The Planning Fallacy

Although teachers have to do loads of planning, some of us aren’t that good at it.

We either do too much and over-plan and spend hours and hours at it, sometimes just on one lesson. Many NQTs fall into this trap and that’s no good for workload and wellbeing.

Or we might think we can get away with a quick 5 minute plan but soon realise that’s not going to cut the mustard. That’s just a short-cut and in teaching short-cuts lead to more miles.

It’s true that most of us aren’t very good at planning which is deliciously ironic for a job that demands we know what we are doing.

Of course, NASA precision isn’t necessary because we are not on a mission to Mars but some planning is necessary. Lessons without a plan are risky and dangerous.

Lessons unfold in their own way and depend largely on what children know, don’t know and partly know and they are therefore constantly being edited. But they still need a plan that incorporates eventualities and possible scenarios. It is those unplanned contingencies we have to allow for and that is more of a NASA mindset.

Planning does take time and we tend to sometimes underestimate the time it takes to ‘do’ a lesson. This is called the planning fallacy.

The concept of the planning fallacy was first introduced by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky. It centres around the idea of our propensity for optimism whereby we underestimate the time it will take to complete something, despite knowledge that previous tasks/lessons have generally taken longer than planned.

The causes of the planning fallacy can be related to an under-reliance on one’s own past experience, the inability to truly understand how snags can delay things or not making an honest comparison of your capabilities. It’s also a failure to keep things simple.

Not being too ambitious is important but then there is more to consider. Planning for the ‘What if…?’ scenarios is essential for any lesson especially in relation to possible misconceptions and behavioural problems stemming from tasks being too challenging or not being challenging enough.

Planning for things going pear-shaped is integral to a lesson. This is what astronauts do and what Chris Hadfield has called ‘rehearsing for catastrophe’. By imaging all the ways a lesson could go wrong and what to do in each case we are giving ourselves a much better to create the conditions for successful learning. In his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth he says,

While play-acting grim scenarios day in and day out may sound like a good recipe for clinical depression, it’s actually weirdly uplifting. Rehearsing for catastrophe has made me positive that I have the problem-solving skills do deal with tough situations and come out the other side smiling. For me, this has greatly reduced the mental and emotional clutter that unchecked worrying produces, those random thoughts that hijack your brain at three o’clock in the morning.

Although we can’t plan every lesson to the meticulous detail of a NASA astronaut, we can plan for the worse-case scenarios and get better at looking out for the potholes, the curve-balls and the banana skins. Planning has to include the crystal ball technique so we can walk tall and take the hits.

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