Planning the unexpected

Why you need to plan for the unexpected

It’s that time of year again, the time when finding time is difficult, when stress levels rise as teachers frantically plan exciting and engaging first lessons to make their students fall in love with them, while managers frantically juggle book orders, student enquiries, entrance exams, and new teacher inductions. It’s the nice kind of stress though, the exciting type, if such a thing exists, as the new year brings exciting new opportunities, ideas, and energy.  But as much as we can prepare for the next school year the real excitement lies in what we can’t control.

I’ve been thinking a lot about classroom management and lesson planning in the last few weeks, mostly thanks to my DipTESOL at OxfordInternational but also while planning our induction week that we have just completed.   The message that I hope I’ve got across to my teachers and what I think is an important one to remember is that with all the perfectly planned activities, transitions and presentations, the real learning opportunities are the ones that don’t appear on the lesson plan.  Yes, of course, we have learning objectives which need to be fulfilled and show a growth in terms of what language our students should have mastered, but we also know that students and learning paths don’t always go hand in hand.  It’s the questions in class that take our teaching in a different direction, to satisfy a real curiosity, not one that we have contrived from the comforts of our lesson plans, which are where the learning really happens.  And those moments cannot be planned or (for the most part) anticipated.

Thinking back to when I first qualified as a teacher, crisp, fresh certificate in hand, the one thing that frightened me the most was being unprepared, not for the lessons, but for the questions that could be thrown at me that I didn’t know the answer to.  As I have grown in experience I have found that the questions don’t bother me anymore, not because my linguistic knowledge has increased but because now I don’t feel guilty about saying when I don’t know something, I’ll have to get back to you on how to say “spartilacque” in English because frankly, it’s not something I have ever come across! When we finally reach the point where we feel we don’t need to bluff anymore we realise that actually we never needed to bluff in the first place!

I remember when I worked in television programme development, one of the best questions we asked ourselves when trying to develop the next big tv success was “What would never work?”.  By starting at something ridiculous or seemingly terrible meant that we were changing our natural starting point, often allowing our imaginations to veer off on an array of bizarre and inspiring journeys.  If we apply the same logic to the classroom can we use our reflections as a springboard for some alternative, interesting takes on our bog-standard present perfect lesson for example?

Let’s spend more time allowing for natural spontaneity to come into play in the classroom, worry less about having perfect plans, embrace the power of silence, and realise that the best lesson we can teach is the one that our students want to learn.


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