The Other Side of Planning

If you plan out your whole year or semester, are you limiting the quality of your classes before you even begin?

It appears to be a ‘fish in a barrel’ decision for management/leadership at a school to ask for planning documents. 

The thinking is that if teachers hand over the planning documents, they have at least thought about the class before they walk in. There is also contingency for someone new walking into your class in case of extended absence.

And the downside really seems to be nil. So why wouldn’t they ask for planning?

But i think there is a cost…

What is the cost?

In a sentence, the price is the teachers creativity

Creativity is essentially being able to come up with something new. It is often paired with ideas like 

  • Originality
  • New possibilities
  • Finding alternatives
  • Thinking and thought 


It is also is a hallmark of intrinsically motivated people. (i.e. people not motivated by money, acclaim, fame – which is where teachers tend to sit)

Creativity is important in many jobs but especially in one where the challenges never seem to end and the dynamics are never quite same.

How does planning reduce creativity?

From what I can tell if teachers have a goal, it is getting through the content. 

So if this is your goal, planning makes sense. 

You know where you will be when, you know what you need to do to get there. And when you are working in a small team then planning (unit plans) also doubles as a way to communicate between teachers.

But there is a flipside.

Having these long structured plans can build a culture of people not wanting to make mistakes

And in particular teachers in teams are disincentivised to use their creativity and go off script because they have to weigh up the risk of sticking to the plan or taking the chance of teaching the wrong thing.

And this ‘can’t make a mistake’ mentality (becomes a culture) is kryptonite to creativity.

Teacher teams

(Please note that I don’t work in a team being the main wood guy, so this is from my observation)

IS the way that typical teacher teams in schools killing creativity and hence the experience for the student?

We are an educated workforce. Telling people exactly what to do is not how to get the best out of them. Teachers are not computers or low paid, unskilled labour.

Here are a couple of examples of how teacher teams work that I have seen:

  • One teacher gives out all their lesson plans, key points, unit plan etc for others to follow it
  • Teachers divide the topics up for the year/semester and divvy them out to teachers evenly

Are these models stifling creativity? 

  • When a teacher gets into a classroom, it’s pretty much prescribed what they are doing
  • The teachers that are planning need to plan for each other, which means it doesn’t have to work in just their class but in classes that they aren’t in. This is likely removing any personal touch that the teacher can put in, along with negating their strengths.

Is there hubris in planning?

There’s a saying in chess that when you are watching one game, you are actually watching three. The game one player is trying to play, the game the other player is trying to play, and the actual game that is being played.

Trying to plan your unit like trying to play your game. It doesn’t allow for the moves your adversary will make.

The adversary being the students in this example

And students being able to ‘make their moves’ is what gives them ownership and engages them.

You also can’t play a game of chess, or teach a class of students without both sides playing.

Their moves aren’t obvious and documented like our plans are. Here are some old favourite student moves.

  • Not handing in work
  • Needing reminders to hand in work
  • Quality of work is poor
  • Students take quickest way out of a task which isn’t what they should have done (the most frustrating in my opinion)
  • Students not paying attention in class
  • Students doing other work in class
  • It takes a long time to do something seemingly straightforward
  • A lot of students need to use the toilet, get a drink, etc.
  • Behaviour issues (clowning around, etc)

You’re playing your game, and students are playing theirs. 

I think it is much better to play together. At least then you can see the cause and effect.

My conclusion

I’m sure someone is thinking about small teams interacting to achieve a goal and they are smarter than me.  

But at its simplest , all that needs to happen is that people feel like they are going in to their classes with a goal that isn’t ‘not to make a mistake’.