Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good Teachers Don't Prepare More than a Week Ahead

Teaching is kind of like standing at the shoreline trying to jump waves. The waves are unpredictable. Instead of planning to jump at a constant time interval and hope that some waves sync up with your rhythm, you need to adjust for the ebb and flow. The same is true with teaching.

I never plan more than a week ahead. This limit was unconscious – it's just what worked best for me. I was thinking about it the other day as I was working on a lesson for the following day (I don't find this to be procrastinating; it's being intuitive of my students' needs). I wondered if other teachers planned the same way I did, so I sent this tweet to my professional network on Twitter:
The responses I got ranged from full agreement (“I feel that anything else would not be genuine.”) to near disgust (“Absolutely not! There is no way to ensure that you will finish the course if you only plan one week ahead.”). One follower replied discretely through private message and said, “I have to be mindful of my admins on this network.” It was an interesting point. To be effective teachers, do we need to operate in a way opposite than what is expected of us? If I told my administrator that I only have a vague idea of what the kids will be doing a week from tomorrow, would I be viewed as ill-prepared?

There's a good conversation to be had among the replies and direct messages I received, so I posted them all below. I kept replies anonymous in the event of lurking admins. Feel free to add your own response in the comments.

I don't think you can call a teacher good based on how far they prepare in advance. I know good teachers in both categories

I have to be mindful of my admins on this network-I use a calendar that gives me an outline-everything else is all feel! And that feels good.

In planning only a week ahead-I feel that anything else would not be genuine. You've got to have a feel for the group...

In my classes, the students determine the pace, if I try planning too far ahead, I end up moving my plans around anyway

Absolutely not! There is no way to ensure that you will finish the course if you only plan one week ahead.

Good teachers need 2 kinds of plans - long term frame and short term details - details need to be adjusted nearly daily

RE: prep-A good teacher needs a frame/skeletal plan/map for year, but day-to-day plans, I agree, no more than 1 week...

I heard of teacher who used SAME PLAN BOOK for YEARS! Left sub instructions: "Do not write in plan book." True story!

I teach 5th grade. I have all plans for the following week done on Fri when I leave. Beyond that, I have a general map/plan.

somewhat noway 2 know what will b learned fast/slow ea. day so different than b4 plenty of goals - action steps take more time

Somewhat agree..Important to have a solid idea of where u are going over unit/yr.

I am always adjusting the time schedule-I have the big picture & fill in as time allows-I over plan always.

Depends on what you mean by "prepare". I believe in planning with end in mind, but have to be willing to adapt and change too

"prepare" - good teachers have an inner preparedness which resonates with that pulsating, glittering dynamic we call learning

i'm prepared for the year. i adjust my plans as i go. diff. between being prepared&planning 4 me is huge

Disagree. Good teachers prepare months in advance if that is what it takes to know where they want their kids to go

Disagree--teachers need to have a broad overview of where they are going.

I know what I'll teach during the year, but for individual lessons I'm flexible and plan at short notice according to the stds

Nah - I outlined each whole unit, but was then flexible based on what the students needed/liked/wanted

I have an outline of what will be when, but the day to day planning is contingent upon what happened the day before--meet them and I'm a 17 year teacher, not a newbie. I find if I plan too detailed, to far in advance, I'm teaching what I want, not what the kids need.

I have an outline of what will be when, but the day to day planning is contingent upon what happened the day before--meet them

I TOTALLY agree, especially if you are truly using formative assessment and responding to students' needs!

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5 Responses:

Nancy Devine said...

wow. very interesting. nice of you to compile the responses.
i'd love to see you ask a similar question of administrators...maybe something like: how far ahead do you expect teachers at your school to plan and/or prepare?

Frieda F said...

Thanks for sharing! It's interesting to see the different points of view. In the part where you are talking about your twitter poll, would you consider hyperlinking the word twitter to you twitter page? That would enable other educators to follow you. Thanks!

Susanne Nobles said...

The division between preparing and planning is a true one I think. Having overall goals then allowing the plans to move towards those with the students' work driving things ... allows students to know there is an overall goal (for them to see the big picture can be very motivating and engaging) while also allowing them to feel like what they do matters.

Angela said...

Neat--like how you summarize the tweets. Provides some perspective about Twitter as a tool, you know? I find it easy to survey people on twitter, but engaging in real dialogue around anything gets stickier....which is why blogs and ning are really helpful.

My own response was a question--I really wanted to know more before I felt I could respond. Your post clarifies things a bit...I really think it helps to know what "prepare" means, and I think it may mean different things to different educators. In my mind, being prepared and having lesson plans written are very different things.....what do you think?

Tracy Rosen said...

I agree with Angela as well as with some of the other comments and tweets. I feel that the essential questions, the overarching framework of the work we will do together needs to be set, at least on a term by term basis. But the 'how we are going to get there' or 'how we are going to ensure that the questions are asked, analyzed, explored, understood, and acted upon' - ie the activities or daily lesson plans - all depend on the students and since students are ever-changing, so are those activities. Heck, I sometimes do emergency planning in mid-lesson because an activity isn't working - but the essential questions, the framework within which we are working, doesn't change just because the activity is.