How to Get Your Principal to Stop Requiring Lesson Plans

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of teachers objecting to unreasonable requests at the earliest possible moment. Today, I’ll discuss one such objectionable practice that no competent teacher should put up with: required lesson plans.

There is almost no reason for principals to ask their teachers to submit lesson plans on any kind of regular basis. There are a slew of reasons why they shouldn’t.

Lesson Plans Don’t Tell Principals Anything Useful

Yesterday I planned to work out. I didn’t. Last year, I planned to publish six books. I published three. Most mornings, I plan to be patient with my students, but then Jimmy does what Jimmy does every day and those plans are quickly forgotten. Just 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept. 41% of tasks on people’s to-do lists are never completed. Plans are regularly ignored or discarded as life happens. Plans don’t tell you anything except people’s intentions (and that’s if they’re being honest about them). Collecting teachers’ lesson plans doesn’t tell a principal anything about what actually happens in teachers’ rooms. If principals want to know if their teachers are doing their jobs, they should skip the plans and watch them teach.

Required Lesson Plans Waste Teachers’ Time

Every teacher I know has lesson plans. Very few teachers I know have detailed lesson plans like the kind they were required to write in college. There’s a good reason. In college, teachers are learning how to plan lessons. They don’t know much, so instructors read their plans and provided feedback so that teachers will consider things they maybe hadn’t.

Employed teachers are professionals, and the plans they write are for them. As such, they will vary just as much as teachers do. What works for one will not work for others. And there’s no way a principal can evaluate a teacher’s lesson plans without also watching the teacher teach. Required lesson plans are often concoctions. Dutiful teachers record learning goals and include things they never include on the plans they make for themselves.

As such, they’re a giant waste of time, and that is a huge deal. Any principal who doesn’t understand and respect how pressed for time teachers already are doesn’t understand teaching. Period. When principals require busywork they’re essentially telling teachers that they don’t get it or that they do, but don’t care. The one thing every teacher wants more of, even more so than money, is time. Principals should do everything they can to solve that problem. Requiring lesson plans makes it worse.

Detailed, Written Lesson Plans Don’t Make Sense Anymore

One interesting thing about teaching is that while governments and school districts have become more prescriptive they have simultaneously held onto practices that are no longer relevant. Detailed lesson plans are one such revenant. If you work for a district that doesn’t trust you to plan your own lessons and instead requires you to follow a scripted program with fidelity, then why in the world would you have to write down your lesson plans? They’re already written in the teachers’ guide that you’ve been told to blindly follow. If principals want required lesson plans, then a reasonable question is why. Why should teachers need to rewrite plans that they’ve been handed and told to use?

Required Lesson Plans Destroy Staff Morale

Principals who require lesson plans are micromanaging their staffs and sending the message that they don’t trust their teachers to do their jobs. They’re checking up on their teachers (and in a time-wasting, ineffective way), and if teachers have given no reason for such a lack of trust, then such a practice destroys staff morale.

Here’s an idea for schools: Hire the best teachers you can find. Let them do their jobs. If it looks like they’re doing that, then stay out of their way and let them keep doing it. Since they waste teachers’ time and don’t provide useful information, it’s hard to argue that required lesson plans are about anything other than control. They’re a reminder that while you may think you have autonomy in your classroom, somebody is watching. That’s horribly demotivating.

There is only one situation when a principal should require submitted lesson plans and that is in the case of a teacher who is struggling. In an effort to identify causes of the struggles, a principal should ask to see the teacher’s lesson plans to see if poor planning might be a factor. It may be that the planning is poor, or it may be that the plans are fine, but that the teacher doesn’t execute them, or that classroom management problems interfere with their execution. Whatever the ultimate reasons, principals should never require lesson plans of teachers who aren’t struggling and they shouldn’t require them if they aren’t willing to follow-up with an observation and then provide feedback on the plans and their execution.

So if you want to get your principal to stop requiring lesson plans, do the following:

First, talk to her about all of the above. Sometimes, bosses don’t realize how their decisions affect their staffs. Give her the benefit of the doubt, but explain the damaging effects this requirement has on teachers. Respectfully lay out your case, and ask her to explain why she requires lesson plans. Hopefully, that’s enough for her to reconsider. But if it’s not, then it’s time to fight fire with fire:

  1. Write your lesson plans.
  2. At the end of each submission, attach the following: I appreciate your willingness to look over my plans to help me be more effective. Can we please meet at your earliest convenience to discuss my plans? I look forward to hearing your detailed feedback on them. Because why should you be the only one inconvenienced?
  3. Submit the lesson plans.
  4. Wait.

If you don’t receive any feedback or a response to your meeting request (which of course you don’t actually want), stop submitting lesson plans. No feedback means one of two things: Your principal isn’t collecting your lesson plans to help you get better or he’s not reading them at all.

What will you do if he requires the plans anyway, even after listening to your objections and after ignoring your requests for feedback?

