The lie that you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” Have you ever said that? Or heard it said? While I agree with the sentiment behind it, I’m going to argue that to learn stuff, you do need to reinvent the wheel. Or at least refine it considerably.

The sentiment

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. What people mean when they say “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel” is “there’s no point in working harder than you need to.” The wheel analogy is the wrong one for this sentiment

The actual wheel

The wheel itself, in its primitive form of logs rolling canoes down go the river, or indeed the giant stone monoliths to places like Stonehenge, was invented and reinvented at different times and different place across the globe.

It has been reinvented many times since: for chariots, carts, carriages, cars; as cogs, gears, cams, brakes, measuring devices, energy storage, recording media; it’s a symbol of life in Buddhism; it’s even a military manoeuvre.

The metaphorical wheel

The most frequent occasion that I hear the line ‘there’s no need to reinvent the wheel’ is in reference to planning. Planning is the lifeblood of good teaching, but teachers are desperate not to have to work too hard at it. I think there’s a whole raft of reasons for this, not least that nobody should have to work too hard at anything. Working too hard is the enemy of productivity. It is demotivating. There are other reasons too, such as the culture behind the planning – does it just tick boxes and ensure coverage, or does it serve the needs of the children and the teachers?

While planning should not be onerous or time-consuming to produce, it does need to be reinvented. This is because in order to take ownership over the planning, we need to re-categorise it into ways that make it meaningful for us. My planning will take on a different from from anyone reading this post, because we all think differently. Even if you are continuing the same classes, you’ll still need to reinvent parts, to make it more relevant, to keep up to date with new technology or merely to stop it from becoming tedious.

This is not to say we have to start from scratch – it is good to build on previous successes – and it is good to reinvent. It helps us innovate, create and develop.

So the next time I have a huge amount of planning to do, I will say to myself: “It is good to reinvent the wheel.”

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