One of the core tasks of a teacher, one that must be completed before any teaching can, in fact, happen, is the completion of the Teaching Program. The contents of the Program often varies from school to school, and even from stage to stage and year to year in its requirements, but in its simplest form, and the form I prefer, it should simply be a plan for learning for that year or term. Whatever your school’s requirements for the Program, it should contain some basic elements and ideally have a simple structure, such as below, which is how mine is laid out:
- Teaching Philosophy
- Class Analysis
- Explanation of special Program
- Overview of Curriculum
- Scope and Sequence – Integrated Unit
- Scope and Sequence – Numeracy
- Scope and Sequence – Literacy
- Daybook / Weekly Plan
- Continuum Tracking (Literacy and Numeracy Continuum)
- Assessment Records
- Learning Plans
- Class Groupings
Within most schools, some variation of the above, with more or less information/detail will be required, but this, I think is a fairly sensible and succinct program format and will be the basis for the next few posts, forming a mini-series on Planning for Learning.
The first thing to consider when setting out to create your program is what is its purpose? What are you trying to achieve, other than to conform to any required policies? It should of course be noted that a teacher’s Program is a legal document, and can be (and I’ve been advised, at various times has been) entered into Court as evidence in legal cases but it is not, nor should it be, why you write your Program.
There are a number of reasons for writing a Program.
- It encourages you reflect on, and to articulate why you teach and how that is reflected in how you teach.
- It demonstrates that you know your students and how they learn through the Class Analysis and Explanation of Class Programs.
- It ensures that you have thought about, planned, and programmed for learning at an overview level (the timeframe may vary from one to three years, personally I’ve come to like a two year overview), at the term level, at the weekly level, and then at the session or daily level for each key learning area.
- It encourages you to be specific about how you will monitor, track, and record learning outcomes for each student across the weeks, terms and the year to ensure that you can provide timely feedback to students and their parents both formally and informally.
- It encourages you to be specific about how you will cater for individual students learning needs through Individual Learning Plans, Behaviour Management strategies and how and why different class groupings will be utilised.
Programs can be daunting. I have seen Programs that are lever-arch folders, full to the brim, with every lesson, every resource or idea seen, permission slips, multiple scope and sequences, out of date, useless and irrelevant information, and have been told that it is a “working folder.” My issue is that if it is a working folder, it should be up to date, and concise, and should reflect why you are writing it.
My view of a Program is a single folder for a year, broken into four terms with dividers. Each of the three sections (Vision, Planning, and Monitoring) should be present within each divider, reflective of that term. If you want to keep a resource folder, by all means do so (and I do), but don’t keep it in your Program folder, or your Program becomes a massive paperweight that is difficult to navigate and use. Your Program folder should contain your program, and your resource folder should contain your resources.
Of course, once you know why you are writing your Teaching Program, it can be rather daunting to sit down to a blank screen for the first time as the cursor winks mockingly at you on an empty page. I personally keep each specific document within my program as a separate word document to make editing and updating quicker and easier. The first, and arguably the most important section, particularly for a beginning teacher, is the Vision segment.
The first component within your vision is the most important aspect of the entire Program: your Teaching Philosophy. This is a very personal document, as it should be an explicit accounting of why you are a teacher. It doesn’t matter necessarily what the reason is, as I said, it is a personal document in as far as why you teach is a personal reason, but you need to be honest with yourself about why you turn up every day. I’ve written previously about why I teach, and when I first wrote it out, I took it to my Supervisor and said to him, “this is why I teach, but it doesn’t sound ‘right.’”
I was used, at that point, to thinking in an academic, or more specifically, university assignment frame of mind, which tends to frown upon personal opinion and ideas. It does need to be edited to sound professional after you have made your first draft, it is not about having the right reason for teaching, is about having your reason for teaching. That said, you can certainly make a personal vision of why you teach sound academic, and being able to speak and write in fluent Academic-ese is a great skill to have, particularly if you are of the progressive research-based and practice-driven frame of mind, but you still need to be honest about it.
You will likely take more than one attempt to distil why you teach down to an honest reason. My first draft Teaching Philosophy contained clichés and platitudes such as wanting to make a difference for the future, wanting to give back to society, loving working with children, and enjoying teaching children. These are all reasons why I have chosen to pursue a career of pedagogical practice, however, in and of themselves, they are not the reason why I turn up every day with a smile on my face. Accordingly, they don’t appear in my Teaching Philosophy.
You may be stuck wondering now how to write your Philosophy. You may very well never have seen one (as a fun and interesting exercise, ask your colleagues when the last time they updated their Teaching Philosophy was, or, do they have a formalised Teaching Philosophy). There are many different formats that can be used, but none of those that I have seen are conducive to honest articulations of why you teach.
My Philosophy is structured around three simple premises, and indeed, these are the specific headings that I use to organise my Philosophy:
- Why do I teach?
- How do I teach?
- Overview of how the why drives the how
- Behaviour Management Strategies
- Classroom Ecology (this encompasses both the physical and emotional/academic/mental)
- Planning and Assessment Methodology
- What do I teach?
This format, if done honestly and rigorously, will naturally cover the majority of the AITSL standards that we are now required to conform to, and will do so in an authentic and easy to read manner.
Once you have articulated your Teaching Philosophy, it is important that it remains a living document, and changes as you and your circumstances change. Why I teach at the moment, married with no children, is different to some of my colleagues who may be single with or without children, married with multiple kids, on the verge of retirement, or in the prime of their practice, and how I teach and how they teach will therefore be different. When it comes time for my wife and I to start a family, the why I teach, I would expect, will change, and how I teach may change accordingly. Your Teaching Philosophy should therefore not be written and filed, never to be looked at again. It should be the subject of reflection on a yearly basis or as circumstances make appropriate. It may not change each year, but it forces you to re-examine and stay engaged with your personal vision for the role and purpose of education and how and why you engage with it.
The class analysis is the second component to the Vision segment of the Program, and is one that does need to be completed yearly, and also needs to be updated on a term by term basis. The class analysis should contain a basic overview of the class; the gender split, the year split, the gender per year split (if a composite class), any general diagnoses and any other general information relevant to your class as a whole, and then delve into more specific information about your individual students.
This section should reflect your understanding of your students and how they learn and may contain information such as their preference for learning styles (Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences), ESL information, specific topics or areas of interest that can be leveraged to increase engagement, or areas of particular disinterest. It should be an analysis of your students and thus will change from term to term, as your knowledge of them grows. At the beginning of term one, you may be working from what you know of them from conversations with their previous teachers, but your knowledge will rapidly grow, and I this should be updated fairly early within the year, and then each term.
The Explanation of Special Programs is an area that you write nothing, little, or a lot about. This section has to do with programs that are specific to your class and not the whole school. For example, my classroom at the moment is running a 1:1 BYOD trial, which is not present in any other class in the school, and accordingly, this program is detailed in my ESP. Some examples include BYOD programs, thematic classrooms (i.e. a classroom is driven by a theme such as performing arts, sports, science and technology around which literacy and numeracy are based), specific literacy or numeracy programs that are in place such as L3, Focus on Reading, Mathletics or anything else that is appropriate. If you have a Special Program in your class, you will know what it is.
That is a brief overview of the first segment of the Teacher’s Program, looking at the Teaching Philosophy, the Class Analysis and the Explanation of Special Programs. The next post will focus on the Planning segment of the Teacher’s Program, and will look at how I program, why I think it works and how to cover the incredible amount of content we are required to, succinctly.
EDIT: The next article in this series is available here.