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.

4 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.

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