‘Bad Dreams’ – Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson (Feed Me Remix)

I haven’t had to turn in lesson plans in 7 years. It never fails, however, that around this time every summer, I end up having a bad dream about school that involves me not having my lesson plans.

I know exactly where this comes from. Sometimes I wonder if some administrators put too much value in lesson plans. I don’t mean the planning; I really mean the well-worn parchment that, in my experience as an administrator, is somewhere among the mess of papers, forms, and sheets that are ACTUALLY important to the teacher. There’s no way that I’m going to discount the invaluable moments spent digesting standards and support documents, painstakingly collaborating with team members, and researching best strategies. That is truly where the magic happens. But the document that arrives out of all of that good, good work–meh.

I have learned to read between the lines for rich learning experiences, though. And the teachers that I have coached and led have been trained to articulate well in these documents that seek to guide instruction for a week at a time. I love looking at them, mostly, for times when I can pop in to classrooms to see either A.) something that seemed incredible in the plans, or B.) something that didn’t quite seem to be all there. Normally, when I do visit for the latter, I am met with understanding that just wasn’t best communicated in the plans. This just confirms my point that the plans are blah. Good teaching is good teaching, and it can’t be identified in a lesson plan.

Now before my fellow administrators kick me out of the club, I understand the purpose for lesson plans, just like there is purpose for any plan; it’s to serve as a road map for the actual trip–in hopes that the trip will go smoothly with no detours or flat tires. Well on the journey we call the classroom, detours and flat tires can pretty much be guaranteed in the form of misunderstanding and the need for reteaching. So yeah, that map? Toss it out the window, and prepare to go off-road if necessary!

In all seriousness, these plans are also highly important for accountability purposes. Administrators can’t be in classrooms all day (and this one really has a strong desire to be there). We’ve got to be able to see what teachers are teaching students and how they are doing it; and just like I mentioned before, we are interested in what is really awesome, and what needs just a little more clarification.

So I propose, for the sake of no bad dreams, teachers writing plans that work best for them–the ones delivering the instruction. I get a little twitchy when I hear that schools or districts are “mandating” a certain template or style when it comes to lesson plans. I totally understand requiring certain elements, in case a school or system is employing a certain framework or curriculum. However, it’s important that teachers are allowed to differentiate for themselves, just as we expect them to differentiate for their students. This is where creativity is given the room to blossom, and the planning actually flourishes. The planning is more important than the actual plan.

That being said, these masterful plans that are birthed from precious planning are not “done” when they are submitted on Monday morning at 8 am. They’ve got to allow room for those flat tires and detours, right?

My favorite thing to see as a coach and as an administrator is some highly-loved on plans–plans that have been annotated to death with different colored pens that have crossed out well-intentioned quizzes because the kids aren’t ready, drawn arrows from Tuesday’s small group session to Thursday’s, and scribbled Pete and Scarlett’s names down for reteaching on Friday. Those are plans that have heeded the GPS warning of “heavy traffic up ahead.” This doesn’t make me, as the teacher’s supervisor, concerned about their plans. This makes me so proud that they have understood the needs of even individual students, and placed them ahead of their menial sheet of paper. Literally, it make’s me pumped just thinking about it now!

So let me empower my teacher friends with a few tools for plans that may help create that road map to weekly wisdom. May you never have bad dreams.

EdPuzzle | This website allows teachers to craft personalized videos for their lessons. They can crop them so that unnecessary junk is deleted, and they can add in voice overs and notes with their own voices. Teachers can pull from resources like YouTube, Khan Academy, or TED Talks to enhance their students’ learning. An added bonus? It works seamlessly with Google Classroom.

InsertLearning | This one is similar to EdPuzzle, in that it allows teachers to personalize web content for a lesson. The difference is that it can be done to websites instead of videos. With this tool, teachers can literally insert varied types of questions, notes, and even videos into a website. This tool, also, can pair with Google Classroom.

PlanbookEDU | I’m a big fan of this site because it allows teachers to pick their preferred standards so that while using the software, they can bring up lesson standards right on the page without having to look in another document. It sets plans up more like a calendar, however, which is not really my taste. The next resource combines the user-friendliness of this site with what I feel is a more teacher-friendly template.

Planbook | I actually used this when I taught 5th grade and I loved it. Back then, though, there was no feature that would allow you to use pre-loaded standards. So now, I’m sure it’s amazing. Even more, it is set up to allow communication with administrators and students. Not gonna lie, I’m a little salty that I was early to the Planbook party back in 2010. Another great thing about Planbook is that teachers can color-code their subjects, which I know is a plus for us very organized, type-A creatures.

Chalk | Chalk is another tool similar to Planbook and PlanbookEDU, however it seems to have a lot more bells and whistles. It’s got extra perks like a gradebook and attendance log, which I feel might be a little overwhelming for teachers in districts that are using a schoolwide program like PowerTeacher. It is free, though, to individual teachers.

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