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Lesson Plans & Observations: Are You Getting Value for Time Spent?

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busy pixabay.pngWhen something is used for more than one purpose, it loses it power. Three examples can be found in lesson plans, observations/evaluations, and PowerPoint presentations. When serving more than one master, value is diminished.

Lesson Plans
The intention of lesson plans is for teachers to create a course for the year, with learning opportunities, conditions for demonstrations of understanding, and assessments. Mapping out that plan and making adjustments along the way allows teachers to monitor students' learning and adjust the learning experiences in order to accomplish the intended goal of the course.  So whether it is third grade reading or eleventh grade science, the intention for lesson plans is the same.  But at the same time lesson plans are used for accountability purposes.  In some districts, lesson plan review and approval is required.  Plan books, digital or old school, are reviewed by a supervisor on some agreed upon regular basis. Understanding sometimes is assumed, and understandably the approval may be more connected to the fact that the plan is done than the quality of the plan.

But how can one truly know that the plan is rich and effective? For most, it depends upon the students' performance of what they know and are able to do. How do we know they are connected?  Is it worth the time spent to write a procedural lesson plan in which each step is delineated for all teachers in a system? Is it worth the time of the supervisor, to read lesson plans that are so brief that they list the content, the work required, and the assessment, even if a successful teacher? What is the purpose of lesson plans?  Mapping the journey that students will be taking in order to achieve a goal or accountability?

Observations & Evaluations
Developing the capacity of faculty and staff is a central responsibility of school leaders. Many rely on 'professional development' for that, but it is not a solo answer.  Developing capacity involves regular feedback. Cultivating an environment in which these conversations are sought, valued, and effective is the leaders' role. Going through the observation/evaluation process is time consuming. Spending all the time it takes to schedule, observe, reflect, write up and have a conversation with teachers should be worth something. Yet often, the observation/evaluation process is treated as an accountability exercise. Supervisors struggle to get them done and teachers accept the findings, or not, and move on.  Except in extreme cases, where there is failure or danger involved, little or nothing changes. Where is the value of observations and evaluations?  Isn't it in developing capacity?

PowerPoints
This one is the clearest of all.  The birth of the PowerPoint and the software that followed allowed for average folks to create a visual presentation that could look professional. Embedding photos, illustrations, even videos became something that anyone could do. The opportunity arose for people to visually support their spoken word, aiding in the understanding of the audience.  A really good digital presentation has few words and good illustrations. A really good digital presentation cannot stand on it's own. Yet, what followed for students, teachers, and school leaders was the expectation that the presentation would be posted somewhere for memorialization and for access from those who may not have been in attendance at the presentation. Serving two purposes the potential of digital presentations is not met. The term "death by PowerPoint" comes from this misuse.  In this, we cannot blame technology for taking the place of the value of face-to-face conversations. It is a human choice to invite the technology to take the place of the person presenting the information.  Following that, words abound, some even read those words during the presentation, but the two purposes of the presentation software makes it so. Is a digital visual presentation meant to communicate information or to enhance and drive home the spoken word?

In the End
It may seem a good idea to make one action and responsibility meet the needs of many requirements. Lesson plans, observations/evaluations, and digital presentations are just three examples of how serving more than one purpose limits the value of the product.  In diminishing the value of an effort by using it for more than one purpose actually can result in the creation of more work. If reviewing lesson plans does not improve the quality of the lessons in the classroom, the effort is one of compliance. If the observation/evaluation process does not result in improved teaching and learning, the effort is one of compliance. If the presentation can stand on it's own, why did the presenter have to be there at all? 

Time is important. Most everyone feels like there is not enough. So it is understandable that one would try to meet several objectives with one effort. Step back and evaluate the effort these big time eaters take and determine their worth.  It is possible that the answer found can inform a shift in practice that can be more effective. Is what you are spending your time on resulting in the intended objective?  You may not be able to change the need for public presentations to be word heavy so they can stand on their own, but things like lesson planning, observations and evaluations can shift from only being time consuming to also being more effective. 

The purpose of lesson planning is mapping the course of action for students resulting in successful learning. The purpose of observing teachers is to improve teachers' capacity to create and offer rich and effective learning opportunities.  Improving the teaching and learning environment is a central responsibility. Holding those understandings as you enter each process and spend time can shift from time spent to meeting the intended outcome of the work. Students will be the beneficiaries. Who wouldn't want that?

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email

Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

 

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