Posted by: jockmackenzie | May 17, 2010

Year Plan ³ – Still More Thoughts

I have just finished reading from the blog of fellow Red Deer teacher, Joe Bower. Joe’s blog, “For the Love of Learning” is always an interesting read as Joe explains and expounds his heartfelt views on education.

What caught my particular attention was his entry of May 10, 2010. With Joe’s permission, I have copied and pasted it in green below. (Copying and pasting loses formatting and internal links, but you’ll get the main idea.) For a link to Joe’s blog, click here.

No plan might be a good plan

Is there a place for a good plan?

Sure, but let’s not kid ourselves – planning is guessing.

At best, plans can be used to guide us as we maneuver our way through life. Problems arise when we re-label plans from guides to dictates. When the tail wages the dog, we lose our way.

We tell kids we can’t discuss this because we are suppose to be learning about that.

Instead of asking kids what kind of project they want to do, we tell them what project they have to do.

Peter Bergman explains Why Not Having a Plan Can Be the Best Plan of All:

Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates were computer science students without any real plan. They started Facebook because it was fun, used their talents, and was a novel way for Harvard students and alumni to stay in touch. Zuckerberg never anticipated it would host over 400 million members. And he had no clear idea where the money would come from. But he kept at it until, in 2007, Facebook let outside developers create applications for it, and game developers started buying ads on Facebook to keep attracting players. Hardly Zuckerberg’s strategy in 2004.

And when Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, started writing code in 1996 they had no clear plan or idea how they would make money either. But that didn’t stop them from starting. It wasn’t until 2002 and 2003 that AdWords and AdSense became the company’s money-making platform.

Lesson planning has taken on a life of itself – often these content-bloated, overly prescriptive lesson plans are by-products of a curriculum that demands kids know an infinite amount of material in time for yesterday.

Just as Mark Twain coined the phrase “I never let schooling get in the way of my education”, it is just as true that good teachers don’t let lesson planning or curriculum get in the way of learning.

As you might imagine, I was intrigued by the idea of having no plan. My last two blog entries have been all about creating the best possible Year Plan – and here is Joe promoting the concept of No Plan. And that’s what makes Joe such an interesting guy; he makes you think.

In the big picture, I ‘think’ I disagree. I get the part about not being prescriptive. I totally agree that teachers should not view themselves as disseminators of knowledge. (Another of Joe’s recent blog entries uses phrases like “the sage on the stage” and teachers as “jugs” and students as “mugs”.) I am on side with his views in that respect.

I like it that Joe reminds me there needs to be room to react to an idea that appears out of the blue, that we need to be open to individual needs – of students, of one class that expresses an interest that another class may not.

BUT, I believe we need an overall plan, clearly defined and delineated. If we are the professionals we claim to be, we need to know the big picture. I see a need to appreciate our role in the continuum of learning. There are certain skills for which we are responsible. To simply react, year after year, to the ‘interests of the moment’ to an area of interest expressed by an individual or vocal segment of our classes is to let ourselves be the tail being wagged by the dog.

One of my philosophies is “It’s a gray world.” I don’t see things as clearly black and white as some others do. I know it’s easier to make a point if we start with a statement like “No Plan Might Be A Good Plan.” It got my attention. But I need a plan.

I need a plan to show me where I’m going. If nothing else, I need it as a fallback position. If no one comes up with a great suggestion, or for those who aren’t on board with the ‘idea of the moment,’ then I need to know what to offer students on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I need to know that in my grade I will have given them an introduction to and an appreciation of some excellent literature, opportunities to explore varieties of experiences in the strands of language arts. In part, it’s being lazy. I never had time to pull all of the necessary resources together when some group decided that they had an interest in a particular topic.

But, as I say, it’s a gray world. We need to be open. We need to take risks. I think we need to think both inside and outside the box.

And for my final thought on year plans (for at least a while): We need to share whatever decisions we make with our colleagues, our students, and the our students’ parents. In my experience, it is too often the case that the results of hours of preparation of a year plan get planted in the teacher’s binder or computer and are not shared.


  1. Believe there has to be a year plan, just not a bloated overload of detail. Got better with LRPs as years became decades with ability/agility to see subject overlaps, reinforcement skills sets and themes. I could not recommend ‘no plan’, particularly those in early years of teaching as too easy to get distracted. Thanks for post.

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