Lesson Plans, or Demotivating Teachers

This week I have been preparing a session for language school academic managers on Motivating Teachers. Interestingly, the discussion on Twitter could have had the opposite title: Demotivating Teachers (though written lesson planning), or something similar.

Why so? Let’s take a closer look.

@wanderingELT said on Twitter: ‘I wish I didn’t have to write a formal lesson plan for EVERY lesson I teach 😦

My (almost) immediate response was ‘Hm… does anyone read them? What happens to the plans?

This teacher is apparently working at a private school, where no-one reads lesson plans on a regular basis, but teachers need to have them ‘in case of an inspection’ (so it is probably a chain of schools then, but I am not sure)

One suggestion from Twitter-verse came in complete agreement with how I felt about this: ‘If no-one’s reading them, have just one [lesson plan written] and use it should the inspector come?‘ What it shows (to me, at least, and sorry for stating the obvious) is that (a) it is a formal, or external reason that has nothing to do with teachers’ professional development and (b) the result might have no benefit for students at all. It is probably cultural, but once a law or rule does not make sense, we can create alternatives not even ‘breaking’ them formally. Is this actually passive-aggressive? Not sure about the terminology…

Another thought (again about the same school) sounded a little more positive: ‘We get feedback on one of them once every two weeks by DoS‘. Why a little? Because how many hours of writing falls into the actual teacher growth and learning from the feedback which the DoS will finally provide? Will the teacher have a chance to choose which group s/he wants the feedback on? Will the teacher be asked about this? Not to even mention the amount of work the DoS will have to be doing (how many lesson plans to comment on a regular basis, and what degree of quality does this work have?)

Another big question related to the above: what is the ultimate reason for asking to write written plans for all the lessons? Possibly, it is the hope that by having a written plan a teacher can be ‘officially’ prepared [well, unless it is the way we discussed above, when the writing is done because there will be someone checking the plan] Alternatively, it is an attempt to be accountable (to students, parents, funders, etc.). If so, perhaps other formats might be considered, for example, student surveys, regular tests, international exam results, etc.? Or maybe, it is a way to bring discipline to the teaching team (and always have a formal reason to have a ‘serious conversation’ of any sort?) [same argument as before: once it is a game to play, there are ways to avoid or ‘tweak’ the process]


Clearly, I am taking the teachers’ side in this post. I spent a lot of time in the classroom, and in the craziest years, had a load of 30-45 teaching hours per week (including private students outside school time). Could I imagine writing a formal detailed lesson plan for each and every lesson? Well, no. Did I prepare for the lessons and take notes? Yes.

Here, we come to a more constructive part of the discussion: is there a way to ensure that teachers are prepared, and that the prep time is used as wisely and efficiently as possible? Hopefully, we can. One example from my own experience as an academic leader: we had a school meeting where every teacher brought an example of their planning notes, and they shared the examples and talked about the process of writing. Wish I had taken pictures – you should have seen the variety of forms, formats, styles, handwriting, etc.! After that, we all agreed that each teacher had a manner and habits that were hard to ‘standardize’. The conclusion, and a mutual decision was to have a clear written lesson aim/objective for every lesson, and if a DoS (me) asks about it, it needs to be shown. If there is a developmental observation, happening several times a year, a more detailed plan is submitted. Sometimes those were very detailed, as the teachers chose which group, lesson, level, type of lesson they wanted me to see, and had questions, etc. However, if there was a complaint from students (or corporate customer), a written plan had to be written for the observed lesson. Sometimes, more than once.

Was this ideal? I don’t think so. It is one example of how a dialogue can be created. What else have you seen or tried at your workplace? What was a more successful idea?

Some Twitter examples:

  • Marc, aka @getgreatenglish, said that in theory teachers get paid for prep in UK […] It’s 2 hours of planning and preparation [time] and marking for 30 hours, per week.
  • @Liam_ELT shared a piece of wisdom: make the lesson planning work for you, or you end up preparing twice…

A final thought: if we can’t change a situation, we might try and change our attitude to it. Or… change the situation (change the school, or teach freelance)?

Your thoughts?

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
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15 Responses to Lesson Plans, or Demotivating Teachers

  1. Marc says:

    Hi Zhenya. did I type 30 hrs/month? If so, I made a mistake. 30hrs a WEEK!

    Thanks for bringing this here.


  2. ven_vve says:

    You said, “… but teachers need to have [lesson plans] ‘in case of an inspection’ (so it is probably a chain of schools then, but I am not sure).

    I don’t know about Giulia’s school, but we had to hang on to LPs because of PRIMA inspections – the local equivalent (and associate member if I recall correctly) of EAQUALS. We were up for inspection every three years and they could, in theory, ask for almost anything we’d ever thought of recording. The inspectors talked to focus groups of teachers, observed lessons… it was very thorough.

