“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”: Part 2


General Dwight D. Eisenhower with General Bernard Montgomery (far right) and Air Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder, France 1944

Planning, Managing, and Motivating

Last week in my reflection upon preparing learning objectives and assessing student learning, I used a quote from President Eisenhower to frame my understanding of this aspect of teaching. This week I will continue using that same quote to frame my reflection upon planning, managing, and motivating in the classroom. To Eisenhower, who led Allied operations in World War II, the old Army saying “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” was an important slogan of military leadership. Plans are worthless if they do not change with tactical concerns or ground conditions, but planning before missions is also critical to success on the battlefield. The same ideas, albeit much less martial, can be applied to the classroom.

Planning, as discussed by Larson and Keiper, helps teachers organize what they will teach and it helps structure the day so that instructional time is maximized. To plan effectively teachers must understand the standards and goals as laid out by national, state, and local authorities. Two key things to consider are the sequence and scope of the course. Sequence refers to the order in which students will learn content, while scope is the breadth of content and skills students will learn (Larson and Keiper, 47). Good planning should also occur in a few different levels. First, year or semester long plans should be determined from the beginning of the year and will be inspired by the requirements of the standards. Second, unit plans include a range of lesson plans covering a particular topic or period and are bound together by similar themes or questions. Finally, lesson plans focus on the objectives, assessment, and subject matter in a given day.

Classroom management is one of the largest concerns of preservice and student teachers, but the thing to remember is that management should be proactive. Building appropriate relationships with students is one of the single best ways to avoid possible problems in the classroom. Instead of seeing students as a group or collective, thinking about students individually helps teachers see students as individuals with their own needs and strengths. Creating strong relationships with your students, as Eisenhower created with his subordinates and his men, can help prevent many problems that might require disciplinary action.

Motivation was another key aspect of generalship that Eisenhower mastered in his career. As Allied commander, Eisenhower coordinated and motivated his subordinates and his men to win the war in Europe. In the classroom teachers know that their students come to them with a litany of motivations, some of them will even be motivated to not attend class or pay attention during instruction. Extrinsic motivation, motivation by external factors, in the classroom usually takes the form of rewards, praise, or avoidance of  negative consequences. Intrinsic motivation, coming from within the student, is seen in students who usually view the learning process as valuable and want to engage with content (Larson and Keiper, 76). It is important as a teacher to understand both of these types of motivation and to work on them in their classroom. Furthermore, teachers should try to understand why individual students in their class may demonstrate boredom or other emotions during the class and to work to increase self-efficacy in students by providing opportunities for all students to succeed and develop.

Focusing on the Classroom and Students

Eisenhower, like any great general, would have taken time to reflect upon the situation he was in upon assuming command. As a field intern, I did the same thing when arriving at my placement school. Last week I detailed the school and the surrounding community, here I will focus on the actual classroom and the students within it. The classroom of my teacher is probably the strangest one I have ever been in. On the face of it the layout is typical, at the front of the room is the smart board and dry erase board, a stand of metal file cabinets, along with an American flag, a podium, and the teacher’s desk and computer off to the side. In the middle of the classroom, arranged in rows, are around 35 desks for students. Along the walls are a couple posters, bookshelves with old textbooks, and more metal cabinets. The strange thing is that one of the walls is made of windows, which are covered by posters and paper, which face out onto the hallway. The three walls that remain are all painted different colors, one is brown, another is white, and the last is light blue. At the back of the classroom there are four or five completed puzzles hanging up on the wall. None of these reflect any particular diversity or reflect any deep meaning of history, instead these posters just seem to have been put there and left. I believe that this is largely connected to the fact that no teacher in my placement school really has their own room. Instead most of these teachers rotate between rooms. My teacher is a unique example in that this is the first year he has been placed in the same room for all of his classes.

I observed students on a Friday and, for the purposes of this post I’ll focus on the first of four classes my teacher teachers. From my time spent as a substitute teacher, I know first hand that Fridays tend to be a little more problematic than other school days. Additionally, that Friday was also a home football game, so I suspected that the students would be more energetic than usual. As I suspected, the teacher had a harder time getting the class started than the rest of the week. Most students were talking about the game or their weekend plans and were more reluctant to start their warm-up. Fortunately class today was focused on group work where they finished a poster relating to adolescent psychology. Students, for the most part, worked well together but individual group discussions hardly focuses on their project. I noticed that students working at the back of the class and in the hallway tended to be off task more times than those at the front. The further separated from the teacher the more likely students were to be talking or using cell phones. The strongest clique I observed in this class was one made up of student athletes on the football and basketball teams. Before, during, and after class these students congregated together and talked together.

As of now I don’t think I can properly answer the questions of what motivates the students or what it means to be a social studies student in my classroom. So far I have only spent a total of six or seven days in the classroom in less than a month. I could answer those questions, but I think my answers will undoubtedly be influenced by my own perceptions. Instead, I need to spend more time in the classroom and with the students before I can really talk about their motivations and core beliefs.

Notes from my classroom observation describing the classroom setting

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