Why is planning so important for effective teaching?

Professor Chris Kyriacou

I have spent more than 30 years teaching about and doing research on what constitutes ‘effective’ teaching. Over the years I have become more and more convinced that the key to being a successful teacher, both in terms of the quality of learning you promote, and in terms of maintaining your own mental health and enthusiasm for the work you do, is to make sure you devote enough time to planning. Of course, we all know that teaching is a complex activity and involves a wide variety of tasks and qualities, but in my dealings with teachers, ranging from novices to experienced, I still come across many teachers who do not devote enough time to planning and haven’t fully realised the massive benefits that good planning offers, and how it can really help them.

How and why is your teaching effective?

As teachers, we know that teaching is, in essence, about helping pupils to learn. Careful thinking about what it is exactly that you want your pupils to learn, and how best to enable your pupils to achieve this through the learning experiences you provide for them, lies at the heart of the planning process. All successful teachers need to be pupil focused; in other words, you have to think about how the learning activity you have set up will be experienced by each pupil, and how this experience will generate your intended learning outcomes. you’ll find that the planning process forces you to make explicit how and why your teaching will be effective for every one of your pupils.

Golden Time

Lesson plans also provide a huge number of important benefits for you. Firstly, a lesson plan helps provide you with thinking time during the lesson. In particular, it enables you to reflect on how the lesson is going whilst it is in progress, and to think about whether and how small adjustments might need to be made, and time to think about how well each pupil’s learning experience is being optimised. Thinking time during a lesson is like gold-dust – it’s the most valuable commodity that a teacher needs to have and is often in short supply. Good planning means that the many decisions that you need to make during a lesson, have already been thought through before the lesson take place. If you’ve planned the learning, and the logistical arrangements for the lesson in advance then you’ll have more time to get on with the business of  assessing pupils’ progress whilst the lesson is going on – and you’ll buy yourself some golden time to deal with the unexpected.

Plans help relieve day to day stress

A second important benefit for you is in terms of stress. For newly qualified teachers, you can go into a lesson confident that you have planned what will be happening, that the materials you need to use have been checked and are to hand, that the correct answers to the questions you pose are readily available to you to refer to, and that the precise qualities and features you expect in a good piece of work will be explicit. The more you can do to build up that confidence at the start if the lesson, based on your planning, the more relaxed you will feel.

Try something new!

Finally, another great benefit of planning is that it enables you to be innovative and try out new approaches and ideas in your teaching. When busy and tired, it’s not surprising that some teachers stick with teaching activities that are tried and tested and which manifestly work successfully. There is nothing wrong with this over the short-term. The time and effort you put into planning your lessons will deliver rich dividends for your pupils in being able to experience lessons that you have homed to perfection. However, time marches on, what and how you teach today will not be what is considered to be good practice in the future. The school curriculum is ever changing (and, of course, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework will be on many teachers’ minds at the moment), be it in terms of the content of the course and lessons, the learning outcomes, the use of technology, the methods of assessment, and working with other staff.

Overhauling your planning can be a daunting challenge if you leave adopting such new approaches for too long. Devoting time to planning has an inbuilt element of reflection involved: how can I improve my teaching? Such reflection can help you stay at the forefront of innovative thinking and practice rather than feeling you are having to catch up with good practice under duress.

Professor Chris Kyriacou is based at the University of York Department of Education, and is the author of “Essential Teaching Skills”, the fifth edition of which was published by Oxford University Press in 2018.