Does requiring teachers to submit lesson plans in advance lead to better teaching practice? Recently, this question led to an active discussion in our Principal Life Facebook group.
Some school leaders find regular lesson plan submission invaluable, others find it ineffective. But throughout the discussion, principals offered thoughtful suggestions on how to get benefits from lesson plans and be respectful of teacher time. Here are a range of opinions we heard from the trenches.
Requiring lesson plans is an important practice
“Yep, weekly lesson plans are required!” says Tammy Jata, of Northwest Heritage Academy in Portland, Oregon. “I can’t tell you how much this helps me know who is really prepared and who is just winging it. Popping in on classes does not tell me how prepared a teacher is for his or her day.” She goes on to point out another benefit, “If a teacher becomes suddenly sick one morning, a sub can just log into her online plan book and take over.”
“Weekly lesson plans help leaders get a sense of a teacher’s pacing,” said Meredith Mallouk, Assistant Principal at Manhattan Charter School, in New York. “It also allows coaches and admin to provide feedback as needed.”
Yes, I do require lesson plans but…
“My new teachers are required to submit plans,” Josh Stamp, High School principal at Beaver River Central School District in Northern New York State, tells us. “For me it’s a way to be sure they don’t skip the planning. I’ll be honest that I struggle to read all of them just from the new teachers, so I can’t imagine requiring them from everyone. If I had to choose between reading a lesson plan or popping into a classroom, I’d pick the visit every time. I get a much better picture of what’s going on in the room. And, I don’t want a teacher spending time making a “pretty” lesson plan for me––I want an effective plan they can use.”
Nicole Morin, Invest Collegiate Imagine Charter School in Asheville, North Carolina, tells us, “I do right now, but I don’t plan to continue after January. As a first year admin, I need a way to see what is happening everywhere to know where we need help and who can be leaders, etc., but I also want to be mindful of teacher morale.”
Lesson plans don’t give me the information I need
“No, they are professionals,” states Daniel Bauer, of Chicago Public Schools. He feels that checking lesson plans is more of a job for instructional coaches in observation debriefing meetings as part of a strong mentor program.
Lee Smith, of the Suzhou Industrial Park Foreign Language School in China, fully agrees that careful, thorough preparation is essential to good teaching. But, in his opinion, the submission of weekly lesson plans can become just another item on a weekly “must-do” list. “I would prefer teachers spend that time reflecting critically on their own practices and planning for what comes next,” he tells us. “I have worked with teachers who want to do that, as that is the way that their own planning makes most sense to them…which is fantastic. I’ve also worked with many effective, conscientious educators who would find submitting weekly lesson plans to be a frustrating exercise and antithetical to their planning processes. To me, the proof in the pudding is not the lesson plans, but the lessons themselves.”
We do something different
Michael Shaffer, Assistant Professor of Education Leadership at Ball State University, says, “Frequent, unannounced classroom walkthroughs are a better time commitment. The urban district where I worked required every teacher be visited in snapshot walkthroughs four times per week. My final year there I did about 1000 walkthroughs and the AP did over 600. Teachers liked it because we saw them in various subjects and the students never knew when we would be there. Not only did eyeball-to-eyeball instruction increase but discipline issues went dramatically down with students.”
Other principals shared a variety of things they do instead of requiring lesson plans. They included things like, asking teacher teams to complete a medium term plan. This maps out six to eight weeks of work instead. Teachers may complete lesson plans if it helps them, but they are not checked. Also, requiring curriculum maps for units, not individual lesson plans. It allows for the ‘big picture’ of what is going on in a classroom. A few principals asked teachers to create and submit a year-long plan in the first month. The philosophy behind this requirement is to encourage teachers to use backward design to help with planning and pacing. They want teachers to understand that plans are not written in stone but as more of a guide to help teachers accomplish all they need to throughout the school year.
There’s no right or wrong way for principals to manage their schools. Having a rationale and using lessons learned is all part of the experience.
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