Remind him that he has bosses to answer to and that he has a staff he has to work with and rely on. And if you really want to twist the knife, let your principal’s supervisor know that you repeatedly requested meetings so you could improve your lesson planning, but he didn’t respond.

This is not a minor issue. It’s worth upsetting a few apple carts over. Principals who require lesson plans but don’t read them or even provide feedback on them do not respect teachers. Period. Principals who don’t stand up to district leaders on this issue can’t be trusted to stand up for their staff on any other issue. Push back. Demand that required lesson plans actually get read, responded to, and followed up on with observations. Anything less than that is exploitative and you shouldn’t let it pass. Because the exploitation and the arbitrary busywork won’t stop there. Give in on this and you’re volunteering for more unreasonable mandates.


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18 Replies to “How to Get Your Principal to Stop Requiring Lesson Plans”

  1. Most teachers will agree BUT we submit our plans via engrade. Our principal receives a list of who submitted. He checks “approved” or he puts a letter in our file. That attitude alone is demoralizing. Most people are terrified of him. Our formally wonderful school which took on things like Muslim students’ prayer, smoking in local restaurants plus excellent scores etc is beginning to be a cookie cutter school.

    This same leader instructed (vehemently) that we MUST be giving traditional lecture when our state’s evaluation team came through resulting in a terrible rating. He also was so mean and rude to the junior class that they tanked their test scores deliberately.

  2. As an administrator, I figured that the size of the boxes in plan books dictated the amount to be written…I wanted to know if they were on the right topics at about the right time. Sometimes I would ask for assessments to be attached…another way of seeing what was being taught… but the only real way to see what and how things were going was to get into the classroom and watch! I had teachers who wrote amazing lesson plans and taught nothing!

  3. Do you think leson plans are also for the student to see? Helps them to plan, work ahead, able to catch up on work if away.

  4. I think the primary motive for an administrator requiring a teacher to submit his/her lesson plans is to ensure that the teacher is following whatever program or curriculum that the powers that be has prescribed for the teacher. In other words, it’s a big brother thing. Most teachers are by nature independent thinkers. They want to be their own boss. That’s why they like to be the only adult in the room. However, administrators fear the rogue teacher doing things their own way. Doesn’t matter if it’s great and the kids love it.

  5. I have always had trouble figuring out exactly what I was supposed to write in the stupid little box that was supposed to
    contain my “lesson” for the day. I’ve looked at many other teachers’ plans and that didn’t help one bit. They were all different and so as a young teacher I couldn’t understand why my principal was telling me I had to improve mine. None of the lesson plans I ever saw seemed helpful to teaching. And let me add that a plan for the semester or year and a “lesson plan” are two distinct things. Lesson plans are outdated and have been for a very long time, at least if you are a progressive minded educator (this to me means that you are interested and able to discern when things are outdated and ineffective and replace them with practices that are effective). A plan I have no issue with. A lesson plan for every hour of your day? NO. I felt the same way about learning styles. Remember when they used to make us write down in our daily plans how we were going to address different learning styles?! That always felt ridiculous to me and very difficult and not useful. And maybe that’s still going on in some
    Schools. But they literally just came out saying the whole learning styles concept was never proven, never scientific, never real! How many hours of PD did we literally waste on that? Same with lesson plans.

  6. I was scouring the internet for any kind of help and saw your blog.
    I am in the exact situation you describe and now thanks to you I have taken the first step to taking control. After two weeks submitting lesson plans to my AP without so much as an acknowledgement that he received them, I wrote an email to hom and CC’d the principle.
    I told him I would not be submitting plans until he provided a written explanation of why they are professionally necessary and have an meeting to discuss each and every plan I write to make sure they are exceptional.
    I read your posts now as a kind of daily affirmation. 🙂
    Thank you so much. I look forward to new posts!

    1. Jess,

      You should proof read your posts previous to submission as there are several spelling/grammatical errors. Your post is the perfect example of why lesson plans should be required and reviewed. Teachers are humans and therefore make mistakes. The insight of a seasoned instructional leader can only further your abilities. The teaching process starts with the lesson plan.

      1. I don’t have an issue with principals who actually effectively taught reviewing teachers’ lesson plans and offering valuable feedback on them. I have a problem with principals requiring them for compliance purposes only, not reading them, and not offering any feedback on them. That’s just busy work that teachers don’t have time for.

  7. I totally agree that they really don’t tell principals anything, waste teachers’ time and destroy staff morale. And absolutely it is all about just collecting to follow procedures. In fact, I have not been writing any at my current post and had an unannounced evaluation. I just kept right on teaching. I got 4s and 5s on a 5 point scale except for the lesson planning part because nothing was formally written. I teach Spanish, so even if I had written it, would they understand it? No! I feel if they don’t stop with the nonsense work and state control of education, they are going to run off the vast majority of teachers. That is one reason I like Spanish because there is no state mandated test they have to pass yet that is actually testing the teacher. I totally agree that good teachers are creative and need freedom to fully develop their own personal teaching style as well as a trusting enviornment in which to share ideas and what works with coworkers.