    Now this formal LP wasn’t actually all that formal – I mean, you couldn’t hand it in on a post-it, but I’ve seen some CELTA forms and they are far more detailed. There _was_ a form, and you had to indicate what the lesson aims were, and your steps, but they didn’t have to spell everything out. I suppose it all depends on how you define ‘formal’.

    Having said that, I hated having to do it myself and totally understood that the teachers felt the same. When I first came to Octopus and for a couple of years after that, we had a storeroom stacked full of LPs – teachers would hand them in once a course was over, together with a report on the students’ progress, any tests they’d taken and their marks. We were drowning in paper. I was really pleased when my colleague and I took over the running of the school and managed to introduce the option of handing LPs in on a CD. Maybe it’s not much but I think we did help the environment a bit. 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Vedrana

      Thank you very much for the comment (a blog post on its own actually!)

      Yes, I understand what it means to be working at a school where inspection visits are possible. At International House, the details of policy inside the school was up to their management (so writing plans for every lesson was a decision a school was free to make on their own). Now, for the inspection visit, we had to have detailed (CELTA-like) plans to share with the inspector. S/he was often an experienced teacher trainer who ran a more general feedback session to all the teachers based on what was observed.

      Quote from the IHWO website: ‘Once affiliated, the schools continue to be inspected every one to three years, depending on how recently they joined the organisation.’ (more on this here http://ihworld.com/quality)

      I think your step towards making the teachers’ lives easier by providing an electronic option was great! I always have doubts about any paperwork for the sake of it, and reducing the actual paper that goes into it makes sense.

      I wonder if an ideal solution to this exists 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Giulia says:

    Thanks for these ideas Zhenya! I have to say what we write are semi-formal LPs, not something CELTA-style. Still, I need to think of stage names, give detailed timings, describe procedures and so on. I’d rather handwrite them on my notebook to take in class, that’s all. I’m sure with time this will come easier, but for now I’m wasting a lot of time in what I regard as paperwork. 😦 If that’s OK with you, I might bring your suggestions to my DoS…


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Giulia

      Thank you for the comment (and for starting this discussion!) I would be excited to know that you are passing the ideas to your DoS (I mean, that something in what I wrote might help) I agree that having to do the writing for the sake of it (even if there is a reason formally stated to you) is very hard. Hope there is some flexibility possible. Would love to hear about the decision made (maybe, a post on your blog? 🙂 )


      Liked by 1 person

  4. natibrandi says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this very important topic. My favourite quote by far “It is probably cultural, but once a law or rule does not make sense, we can create alternatives not even ‘breaking’ them formally” I couldn’t agree more, schools shouldn’t be managed with ridiculous bureaucracy, that doesn’t prove that the quality is good nor does it make people happy!


  5. LaughLearnTeach says:

    I would LOVE to be able to use my planning notes as a part of the evidence of my preparation. Every Friday, my team and I meet and plan together after school. These sessions usually result in a bunch of ideas scribbled onto a legal pad that then form the basis of the formal lesson plans that I write on Sunday nights. The formal plans don’t veer much from the scribbled mess on the legal pad, they are just put together and “packaged” in the format my school wants.


    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment LaughtLearnTeach! Sounds like the Friday planning meetings are very productive times for you and the teachers in your team (and I guess you are their academic leader, or hold a similar leading position?) As for the Sunday plan writing, I sense that it is a kind of formality you would prefer not to do (on your day off?) Is there a way to reduce the load for you?

      Thank you for the comment very much!


  6. tntlessonplans says:

    Wow! Reading this post and all the comments that go with it I am reminded at how hard teachers work. We are planners by nature whether that is long term plans, unit plans, weekly plans, daily plans, we plan, plan, plan, plan. Don’t get me wrong, plans are good, plans are needed, but who gets to decide when there has been enough planning. I’m hearing there are a lot of teachers doing co-planning which is awesome (it’s still a lot of planning). As my experience grows (I’m on year 18), I find my planning is becoming automatic, however as I relax my need to conform to the planning boxes, my questioning is better in the moment in the class (I’m not worried about the questions I wrote in my plans), and I feel I can adapt my lessons on the fly based on the students needs and inquiry levels. When I’m over planned I feel too much pressure to stick to the plans and I almost have an anxiety attack when students are taking too long or asking too many questions. Looking back, I am positive I have missed some true “teachable moments” because of my plans. Plans are important, but I hope all teachers gain the self-confidence to know when they can divert from their plans and really, truly teach in the moment. Thanks for the great article and comments!


    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for reading and leaving your comment, tntlessonplans! Agree that co-planning is a lot of work (and the ‘co-‘ part takes more time sometimes!) but there is a lot of fun, and space for post-teaching reflections. Planning is a bit lonely otherwise (but then teaching is too, of course!) Wow – year 18 in the classroom. Must be a lot of wisdom and confidence, but it feels like you are enjoying the job and the classroom 🙂 My fav quote from you is the last bit: ‘I hope all teachers gain the self-confidence to know when they can divert from their plans and really, truly teach in the moment’ – really hope for that too!
      Thank you once again, and happy teaching!


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