How Not To Fail Lesson Implementation

How many teaching professional development resources focus on what not to do rather than best practices?


Try this thought experiment.  Take 45 seconds and identify the number one factor that makes you an effective educator.

According to Google Analytics, there are 1312 people who read The Pragmatic TV Teacher a month, and none of you just thought of the same answer.

There are infinite number of ways to be an effective educator.

But how many ways are there to FAIL?

What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars was an interesting read.  A bold, cocky, strong-headed investor killed it in the market and became VERY wealthy, but then lost it ALL in a matter of months.  He was smart enough to learn from his experience and the book describes the psychology of loss.

As an educator and not a broker, I applied the lessons of the book to my profession and walked away with a unique perspective: the power of identifying how to fail in order to grow professionally.

Is avoiding failure analogous to improvement?  I'm beginning to think so.

I'm not discussing "failing" like dropping out of the profession or being placed on an ill-informed Teacher Improvement Program.  Failing, for this discussion's purpose, refers to a lesson that is not successful.  Essentially, you bomb an activity.  There are many ways to make a rock-star lesson, but only two ways to fail.

By avoiding the two ways to fail, you'll ensure lesson success.

A teacher can choke or a teacher can panic.

According to Malcom Gladwell: "Choking is about thinking too much.  Panic is about thinking too little."

Teachers will fail in lesson implementation if they think to much or think to little.

This makes sense.  Thinking too little signifies a lack of preparation.  Panic is a reaction to the sudden realization that you've done too little to ensure success.

Thinking too much makes you hypersensitive to the needs of the lesson and your attention is drawn from the needs of your learners.  Choking is caused by over-preparation.

Distilling the concept down, we are left with this: thinking too much (choking) means that you have over-planned the lesson and thinking too little (panic) means that you have under-planned the lesson.

Ok, well then, how do we avoid planning too much or planning too little?  How do we find the Goldilocks planning zone, the amount of planning that is just right? 

The answer to our question has an unlikely answer: enjoy the planning process.

"What!  Enjoy planning!  Planning is the most routine part of my teaching day!"  Calm down and listen to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( I think you say it chick-sent-me-high, but please correct me if I'm wrong)

His book, appropriately titled Flow, gives us insight in how to enjoy routine, everyday tasks that produce exceptional results.  Find the flow in your planning and avoid failing.

Of the many take-away lessons from this book, three come to mind when addressing the mundane aspect of planning.  Together, they'll help give your planning a flow like experience where you don't spend too little time and under-think the activity and where you don't over-think and spend too much time.  The idea of flow will give you the goldilocks planning experience.

1.  Develop lesson goals that illicit immediate feedback
The outcome of a goal is is the innate reward system of the goal setting process.  In other words, the reason we set goals is for the outcome.

Educators rarely receive timely, frequent feedback.  Take an opportunity to plan lesson components that result in little nuggets of feedback information.

Try this (these were actually my first four goals to illicit immediate feedback):
-the goal is to improve activity transitions- the feedback is time taken
-the goal is 75% of the students learning a lesson component-the feedback is an exit ticket
-the goal is reaching a student who is naturally introverted-the feedback is their class participation
-the goal is to give directions without saying "um"- the feedback is listening to yourself talk.

Little instances of lesson success make you feel good about what you are doing.  Taking the time to plan them is worth it and will make your planning time more meaningful.

2.  Have rules, guidelines, and parameters for the actual planning session
Have you every been given a deadline so far in advance that you find yourself needlessly perceverating on the preparation for it?  It's like the five minute presentation four weeks from now that you spend six hours preparing just to panic the day of and bomb it.  Everybody has.

Parkinson's Law has many applications and it is a cure for those of us that over-plan and over-think lessons.  It states "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."  

A small task will balloon out of proportion when given too much time to address.

Applying this concept to your lesson preparation will help you find flow and you will not over-plan.

Try this:
-Give yourself a time limit.  Limit the time you plan each afternoon.

Rather than"oh good, I have the entire afternoon to plan tomorrow's lessons" think "I'm going to only allow myself 45 minutes to plan the lessons for tomorrow."

This deadline ensures your undivided focus and concentration.  Deadlines have a unique side effect of eliminating unnecessary actions and "fat".  You'll find that the time passes quickly and the quality of your lessons improve.  The first year I started embracing this concept, I used 45 minutes/afternoon.  Last year I gave myself 35/afternoon to plan.  Now I only allow 25 minutes/afternoon to plan.

3.Challenge yourself and attempt a new implementation technique
Flow scenarios incorporate an appropriate level of challenge.  A challenge too hard is deadening and results in frustration.  A challenge too easy results in boredom.  Consider your class, content, and lesson.  Choose an appropriate challenge.  These are a couple of mine:

-pick one "hard-to-reach" student and prioritize their attention
-add a multisensory aspect to a component of your lesson more on multisensory lessons here
-tell a content related joke to start the lesson to prime your students more on the broaden and built hypothesis here

Challenges are similar to goals in that we look forward to the outcome.  A challenge should incorporate the struggle to try something new while a goal is an obtainable outcome.

To summarize:  teaching a lesson, as with any activity, may have a variety of ways to be successful but a limited number of ways to fail.  There are two ways to fail a lesson: choking which results from planning too much and panicking which results from planning to little.  Finding flow in your planning sessions will help you plan efficiently and effectively.  To find this goldilocks planning zone, develop lesson goals that illicit immediate feedback, adhere to a strict planning time limit, and plan lesson components that challenge yourself as an educator.

This article was fun to write, thanks for reading.

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