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]

stationery

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 couple more [50 word] ideas on Lesson Planning with teachers at school and on a training course can be found in pink here. 

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?

Note: this post was not intended to be a summary of the Twitter conversation, so not all the ideas were quoted. If you are interested in the original conversation, follow me (@ZhenyaDnipro) and enjoy it!