hegemony of SMART learning outcomes is being unpicked and dismissed; there is talk of ‘five minute’ session plans or none at all.  Divergent views are healthy; what I do find slightly uncomfortable is a whisper of “I told you so,” directed at those of us who still choose to invest time in planning.

I’m not naive:  as a teacher educator I have the privilege of reaching into all sorts of organisations and the even greater one of hearing my students’ stories; I know that there are mechanistic, oppressive planning expectations out there, not to say exploitation of this country’s employment laws.  There are many teachers on zero hours salaries, expected to plan in their own time and barely paid at a rate which reflects the skill of their facilitation, never mind their planning and mindfulness.  I couldn’t blame any one of these unfairly-treated colleagues for resorting to the back of a fag packet.

But for me, someone to whom ‘winging it’ comes naturally on a good day, planning has been what is liberating about teaching.  Through the work of Nancy Kline (eg 2009), I learned to explore paradoxes and the one which stuck the most was ‘Freedom needs Boundaries’.  This chimed sweetly in my ADHD brain and I began to challenge the assumptions I was making.  Ken Robinson famously defined creativity as ‘original ideas that have value‘ (RSA Animate, 2010).  Innovation is what happens when some of those ideas get implemented.  They get implemented through planning.

I learned that the discipline of working through a planning process separated into a whole (scheme of work) and component parts (session plans) gave me the safety I needed to do the innovative work of my life.   The mindful and intentional process of planning harnessed my creative energy and gave it focus, gave it purpose.  That’s why the either/or debate holds no interest for me, except as a perplexed bystander; what we should be discussing is not if we plan, but how.  How can we plan to best release our creative energies for the benefit of our students’ learning?

For some people, that genuinely will be on the back of a fag packet, after lots of clear, constructive, mindful thinking.  Others will find their creativity released by a mind map, or images, or patterns that make sense to them.  We are all wired up differently.  I favour a plan which looks detailed, even bulky, but which takes a surprisingly short time to write, because all the thinking has taken place beforehand.  And, being in some ways a Little Miss Show Off, I do want someone observing my session (no matter who they are) to be in no doubt about the thought that has gone into it.  Yes, I can work a room.  But the best of my teaching comes through graft, because that’s less about me and more about the people who really matter in this dynamic – those students who do me the honour of coming to me to learn.

Kline, N (2009) More Time to Think Burley-in-Wharfedale Fisher King

RSA Animate (2010)  Sir Ken Robinson:  Changing Education Paradigms online accessed 13.10.13

PS that’s my dad on the left! 🙂


Author: TeachNorthern

We are hard working educators with passionate interest in Teaching for a Social Purpose. Everything we've learned is through observing colleagues and students, all of whom are committed to changing the world. And reading interesting stuff. We work at The Northern College in Barnsley and its mission (and thirty-eight year history) of social transformation makes it an ideal base to face the challenges of teaching adults in 21st century England.

5 thoughts on “Throwing Baby out with the Bathwater”

  1. This is very helpful to me Lou – significantly significant right now. Developing the right balance and optimum approach in terms of good planning for good teaching is one of the main themes I am seriously considering at this point in my emerging practice. With tendencies, in the past, to plan far too much, I am coming to you now to learn. To learn about equilibrium, equanimity and equality. Above all, I am learning from the invaluable example you set as a role model.

    1. Wow, Rachel, thank you. I feel I am in the best job in the world because I get to sharpen my practice through teaching observations all the time. I am so glad this is timely and interesting to you.

  2. Thanks Lou. I was caught up in this twitter conversation. See my storify that sets it in context here:
    It started by considering the language of teaching and learning, moving on to SMART, and then getting heavy with Foucauldian surveillance (I like to drop him in now and again). My take on this is that there is no excuse for careful planning, and for student teachers that means crafting a lesson plan – to grow good habits. 5 min lesson plans. extended schemes of work. or even my own version – the flow lesson plan, are only as good as the process going on behind it – as you articulate so well. I am happy to teach SMART, but careful to raise awareness of hegemonic processes and the superstructure. However your point about casualisation is very salient. How can teachers reclaim a professionalism that is so bounded by surveillance? Fag packet planning is as useful as auditable, corporate documents, but will trip up the unwary.

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