Wake Ed

Wake County teachers could get more directions on lesson planning

From left, Hilburn Academy sixth-grade teachers Don Goldberg, Michelle Bass and Lauren Boop discuss lesson plans in this 2012 file photo. The Wake County school board is considering changes to the policy on teacher lesson planning.
From left, Hilburn Academy sixth-grade teachers Don Goldberg, Michelle Bass and Lauren Boop discuss lesson plans in this 2012 file photo. The Wake County school board is considering changes to the policy on teacher lesson planning. ccampbell@newsobserver.com

Wake County teachers are likely about to get more direction in how to plan their lessons, including what to do when substitutes are covering their classes.

The Wake County school board’s policy committee backed an updated lesson planning policy on Tuesday. (I’ve uploaded a version that includes changes made during the meeting.)

School leaders say updates are needed because the current policy, which was last updated in 2007, doesn’t do enough to set “common expectations” for the district’s 10,000 teachers.

“We’re trying to strike a balance between setting expectations, providing guidance and ensuring flexibility,” Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for academic advancement, said in an interview. “If the policy doesn’t give you any guidance or structure or flexibility, then it’s not serving a purpose.”

One part of the updated policy that received extensive discussion Tuesday is the section dealing with having lesson plans ready for substitutes.

The current district policy doesn’t say much: “Teachers are required to prepare daily lesson plans and to have detailed plans available for substitutes.”

The revised version of the policy reviewed Tuesday says “teachers shall provide substitutes with sufficient lesson plans that will allow for the delivery of continued effective instruction.” It also says “teachers are required to have three days of emergency lesson plans.”

Moore told the committee that emergency lesson plans are meant to provide a bridge until a solution such as a permanent substitute can be found.

While three days might seem like an arbitrary number, Moore said it’s a practice in place already in many schools. But it does vary by school

For instance, Fuquay-Varina High School requires teachers to have three days of emergency lesson plans for every course they teach. But Garner High School only requires teachers to have one day’s worth of emergency lessons for each course.

When she was a principal, Moore said she required teachers to update their emergency lesson plans quarterly.

There was no disagreement from the committee about requiring three days of emergency lessons. The committee agreed Tuesday to also include the words that the three days of emergency lessons will be “available at all times.”

But some questions were raised Tuesday about the providing “sufficient lesson plans” portion. School board attorney Jonathan Blumberg said Wake can’t require teachers who are sick and are on sick leave to prepare lesson plans.

Based on Blumberg’s concerns, the committee inserted wording Tuesday about teachers providing sufficient lesson plans for subs “before taking planned leave.” The committee also flipped the sentence order to mention the emergency lesson plans before the sentence on planned leave.

In cases of planned leave, school leaders say teachers know they’ll be out and can draft up lesson plans for subs.

“It underscores the responsibility of teachers to continue instruction but doesn’t unfairly say, ‘You’re out and it’s unplanned and we’re now saying you shall have lesson plans that day,’” Blumberg said.

The revised policy also says that “upon request, teachers shall provide the principal with daily lesson plans.” It was revised from the September draft, which said “daily lesson plans should be accessible to the school principal at any time during the school day.”

There are several other items from the September draft that were revised or eliminated by the time the policy was presented Tuesday. Committee members had complained in September that the draft was too prescriptive.

Among the items that weren’t included in the new draft are requiring teachers to maintain lesson plans for one year, a list of factors for teachers to consider when drawing up lesson plans and the repeated used of the phrase “detailed lesson plans.”

“We have a much more focused and narrow document than we previously brought to you,” Nicole Priestly, senior director of elementary programs, told the committee on Tuesday.

Brian Kingsley, assistant superintendent for academics, said staff got the message from the September meeting about providing teachers and schools with greater flexibility while being less directive in the policy’s language. But at the same time, Kingsley said the new draft helps “set some common expectations” for teachers.

But the policy committee was also told Tuesday that some of the things dropped from the September draft may be included in a staff-developed R&P.

Staff also took the feedback from the September committee meeting about mentioning the strategic plan in the lesson planning policy. The new wording was modified by the committee on Tuesday to say “lesson planning should reflect the teaching and learning goals of the strategic plan.”

One other last-minute change made at the committee table Tuesday was to modify the policy to say that “it is the board’s goal to provide on average at least five hours of planning time per week.” The current policy talks about providing the five hours if there’s enough state funding available.

Moore told board members it’s not easy, particularly at elementary schools, to schedule the five hours a week. She said it’s gotten even more difficult as the number of teacher assistants has been reduced.

Overall, school board member Jim Martin said the tone of the October draft is more respectful to the professionalism of teachers than what was presented in September. Martin, chairman of the policy committee, cited the impact of making it a standalone sentence that five hours a week of planning is the board’s goal.

“I see that all as part of working at helping respect the profession of teaching,” Martin said in an interview.

The revised policy will go to the full board at an upcoming meeting.