In a recent staff development session, I was asked whether or not principals should require their teachers to submit lesson plans. It turned into such an interesting conversation, that I thought I’d write about it!
Are Lesson Plans Necessary?
Let’s first look at the purpose of lesson plans. The purpose is for a teacher to have a well thought out plan that ties to the standards, has a clear beginning, middle and end, with various instructional strategies embedded throughout. I have had the pleasure of working with several hundred teachers over the last few years and I have never seen a teacher who does not do that. I’ve never seen a teacher who just woke up one morning and on her way to work, decided what she felt like teaching that day and then, when she got into the classroom, just talked off the top of her head with whatever came to mind. The essence of working in professional learning communities is that teachers are collaborating with each other and having discussions about “What do we want our students to know?” “How do we know if our students learned it?” “What do we do when students don’t learn it?” and “What do we do when they do learn it?” The very nature of these four questions is embedded in instructional planning, using research based instructional strategies and varied assessments.
If our focus is on the bigger picture, which is to establish a culture of collaboration, than why do we focus on the daily micro management of collecting lesson plans? Do principals really have the time to read every lesson plan for every period everyday? Chances are the answer is no—so why require teachers to submit something that isn’t going to be monitored? The thought of not requiring lesson plans may sound shocking and absurd to school administrators, but really think about its purpose in a school that is trying to establish professional learning communities. If our teachers are spending time on the four essential questions, then obviously they are planning. Is it necessary to require lesson plans be submitted? I’m not arguing that teachers should not write lesson plans—I think every good teacher will always have a lesson plan—I’m saying teachers should not be required to submit them.
When making decisions on what kinds of things should be required for teachers, weigh out the positives and negatives, in addition to the purpose. It’s okay to question years of tradition, including the tradition of submitting lesson plans. So if you look at the purpose of lesson plans, could that purpose be served through PLC meeting minutes? Through unit plans maybe? Through assessment data? Work with your teacher leaders to have those discussion and then make the decision of what should be submitted.
If those alternatives to requiring lesson plans could serve that same purpose, then those alternatives should be discussed, especially when the negatives are considered. The negative “side effects” of requiring lesson plans include teachers wasting too much time on trying to make their lesson plan look good instead of really thinking through or researching various lesson plan ideas. Another negative is that lesson plan submission promotes individuality, when we are trying to promote collaboration. Why not have a submission from the PLC (eg. minutes, unit plans, or assessment data) instead of individual teachers? Finally, by submitting lesson plans, the message to the teachers is that the school’s focus is all on the planning. In a PLC school, the focus is on planning AND results. What are the teachers’ results? Is the teacher producing results? Ultimately, are students learning? A teacher could have the best looking lesson plan, but its’ delivery and student learning could be weak. On the other hand, a teacher could have a rough lesson plan written out on his/her desk (not for submitting, but for his/her own eyes) and have the best delivery and therefore the best student learning is taking place. Our goal as educational leaders is to be aware of the planning but focus on the results—student learning.
The best lesson plans I ever saw were written by one of the worst teachers I ever had to work with. The plans were beautifully laid out, logical in their approach, easy to follow and looked great. What happened in the classroom was another story. At the same time some of my master teachers grumbled about writing lesson plans and were resistant but their work with children in the classroom was wonderful. I know that we spend an inordinate amount of time on lesson plans, and too often try to micromanage the teacher during class for not following the plan down to the minute. The approach you illustrate can easily take away what can be a huge time drain in writing and submitting plans. You are right that few principals have time to read all of that. Another approach to mention is that if the principal (admin) is frequently in the classrooms they have a very good idea of what is being taught and from that comes the professional dialog with the teacher. I may not need to know the exact question being asked 32 minutes into the class period, but if I am in the classroom enough I will know what learning is taking place and how the stduent are learning. I may even want to participate! Unless it is like Calculus; then I sit and smile 🙂
Meagan – yes great point! Most schools I’ve seen do have some procedures where every teacher is required to have a “red emergency sub folder” or “blue sub folder” on their desk that does have a few days worth of emergency lesson plans, along with various items such as the class seating plan, safety plan etc. And if it’s a planned absence, then teachers should turn in their planned lesson for the day to their team. This is very important to help support our substitute teachers. I do think any good teacher will always have lesson plans but the point I was trying to make is that they should not be required to turn them in daily to administrators – instead, administrators should monitor the work done in PLC’s such as their unit plans or assessments. The issue you raise about substitute teachers is a good one and yes this shortage is being seen everywhere. Great idea though about asking them directly in a survey what we can do to encourage them to continue to come back!
I understand the point you are making, which is a good one. If principals require teachers to spend time creating a beautiful ‘product’ it takes away from the meatier work. I completely agree.
One thought I would throw in the mix though is that last year we did a survey of our substitute teachers. We have experienced increasing sub shortages, which is echoed nation wide. One of the pieces of feedback we got was – I don’t go back to classrooms where they don’t have lesson plans. So there is a benefit to having something accessible on paper, in case a teacher is unexpectedly out.
Great post, Jasmine! I believe that this is one way to empower teachers.