The first principle of sustainable teaching is ‘Plan Intentionally’. Be clear about what, how and why you’re doing something. Avoid planning more than you need to. This is especially important when planning lessons.
How much time it takes to prepare lessons is a bit like asking the question: ‘How long is a piece of string?’. My favourite analogy is one my nan used: ‘if you’ve got all day to clean the house, you’ll take all day’.
Creating lessons can be creative, lots of fun and time-consuming. When I first started teaching, we had a dial-up modem - the iPhone was yet to be invented - and researching my lesson plans involved spending time in the library and borrowing print books. I’m in my late 40s, so this wasn’t so long ago! I spent ages planning my first lesson and then only to see it fall apart in front of my eyes, those of 30 young people and my university practicum supervisor.
The first thing I had to let go of was the expectation that I could design and deliver the ‘perfect’ lesson. I could design what I thought was a ‘perfect’ lesson, creatively and theoretically speaking, I could do everything ‘right’, but then something outside my zone of influence would affect how it unfolded and the whole thing would result in what I now refer to as a ‘scrambled egg lesson’.
This ‘perfect’ lesson in reality featured students jumping out a (ground floor) window. I thought I’d definitely failed my practicum, but what the university supervisor told me in our debrief, stuck in my head. She said: “It’s how you pivot back to focus on learning that matters, Melissa.”
Like the solid country netballer I was, I’d given myself whiplash pivoting so much in that period. But she was right. I focused most of the class on a learning activity for most of the lesson and I changed strategies at least four or five times, while dealing with window escapees. I could never have planned for such a scenario and I would have been a bundle of nerves if I’d tried. Sustainable lesson planning is about letting go of unrealistic expectations.
Perfect lessons will never exist; no matter what any edupreneur or ‘star teacher’ tries to tell you on social media. You also need to let go of any expectation that you may have about designing absolutely everything yourself for a lesson. It’s OK to use resources from print books, textbooks, the internet and other sources, always trying to acknowledge your sources and model good copyright practices. The internet and AI tools have opened up so many more possibilities.
What you can’t let go of is the basic principles of good lesson design, involving understanding your students and how they learn, curating content, prioritising a skill development sequence and differentiating activities to suit the needs of the young people in your care. You can’t ‘copy and paste’ a unit of work from the internet and expect it to work in the classroom without your active input, ideas and critical evaluation. It’s not a sustainable practice and I’ve seen too many people try this approach under the expectation that it’ll help them to save time, only to find that it takes far more time than if they just wrote their own or modified an existing unit. The students in your class are unique and they need you to recalibrate the teaching resource (lesson plan, unit of work, activity) to meet their contexts and needs based on the information (data) you have about them.
Social media is a great resource for teachers to share ideas, lesson plans and units of work. Be aware of the dangers of using such sites without critically evaluating what is being shared by asking yourself questions such as:
• Is this resource (lesson plan, unit of work, activity) linked to the syllabus I am teaching?
• How can I confirm the accuracy of the advice someone is giving me?
• Is this person or group trying to sell me something?
• Does the syllabus support what they are telling me?
Sustainable teachers always refer to the syllabus and any official support material from the education authorities in their state or territory to ensure they ‘get it right’.
Image by Rostislav Uzunov