Sunday, October 7, 2012

Planning (too far) Ahead?

The other day, my husband was shopping at a local retail store.  He called me in a state of disbelief, saying, "They actually have Christmas decorations out already!" It is not a new scenario, for sure, but when I thought about his observation at the store, I was a bit incredulous, thinking, "Gee, we haven't even had Halloween or Thanksgiving yet, and people are already thinking about decorating for Christmas!"

Now don't get me wrong.  I love the spirit of decorating for Christmas.  It is my favorite holiday, for more than one reason.  But jumping so far ahead already in our calendar, when we have more than two months before Christmas, just baffled me.  I kept thinking, "Why do stores always plan so far ahead?"

This observation has stuck with me for the past few days.  It was meaningful to me, and it became an analogy with which I can relate, because I think of this example in my own life as a teacher.  You see, for nearly 20 years, I have always taken time to plan an entire week's worth of lesson plans at a time, laboriously writing out every single detail in my lesson plan template a week ahead of time.  I always figured that is how it should be done.  For some teachers, they are required to submit lesson plans to an administrator, indicating their plans for the week ahead.  Though I am not required to do so in my district,  I always felt (at least initially) so ready and prepared by doing it this way.  I also felt a bit "victorious" when I finished my plans (though my head hurt a little bit from all of that planning).

The problem was, each week of teaching through the years, I found myself drawing lots of arrows on my plans from one day to another when I couldn't finish an activity with my students, or when I needed to slow down (or speed up) in my lessons in a content area.  My lesson plans were no longer neat and tidy.  And, on top of that, I found myself rewriting each day's plans on a piece of paper or sticky note, since my master lesson plan for the week was not accurate (ambitious, perhaps, but not accurate).

This year, as I was planning my first full week of instruction, it just worked out best for me to plan day-by-day.  I've found that those first few days of the school year require day-to-day planning, as the individual students in the class really do dictate how far we get in a variety of activities.  So, with a bit of trepidation, I planned my lessons day by day for the first week.  Then, I found that the process seemed to work well.  By planning my lessons one day at a time, I knew, with more precision, what I wanted to cover the next day, since logistically, I was very aware by the end of the day of what needed to be taught next in each unit of study I was teaching.  I found myself really looking forward to my planning period those first few weeks, because I was eager to write (or in my case, type) my plans in such a way that made total sense to the flow of my week.  For the past six weeks, I have not been planning out my entire week in one sitting.  Yes, I am purposeful and knowledgeable well ahead of time about the content or units I need to cover for the week in general, but in terms of the specific plan and activities for each day, I do so the day before.  It just feels much more efficient this way.  As I say in my book, Organized Teacher, Happy Classroom, "When your lesson plans are concise, creative, and well thought-out, you are well on your way toward efficiency and purpose for the long haul" (Page 120).

I don't think it's wrong for stores to set up their holiday decorations two months early.  For some customers, this is helpful for them in order to plan far enough in advance so that they are able to better plan out their shopping.  It gives them a better idea of what to do leading up to the busy holiday itself. For me, though, in planning as an educator,  I've finally found, after nearly 20 years, a system that I hope will allow me the ability to continue to be just as thoughtful, but utilize instead a method for planning that meaningfully represents what my students need each day, on their timetable, rather than on my own.

I have a lot to learn still about teaching, but I am excited about this change in planning my weekly instruction.

Now I need to begin planning for how to decorate for Halloween.  Or Thanksgiving. Or Christmas.  I think I'll stick with planning for Halloween for now.


  1. Love this post. I always try to plot out my year or my month and it never works out. I think this daily planning makes sense to best meet the needs of kids. Thanks for giving me lots to think about!

    1. Thanks, Franki! I like planning ahead in terms of knowing the units of study so I have a good idea of what to teach (perhaps month to month), but it has become clear that planning too far ahead just creates more work for me! It's an adjustment, for sure, but so far is worth the results!