Post 4: Working Deeply

“Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.” 

Cal Newport, Deep Work

In my sister blog, I shared my thoughts on the power of collaborative planning. You can click here to read more but in summary, collaborative planning is effective because:

  • Staff have 80-90% of their planning – the structure, the starter activities, the modelling, the resources, the formative assessment – done for them;
  • It allows staff dedicated time to interact and share subject knowledge, a situation rare in the high-speed modern school environment;
  • The combination of the two points above means that staff have more time to focus on the things that really matter in lessons – questioning and feedback.

As a result of (indirectly) forcing the Maths department to concentrate wholly on one tasks for 1-2 hours a week, without distraction, the amount and quality of planning that took place in that time outstripped what one individual, or the team working as eight individuals – was capable of in that time outside of that dedicated effort.

What interests me in this blog is what this collaborative planning time is an example of: Deep Work. According to Cal Newport, the author of the definitive text on the subject (a book that I’ve read multiple times, and am reading again):

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.

Planning is cognitively demanding. It is a task that requires consideration of multiple variables and required outcomes in order to create an effective set of actions that help students learn. I believe that effective planning is an increasingly valuable skill, because as the labour market in education continues to shrink, and the turnover of teaching staff continues to increase, then consequently the knowledge base of pedagogical and curricular understanding is concentrated and for many teachers, inaccessible.

As a result, textbooks are back in vogue. The reason for this is that they provide a ready-made set of premises, examples and practice exercises that teachers know will provide something of a ‘learning journey’ that students can follow. My problem with this that teachers – because they are human – will choose the easiest possible route, and whilst textbooks are useful, they are not a proxy for planning. Textbooks function independently of the aforementioned multiple variables that a teacher needs to consider to effectively plan.

The collaborative planning process is a lean process because it requires significantly less time to produce useful results for a larger group of people. It is lean because done correctly it considers the potential issues that might happen in advance of the planning being put into action, and thus avoiding waste as a result. It is lean because the whole planning process need not be done again – in the next year, it is simply a case of refining the planning material and resources to be even more effective. Ultimately after a few curriculum cycles, the planning takes care of itself. What can be more lean than that?

Merry Christmas, everyone.





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