#FutureFriday: 3 Tips that Turn Teachers into Lesson Plan Pros!

In today's #FutureFriday, Tre shares three tech-tips that can help school leaders make lesson planning a more collaborative, innovative, and data-driven endeavor for teachers!

3 Tips that Turn Teachers into Lesson Plan Pros!

Today on #FutureFriday I’m going to walk a tightrope a little, because one of the most effective things we can do to support teachers is to get out of their way! But our essential question of the day is, can we help our staff be more effective lesson planners without piling more on their plates? For most schools, the answer is YES.

Since #FutureFriday is a technology show, here are three helpful tech tips to help you develop a team of lesson planning prodigies. 

PS – if you like any of these tips and want to learn more about them, we have a free recorded webinar I did which digs into these topics in more depth. You can watch it here for free!

But now, to our tips of the day! 


Tip 1: Baking the Perfect Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

It was almost a decade ago when I visited a school for the first time as an edtech professional, and their district brought me in to modernize their planning process with a cloud-based lesson planning program.

Before I even started, one teacher made a beeline for me, pulled me aside and said:

“Son I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and I don’t need to write down my lesson plans, so I won’t be participating today.”

It stunned me a little then, but ten years and a few hundred schools later...I get it. If you can bake the perfect strawberry rhubarb pie from experience and improvisation, there’s no need to keep writing the recipe down.

But if a first-year teacher down the hall or in the next school over is trying to figure out where to start with a recipe for a strawberry rhubarb pie, this is one of the places technology can bridge a meaningful gap.

krulwich.pngThis week I was reading a piece from a principal named David Krulwich who co-authored the “The Artisan Teaching Model for Instructional Leadership” – who say that new teachers are too often left to fend for themselves, without the benefit of an artisan-apprenticeship relationship.

This is obviously a human endeavor, but tech can help! One example is that Lesson Plan sharing online can be incredibly beneficial within your school or district. So, if I’m a first-year teacher and my master teacher Mrs. Rhubarb has allowed me to connect to her Lesson Planner, I can search by a keyword like “Homophones” and it’ll let me have a glimpse at her wonderful past work on homophones.

And, because she’s in my district, I can be fairly confident its well-aligned to the curriculum.

So this is also great for Mrs. Rhubarb, because if she gets over the hump and gets her plans online just the first time, she doesn’t have to write and rewrite her plan every year, she can just recall that plan and repost it.

Bonus Tip: Pie for Everyone!

So that’s a teacher-to-teacher example, but let’s say that Mrs. Rhubarb has collected a bunch of great resources over the years, like videos or project rubrics or assessments she’s written. You have an outstanding opportunity now to amplify that content which is now on a digital platform, by mapping it to the curriculum or standards.  I covered this topic in the last FutureFriday, check that out if you haven’t seen it! 

Tip 2: Data Like Silk, Not Like Sandpaper

No teacher in the world got into education to spend time with spreadsheets instead of students, and yet, we know that data can guide us as we plan curriculum or daily plans.

So what we want to do is infuse “low-friction data” into the lesson planning process. I like to say that we want data to be like silk, not sandpaper. Unfortunately the Sandpaper approach is what dominates right now - giving teachers spreadsheets or unintelligible diagrams, often too late to make any meaningful difference, and expecting that to guide their instruction.

If I have to spend my time figuring out what the heck the data means, that’s too much friction. 

So here’s a two-step process, that takes a little commitment, but can turn your sandpaper into silk, from a lesson planning perspective. 

One – we have to be using a digital library of standards that EVERYONE shares. Ideally, its part of your lesson planning program like OnCourse, but being digital here is a good start. Rather than having everyone with their own little siloed copy of the standards, getting everyone to share a master copy has some really amazing benefits. It can act like the spinal cord sitting at the center of the nervous system, of all the activity going on around the school as we develop units of instruction, or collect resources, or design assessments, they all connect back to our master set of standards.

Step 2 – whoever it is that’s look at your data THE MOST (if you have an analyst or coach or principal) must be trained to capture their insights as they come and info them into our new nervous system.

powerstandards.pngFor example: “Oh man – 5th graders in our last benchmark test really struggled with Written Expression.” At that exact instance, they will then pop open their Master Standards library and tag the 5th grade standard and leave a note to the 5th grade teachers.

Now, as teachers are planning instruction at home or wherever they are, and looking at standards, they can see hot spots that they can consider weaving into future lessons. No spreadsheets, no data warehouses. It's more of a signpost along the way to help them know where students are trending.

So this is infusing data INTO the lesson planning process, but what about getting great data FROM the planning process? I go into this in detail in the webinar, check out the link!

Tip 3: Finding Balance in the Innovation Equation

Once I heard a teacher describe lesson plans as a “straightjacket”. This is a huge bummer, and it's been tough out here with all the changes to evaluations and assessments and standards.

On the bright side though, I’m also delighted by all the innovation happening in the Maker movement, with redesigning student learning spaces, and student-directed learning, and there is incredible work being done in getting these new approaches aligned to meet our requisite standards. 

So as we experiment with what’s new, or tinker with what’s “tried and true”, we strive for balance, and technology can help on both sides of the equation.

Yes, you may be in a state or district where lesson plans are a lot about accountability, and getting them submitted online does makes this really efficient for our administrators.

But, hopefully the increased transparency of being digial also helps school leaders to anticipate innovative practices happening in the classroom, so that they can celebrate and elevate great work teachers are doing, and offer constructive feedback and support. I talked about “Creating a Culture of Innovation” in our last FutureFriday about Future Readiness.

Here’s another one: planning in something like OnCourse online is great for consistency, because you can publish a common template to all teachers if that’s your cup of tea.

This also needs to be balanced, because I’ve seen some schools go a little overboard with the complexity of the template – and that’s where we get the Straightjacket effect. So if your school culture is conducive to some collaboration on working with teachers to find the sweet spot for the planning template, this could be beneficial for building consensus. 

So there’s a few quick tips for you! Thanks for watching, have a happy and safe 4th of July.