Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Don't Show Me Your Plans

There is an old joke that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  If you want to give teachers one more reason to quit, ask to see theirs.

I have heard many stories from my mom about her elementary teaching career in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.  Often they involved her beloved principal, Mr. Montgomery.  Among her favorites is the one in which he told her, a young teacher early on the shared journey of discovery that is education, why he did not need to see her lesson plans each week as other principals did.  He considered her a professional and trusted her to do her job.

Patricia Perkins, my mom

She has reflected many times how good that made her feel.  She was new to the profession, but this seasoned educational leader trusted her, and he proved it by not looking over her shoulder or micromanaging what she did in her classroom.

As I have written, bad administrators are killing education, and this type of "quality control" is one more weapon in their arsenal.  As one Forbes article puts it, "No job worth doing breaks down into tiny, measurable parts.  Good jobs are whole. You know what your mission is and you work toward your mission every day, checking in with your manager as appropriate. Run away from any company that surrounds you with yardsticks and measurements."  Evaluations based on whether or not objectives are displayed on the board or on the proper filling out of suffocating lesson and unit planners reveal absolutely nothing about whether teachers are teaching well.  They reveal merely a person's ability to snap to attention when the jackboots come marching, their ability to jump through hoops that any sane person would recognize are insulting and ridiculous.

Is there a place for planning in a teacher's life?  There most certainly is.  When I dream some fantastic new project for my students, I have to come down out of the clouds and begin to plan.  I have to consider what I want them to achieve in the project, what their role and my role should be, what resources we will need, where we will get them if we do not have them, how long we can spend on the project, what must be shifted or removed to make room for it, and a host of other pedagogically responsible factors.

Will anyone see these plans?  Possibly.  One of my colleagues who teaches French frequently collaborates with me on a project her students and my Latin students engage in together.  We share these ideas and plans with our department chair, sometimes to get her input, other times to ask for her assistance, and often just to bring her into the sheer fun and excitement of it.

There are also sound reasons for a leader or administrator to see the written plans of a teacher.  Pre-service teachers in field experiences or student-teaching programs benefit from the slow, careful process of writing out plans and can gain much from discussing those plans with a trusted leader or mentor.  And of course there are times when even experienced teachers may need guidance, whether because they are teaching something new or for whatever reason are not at their best.  Working with a valued leader on planning can help teachers reach their potential.

But consider what is gained by not requiring veteran teachers who are experts both in their fields and in pedagogy to submit lesson and unit plans for evaluation.  It sends the clear message that they are trusted professionals and valued colleagues.  Any administrator who has to check whether an objective is written on a board or whether plans have been uploaded in a certain format in order to determine whether a teacher is teaching well should be fired, for that administrator lacks true discernment.  Good education leaders are in classrooms.  They work with, not above teachers.  They watch and listen to students.  Do your neighbors really have to knock on your door to tell you they are pulling the lawn mower out of the garage for you to know whether they are maintaining their yards?

My wife and I recently cleaned the blades on our ceiling fans, and our daughter, age 12, wanted to help.  I set up the ladder and showed her how to detach the blades and the glass covering of the light.  I helped her a bit on the first fan, but when we took the ladder into another room, I only stood nearby and did not help.  At one point she was uncertain if she could hold the glass covering with one hand and unscrew the nut with her other.  I told her that although she may have felt uncertain of her abilities, I was quite confident in them and then proved my confidence by not interfering.  Can you imagine what it would do for teachers if their administrators demonstrated such confidence in them?  My mom can not only imagine it.  She remembers it fondly more than fifty years later.


  1. Three thumbs up for this one, Steve.

    1. Euripides, my old friend! Good to see you here, and thanks for your comment!


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