Experiments in Administration: There is no need to check lesson plans.
One of the interesting side effects of accepting a new job in December was that it allowed me to use the prolonged “lame duck” period in my current role as a natural laboratory to run some experiments related to the work of administrating a department of teachers. These are things that seemed like obvious ways of working|treating teachers, but that for a variety of reasons (most of the “CYA” variety), represent pretty significant departures from the norms of my district. Most admins (particularly the untenured ones) that are concerned about keeping their jobs would probably not be quite so willing to mess around with things to the extent that I have, but for the interests of posterity, I'll detail one here.
I stopped checking lesson plans.
Administrators at my level (what we call “Curriculum Associates,” but are best thought of as “Directors” in most other district formulations) are required to check lesson plans on a weekly basis in my district. Simply put, this requirement is a dumb, pointless practice. Whatever the stated purpose is in my district, I don’t think it accomplishes it. It winds up as just another thing that has to happen to achieve compliance. I know for a fact that this is not something that commonly happens in other districts, because whenever I have brought it up at a coordinator meeting, I am in a vanishingly small minority of bosses who have to do this. And yet, it’s not as if the quality of science & technology instruction is falling off a cliff in all of the other districts on Long Island where they don’t require this of their teachers. It’s also remarkably inefficient (something that will be a theme in these discussions). Being that I was the one who was ostensibly requiring their submission, I also felt that I was required to comment on them. Required work should be valued to at least the point that it is conspicuously reviewed. Which then became an hour of my week, each week. It was probably at least an hour of each teacher’s week, too. Pointless time-sucks are things that should be killed off, and this practice was nothing if not a pointless time-suck.
Stopping this practice was the first change that I made once I notified my district that I was leaving. When I told my department that I was leaving, I also told them that they were no longer required to submit their lesson plans to me. Lest I be accused of complete abdication of this responsibility, I also told them that if problems/questions arose, I might ask to see a plan and that the standard guidelines for formal observations (which strongly suggest a full lesson plan be submitted) remained intact. Untenured teachers are required to submit full plans for their tenure portfolio requirements, so I reached a slightly different understanding with them: I asked them to submit one, representative plan per course per week. To be as good a colleague to my fellow Curriculum Associates as possible, I asked my department to keep this change to themselves when in mixed department company, and I let any cross-department teachers know that this change only related to our department.
Results & Discussion:
The quality of science & technology instruction did not decline or improve with this change (😱). It remained exactly as it had been. Hilariously, most teachers continued submitting weekly lesson plans. Such is the power of habit. I easily found other uses for the time that I had previously spent checking lesson plans. I am hopeful my teachers found similar uses for the time they spent writing them up for submission. Were I in charge of making decisions about lesson planning for my current district going forward, I would abandon the practice of requiring weekly plan submissions from all staff and move to a system that works more like this:
- We should absolutely recommend that all teachers create and maintain plans for their courses. It should be an expectation. It should not be a mandate. We should not require any particular format, or that they are submitted to a Curriculum Associate on a periodic basis.
- Tenured teachers should be expected to provide plans for observed lessons. These plans can be sent after the fact for unannounced observations. These are the only plans that tenured teachers should be required to complete according to a preferred district format.
- When there are objective (i.e. documented) concerns about the quality of instruction, the Curriculum Associate should be able to request plans on a more regular basis.
- After an initial period wherein new staff submit full plans (perhaps the first quarter), Curriculum Associates should be able to offer untenured faculty the consideration of moving to a system wherein they submit one complete formal plan, per course, per week. This consideration could be extended or rescinded based on the various measures of growth for new teachers during the period of their untenured status.
- To help maintain a focus on lesson planning, the district should provide professional development on a wide variety of lesson planning approaches and structures. Curriculum Associates should offer extensive commentary and feedback on submitted plans and make themselves available for non-evaluative workshopping on any and all instructional questions, concerns that staff have. Administration should further stress the importance of lesson planning by rigorous adherence to considerations of lesson plans when discussing curriculum and instruction with teaching staff.
Have you done any experiments in your own work, recently? What did you think about this one? Drop me a line or leave a comment below if you have something to say.
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