When I looked at the agenda for Monday afternoon’s meeting, I didn’t realize there would be news of a Grand, Sweeping Solution … but of course there was. It seems that Great Powers Indeed are concerned about “the quality of instruction” in Schools In General; Some Power Or Other had decided that the solution (a solution?) would be “better lesson plans” from teachers. There’s not a new mandated form, but there’s an 11-point rubric which, Those Powers are sure, will help Local Powers at each school “do a better job” of evaluating teachers’ plans and, in turn, help teachers write better plans. The tacit assumption is that plans themselves are key to instruction, and that instruction is the direct cause of learning, or test scores, or something.
Ms. X was bitterly compliant. ”What you need to do,” she said in a small-group discussion, “is to get a good form, and then you just change the date each year.” Ms. X was fond of the Very Old Form, which has been around for several years and “lets you put everything on one page for the whole week.” Another Ms. X, who’s been teaching for a Very Long Time, was near tears; she’d told me, earlier in the day, that she’d spent six weekend hours “making her plans perfect,” but she doesn’t think she’s unusually slow at the process. Someone Else and Another Person were angry because “they’re my lesson plans, so I should get to write them the way that makes sense to me.”
And all of us, like those Great Powers Indeed, kept falling right into the factory-mindset trap, that assumption that plans cause instruction which causes learning or at least test scores. We all confused the means with the goal, the process with the purpose, the plan with the actions. So we try to make the plans perfect, rather than using the plans as tools to make the learning excellent.
That’s what Grand, Sweeping Plans encourage anyone to do … and that’s why Grand, Sweeping Plans – and the Grand, Sweeping Statements people like to make about them – usually don’t work out. Knowing what will be looked for on the 11-point rubric, I can certainly include those elements in the plan … and if you were a struggling, new teacher, or even a teacher struggling to move from Dispenser of Knowledge to Guide of Learning, some of the 11 items might help you on your journey. If, that is, you really bought into the process. If you took the time to think things through. And if your Local Power, who might have 30 or 40 other sets of plans to read and rate each Monday morning, had the time and energy to respond in detail to areas where you appeared to be consistently struggling.
But without the time and resources to implement Grand, Sweeping Plans, they quickly turn into what Ms. X cynically calls “the flavor of the day.” And Ms. X knows exactly what to do about that: “just close my door,” she says, “and let me teach, because This Too Shall Pass.” I can only imagine what I’d do if I were a Local Power faced with 40 sets of lesson plans, 40 copies of an 11-point rubric, and 40 other items on my Monday morning to-do list!
But before the cynicism comes the bitter complaining, and that made the meeting longer than I’d expected. A teacher-friend from Somewhere Else had tried to call me, and when I called her back and told her about the Grand, Sweeping Plan, I got a series of Grand, Sweeping Statements like “you should have resigned immediately” and “how can you let people treat you that way?” That’s not really what I wanted to hear; I really just wanted to say “this happened today, which is why I missed your call; how was your day?” But maybe I needed to hear those Grand, Sweeping Statements.
I definitely needed to think about Grand, Sweeping Plans and the ways that Powers impose and implement them. There’s a not-so-hidden side of my personality that loves Grand, Sweeping Plans, and if I’m not careful, I can impose and implement them on others just as the Great Powers Indeed tried to do: I can make an announcement – or a pronouncement – without thinking about the effects on students, colleagues, or friends. In the name of helping, I can easily rush in to do things for, not with those I intend to help … and we all know what happens then. Cordial smiles and resentful whispers at best; angry resistance at worst. A cycle of pain and punishment, yelling and labeling, anger and bitterness. And, of course, no real solution to the underlying problem the Grand, Sweeping Plan was designed to solve.
When you’re building a joyful learning community, you have to be really careful of Grand, Sweeping Plans, pet programs, “perfect” projects, and Easy Solutions. Sometimes they really can help, and sometimes they’re even necessary. But a Grand, Sweeping Plan that comes down from On High is antithetical to the spirit of joyful community. As much as I didn’t want a reminder of that, it seems I needed one yesterday. Remembering, all too clearly, what it feels like to receive such statements, I can avoid giving them when students struggle with – or not-so-cleverly try to avoid – their Major Assessment products today. I can focus on building the community, on building meaningful things together, instead of making criticisms or pronouncements.
And when you do that, excellent but imperfect things can grow from painful, bitter seeds.
I wonder what we’ll be able to grow and build together today!