Preparing for Possibilities


photo credit: Viewminder via photopin cc

As a teacher for the first seven years of my educational career, I slowly transitioned in how I got ready to teach my students. In the early stages, I did lots of planning. I looked ahead at the next lesson in my teacher edition, copied the objectives in my planner, and made sure I had enough materials for the number of students in my class.

These are not bad things. But I was only planning for outcomes when I should have been preparing for possibilities. Early on, the learning goal in mind was the right answers to my questions. Through experience, training, and reflection, I learned to help students come up with their own questions. Sometimes the answers had yet to be discovered.

I recently co-facilitated an iPad workshop for teachers in my district. We had an end in mind (integrating technology with curriculum and instruction), but the possibilities were almost endless. Instead of planning for a certain product from each learner, I prepared links to recommended tools, strong examples of connected classrooms, and time to consider open questions that led to deep thinking and discussions. In the end, every teacher had an specific idea in place to help their students take part in global conversations. These projects included joining the Global Read Aloud via Twitter, Skype, and Edmodo, hosting a classroom blog, developing a Google Site for student and parent communications, and facilitating digital portfolios via KidBlog. The planning shifted from teacher to learner.

This is my understanding of the difference between preparing and planning.

  • How do you see preparing vs. planning in your present context?
  • What tools do you use to facilitate design thinking for your students?
  • Are there certain lesson plan formats that you find promote possibilities instead of just outcomes?

Comments are always welcome on this blog. I look forward to learning with you.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

8 thoughts on “Preparing for Possibilities”

  1. Matt, you make a compelling case for the power of design thinking and personalizing learning. When we allow students to chart the course of their own learning, engagement and success are likely to follow. To answer your last question, we are using a Google site to allow students to keep track of their learning goals and to collect evidence for meeting the standards. It isn’t a lesson format; it is preparing kids to plan for possibilities.


    1. Thank you for the comment, Lauren. Your students seem to be owners of their learning. I appreciate you sharing your perspective.


  2. Matt,
    As I said on Twitter, this line caught my attention: “But I was only planning for outcomes when I should have been preparing for possibilities.” Preparing for possibilities is a completely different kind of thinking. It’s one of the reasons I love teaching in workshops as it creates space for possibility. Possibility needs something to think about, but then it needs time, space, resources, and perhaps social interaction. To me preparing for possibility seems as much a state of mind as a way to plan/prepare. It requires more inquiry, student ownership, and exploration. It requires letting go and trusting A LOT.

    In a time of targets, objectives, and outcomes, possibility sometimes isn’t considered. Sad, I think. It seems you’ve given me a little to think about in the coming days. What does a lesson plan format look like for this? Maybe the question is what doesn’t it look like? Perhaps Lauren is onto something as maybe it isn’t so much in the teacher’s plan (though I know this can’t be completely discounted), but more in what the learner has planned. Hmmmm. Love these thoughtful conversations. Matt, you always make me think and rethink and rethink.



    1. Thank you for commenting, Cathy. This post originated from a quote by Peter Johnston in his book Knowing Literacy (Stenhouse, 1997):
      “Having labored over plans, we are often loathe to part with them, even when our students’ responses suggest that we should. Planning is used to reduce possibilities, whereas preparation is done in order to manage diverse possibilities” (125).

      I concur with you that the workshop model is a nice framework for allowing for possibilities. Resources like The Daily Five/CAFE, Reading with Meaning, and your book Beyond Guided Reading provide ideas for this type of authentic instruction to occur. It’s harder work, but so worth the effort when we see our students flourish in unexpected ways.


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