Can Lesson Plans Be Collected?

Q: My principal tells us she wants to start collecting lesson plans routinely. Can she do that? What are my rights and my obligations when it comes to lesson plans?

A: Some recent news reports about lesson plans may have given your principal the wrong idea. The chancellor said he would like to negotiate a change in our contract to permit principals to collect lesson plans routinely (reversing a provision we won in 1991), but no such change can be made unilaterally — either by your principal or anyone at the Board of Education.

So what is all the fuss about? Proper planning is a key element in the successful completion of any important task. This is especially true in the education of students. The UFT has always recognized that. That’s why lesson plans are important.

The best way to answer your question is to look at the history of how lesson plans have been viewed. During the 1990-1991 school year, after intense discussions with the union, Chancellor Joseph Fernandez issued Special Circular No. 28, setting out his new policy on lesson plans. Prior to that time, supervisors routinely collected lesson plans, but rarely was any educational feedback given to teachers. In fact, often when plans were collected they were not even read but were returned to the teacher with nothing but the supervisor’s signature or initials on them.

Because this process doesn’t improve education, Special Circular No. 28 prohibits the "mechanical, ritualized collection of lesson plans." The circular stresses that "lesson plans are for the personal use of the teacher." It discusses the educational value of lesson plans and refers to planning as a "collaborative effort among supervisors and teachers." It also states that "as part of that process teachers may be encouraged to share and coordinate lesson planning."

The circular also states that "The development of lesson plans by and for the use of the teacher is a professional responsibility vital to effective teaching. The organization, format, notation and other physical aspects of the lesson plan are appropriately within the discretion of each teacher. A principal or supervisor may suggest, but not require, a particular format or organization, except as part of a program to improve deficiencies of teachers who receive U-ratings or formal warnings."

This language may look familiar since the board and the union incorporated it into Article 8E of the teachers contract.

However, there is more to the board’s policy on lesson plans than the contractual language. A 1999 Arbitration Consent Award (which in this case sets a precedent) states that "Special Circular 28 implements that policy by discussing the purpose, format, organization and collection of lesson plans."

The circular clarifies what a formal warning is, giving the example of a letter for a teacher’s file that "articulates a deficiency in the planning aspect of instruction."

It also states: "Supervisors may, as part of a program to evaluate and improve instruction (emphasis added), request an individual teacher to indicate his or her planning strategies and how those strategies involve coordination of curriculum, student progress and outcomes (for example, as part of a conference prior to or following a formal observation)."

The bottom line is that teachers must plan in ways that will help them help their students and that supervisors may review those plans (not in a ritualized or mechanical way) as part of a program to improve instruction with a specific educational purpose. The goal of lesson planning is improved "instructional outcomes."

If your supervisor tells you to submit plans in a way that you believe violates these terms, speak to your chapter leader.