Life Is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

That line comes from the song Beautiful Boy by John Lennon. He must have known something about professional learning.

One of my favorite websites is fastcompany.com and it was quite a coincidence to see a great post over on that site today about how too much planning can be bad for business (chapter 4 of Reeve’s book, Transforming Professional Development into Student Results also happens to be about planning).

Reeves claims that “the burdens associated with mandatory planning documents are proliferating at an alarming rate.” I know our administrators work hard at various school improvement plans. In a couple of years our school will go through another accreditation process, and we’re also trying to receive LEED certification. Also, over the past few years, teachers spent countless hours mapping our curriculum. While necessary, I’m not sure if any of those actually led to increased student performance. Reeves looked closely at ed plans to see “which specific characteristics of educational plans are most related to student achievement?”  After analyzing over 2,500 school improvement plans, Reeves and his colleagues found certain planning practices to have positive results in student achievement. Some planning practices, unfortunately, had an inverse relationship to student achievement.

Furthermore, he states that schools do not improve in a linear fashion. A lot of energy, time, and money is spent with the exposure to new ideas and the initial implementation. “Change then often stalls as leaders fail to follow through in their efforts or as teachers are frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the early stages of change.” The positive results of what a first grade teacher does, may not show up until 4th grade (assuming the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers also implement that change). The implementation process often takes more than a year and needs to be continued for a while.

What does he propose schools do? “School leaders must make the difficult choice to move from superficial compliance with a myriad of directives for school plans toward selective implementation of a few areas of focus.”

Although the website I referred to at the beginning of this post is one about business, the operation of a school in many ways, is like a business. The article at Fast Company ends with this:

“Project planning is a support process. Engagement is the main event. It’s where people shift attitudes and behavior. You do not want the project planning to occur at the expense of engagement, replace conversation, delay interactions, or exclude participation. But the obsession with project planning is a difficult habit to break. It’s so much easier than to go out and start another conversation with someone important, someone you respect, who has never heard about what you are doing and will ask a lot of fundamental questions when you don’t really have the answers. Yet that is exactly what’s needed. You need to become expert at getting people involved in co-creating the future, jump-starting bold conversations that draw people in, and triggering professional excitement.”


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