  8. First, I agree lesson plans should not be asked to be submitted for compliance sake. I also agree that lesson plans written for the sake of compliance do not provide insight regarding your classroom. If these things are going on, you have been the victim of working with a leader composed of management skills and not instructional leadership skills. Leaders with management perspectives give commands and watch to see if you follow them. An instructional leader gives a command with the understanding it is necessary for the improvement of the instructional program, and can demonstrate its importance. Submitting lesson plans is about the forward movement of an entire instructional program – not just one classroom.
    Lesson plans intentionally written for the sake of student learning contributes to increased student performance. The plans also have to be read in conjunction with frequent observations, coaching, and feedback. As an instructional leader, there have been several times I have been able to read a plan and coach my teachers prior to them delivering instruction. Warning them prior to instruction contributed to more students understanding the information, and at the level of complexity fit for the students being taught. The reality of our job as educators is that we work in a profession we will never be able to master. Even if you are a veteran teacher, having someone review your vision of day to day lessons only makes you stronger. And no matter how great we are, we could have been greater if we planned our way and were more intentional about our steps.

  9. I am from Mexico City and for the past school year I didn’t submit a single lesson plan. I never felt freer because I was able to perform my classes the way I wanted.
    As teachers, we need to have clear in front of us what do we want from our students. In my opinion, teachers must be supervised instead of submitting pointless lesson plans. And even class observation must be performed in a way that it helps us improve our classes.
    It is frustrating and it concerns me that head masters and/or coordinators can’t realize that, with them by our side, lesson plans and classes would be perform in a more productive and efficient way.

  10. As a music teacher, it is very frustrating submitting lesson plans to my academic coach. My plans are never followed to a T or a perfect dotted I. I am constantly going away from my plan to cater to my students needs. So I basically have a backup for the backup for the backup that ends up being a completely different lesson plan. It takes me about 3-5 hours to write my lesson plans for general music and 2 orchestra classes. It doesn’t help that I am having someone who is not in music evaluate my teaching and my activities. Having a “concern” for a movement assignment that is misconstrued for playing around just shows that I need a music person evaluation me not someone who played in band 25+ years ago…

  11. I’m shocked at the lack of facts and complete incompetence of this article. Clearly you did not step into a single school and did not speak to a single professional before writing this. Thanks for the proof that most things “published” online is garbage.

    1. 1. Thanks for reading in spite of your belief that online content is garbage.
      2. An article can’t be incompetent. People are incompetent. People like me, evidently.
      3. I work in a school and have for 20 years.
      4. Most things “published” online are garbage, not is garbage.

  12. Hello Murph,
    I am more than supportive of your article. Personally, I have been teaching for over 20 years and I have seen the lesson plan drama over and over again! What I have learned is that the BEST lesson plans are copied and pasted from GOOGLE! (so sad!) That’s what professionals are doing now; just to hush up the administrators. Believe it or not, it works so well at our school. Teachers turn in 5-7 pages of lesson plans for each subject. We proudly support killing trees (lol)! Any hoot, keep writing Murph. The haters-trend is the new trend. There is no way around it.
    Again, I love your work.

  13. This is my 23rd year teaching and I’ve always thought that lesson plan submission was absurd and just a way to require extra busy work from an already overloaded staff. Personally, it always wreaked of a power-play. Very often those who “peruse” plans have no idea of the content, and, in most cases, have a fraction of the experience as the educators that they’re supervising. It’s just plain wrong. I’m sure the opposing voices of this article are just brain-washed “pie in the sky” administrators who haven’t been in the classroom in years. I got my admin credentials years ago and it’s because of things like this, that I ran back to the classroom where I dutifully refuse to submit lesson plans on a weekly basis. KUDOS to the author – finally, a voice of reason in the wonderful profession that is being slowly being overtaken by dogmatic ideologues.

  14. Yes! I have taught since 1988~ ES to senior HS to a correctional facility. I have been a learning strategist, mentor, and plan to retire in Africa and teach there. I am passionate about teaching and this topic. Awful teachers write beautiful plans and vice-versa. When I finally arrived in a professional mental space where I stood my ground and refused, it was liberating. I thought, “What are they going to do to me?” I am a stellar teacher who delivers strong growth scores. I was done pandering to the system. Teachers need to stand up for themselves (as male-dominated professions do) and quit worrying about being “nice”.

  15. This article resonates with me so much. This is the third time I’ve contemplated leaving the classroom this year.
    There’s been a barrage of asinine decisions in the past few years from requiring lesson plans, CLT teams, common assessments, assigning grades to formative assessments, to micro managing grade books, dictating minimal low scores of 48% etc.
    It all leads to fraudulent instruction and malpractice. I have minimal time with my students. It’s unsustainable. It’s horse manure. What the hell happened to our country?
    Our administrators go through training sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation. It’s all part of the corporate plan to devalue us and deprive us off the pension plans we paid into and have rightfully earned.
    Why are so many people turning into Sheeple?

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