“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”: Part 1

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower meeting with his generals in January 1944 (Source after jump)

Reflection Upon the Reading

In a speech to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference on November 14, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower related a saying he heard from his long career in the Army, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” The meaning was simple, plans are essential to establishing objectives and determining procedures to reach those objectives. At the same time the quote reveals an understanding that plans must be flexible to changing situations, relying upon the constant assessment of generals and officers on the ground. That same quote can easily be applied to teachers and the classroom. In Chapter 2 of Instructional Strategies for Middle and Secondary Social Studies Bruce Larson and Timothy Keiper discuss the importance of preparing learning objectives and assessing student learning in the classroom. Learning objectives serve an important purpose, they help answer what content students need to learn, they lay out how student learning will be assessed, and they determine what activities students will complete to promote learning (Larson and Keiper, 25). These objectives can be long-term, things that might be accomplished at the end of a unit or semester, or short-term, things that might be accomplished at the end of a lesson. Objectives, in short, provide the direction of the course. In the picture above General Eisenhower and his generals were meeting in January 1944 to discuss plans for the invasion of France in June 1944, better known as D-Day. Their short-term objective was clear, trick the Germans and establish a beachhead in France. Their long-term objective was also clear, liberate France and push towards Berlin.

Assessment is another critical component to successful teaching because it is the way teachers determine how well students have learned. Instead of seeing assessments as an end to learning, teachers should use assessments like Eisenhower would have assessed situations on the battlefield, as a way to monitor the situation (in this case, to monitor students and inform instruction) and respond or change appropriately. Though assessments can take a variety of forms and types, they should be developed at the beginning so teachers structure lessons that support student learning and prepare students to meet expectations and goals.

The First Day

My experiences during my first day at my placement school were deeply influenced by my past high school experience. I attended one of the smallest high schools in Virginia. My graduating class contained only 30 students and the entire high school had a little over 100 students. The entire public school system, Head Start through 12th grade was also located in only one L-shaped one story building. My placement school is entirely different. The first thing I noticed on  was how large the building was. Though I have seen other schools that are much larger, I have never been inside a large school like this one multiple times. My placement school is two stories, it has a vocational and technical school connected to it in a separate building, has a handful of modular class units nearby, and the main building is longer than a football field.

Visually, the building looked utilitarian, telling me that the school was probably built in the 1960s and could have been built after the county was forced to desegregate (special note, the current school is up the hill from the old African-American school). The interior of the school was also decidedly utilitarian, but was brightened by posters in the school colors supporting various sports teams or organizations.  The hallways smelled like a typical school: a unique mix of body odors, cleaning agents, cafeteria food, and basketballs. Perhaps the most shocking to me coming from a small school was how crowded and loud the hallways get between class changes. Overall, I knew that I was going into a school that was larger than what I was used to and my expectations of how the school would feel, sound, and smell were correct. I was not, however, prepared for how the school would look since the building had to accommodate a student body that was over four times larger than the high school I grew up in.

The School Context

In 1944 Allied Command, headed by General Eisenhower, had to survey multiple landing options along the coast of France to determine what beaches to land upon on D-Day. Similarly, though not in the least comparable of importance, I took time to survey and contextualize the placement of my placement school within the community. Luckily, the community my placement school is located in is one that I’ve been familiar with for around seven years. I’ve lived nearby this community during my undergraduate, post-undergraduate, and now my graduate years. In general, the community is somewhat characteristic of smaller cities in Southwest Virginia. This is reflected in the demographic make-up of the community. According to census data over 21,000 people reside in the town. There is a large degree of racial homogeneity, around 93% of residents are white, 4% are black, and the remaining percentage is represented other racial and ethnic groups. The median individual and household income is also relatively low, though it is probably higher than the median income of the rest of the region. Uncharacteristic of Southwest Virginia is that the town is nearby by three higher educational institutions, two universities and one community college.

The school itself is located in the mile between the downtown district and the shopping district. For that reason it is hard to say if it would be considered being either within a business or residential zone, or a strange combination of both. The student body seems to reflect the general demographic trends of the city, but I think there is a larger percentage of students of color within the student body than in the town population. The teachers are mostly women, but there are a handful of men within the social studies department. Most teachers in the Social Studies are between their late 20s and early 40s and most of them are white.

All of these factors combine to inform me of my impressions of the school. First, the school is one that is decidedly middle to working class as most students come from families that work in industries other than higher education or technology. Second, the school is one that is connected to the community as it is in the middle of the community. The school is a gathering ground for the community and the community comes together during football and basketball games and wrestling matches. The student population is a little more diverse than the community and students seem to be an interesting mix of suburban and rural. It will be interesting to see if my observations about the school will change as I spend more time in the classroom and more time with the students.

Note: The framing quote used in the title and body of this post will be extended through to next week’s post.

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