The Teacher as The Planner

December 28, 2007 at 2:43 am 7 comments

Cartoon flowchartTeachers are planners. This is the essential role of successful teaching. Before all else, the teacher must develops a “flight plan.” Like any good flight plan, it must lay out a destination and the path to that destination. Of course, the pilot has to know when she has reached that destination. A well conceived plan is fundamental to a successful learning experience. Without a good flight plan, the inexperienced teacher crashes. Then they must pick themselves up and go on to the next flight. Each crash helps the teacher get closer to better plans. The beginning teacher first becomes a manager and then a planner. As any veteran teacher will admit, crashes lead to successes; successes, to experience; and experience lead to the happy veteran teacher.

Planning is preparing a course of action to achieve specific objectives. There are three levels of planning. The curriculum is planning over a year or years of learning experiences. It is the overall course of action within a district or a school or a classroom for an extended period of time. On the next level is the unit. The unit is a section of the curriculum that deals with related material. The unit usually is designed to last for weeks or days. The practical working level of a unit is the daily lesson plan. It is the course of action for the day.


The school curriculum is a long-term plan of action. It is the combined total of what a student should learn and when he should learn it. Well developed curriculum have two dimensions each composed of two elements. Curricula are horizontal, referring to what aspects are needed to be addressed within a level (2nd grade), and vertical, meaning what students should be learning from one grade level to the next (reading, science, etc). Both of these dimensions involve scope, what is to be taught, and sequence, the order it is to be taught in.

In some schools, specialists in curriculum develop the curriculum. In other schools, committees made of teachers, parents, and students develop the curriculum. Unfortunately many curriculum become dust catchers. Effective curriculum are “living” instruments, that is, it is in a constant state of flux. Teachers and specialists work together to respond to changes in student learning styles, creative approaches and new materials. These working curriculum are functional. Teachers are able to use the curriculum to aid in their planning and use their planning to improve the curriculum. It is a vital tool that is in a state of constant revision. Far too many schools have showcase curricula.

NCLB has created a new challenge to school curriculum. State standards have been a mainstay in Education for the past twenty years. Schools have wasted many resources (time, money and energy) to develop curriculum to meet the state mandates. After a few years of one set of requirements, the “powers-to-be” create a new design and establish a new deadline to meet the new standard. The curriculum now is guided by the “standardized test” mandates. It is a living instrument in a constant of flux but no longer driven by the needs of the pupils but rather by the mandates of tests, politics and finger pointing.


Teachers’ involvement most often begins at the unit phase of planning. Units are just that, they are units of the curriculum that teachers can work with. These manageable blocks of a curriculum can be adapted for lessons taught over a segment of time, weeks or months. A unit might be Multiplication or The Cell. Teachers often assign catchy names to their units: The Power Plays (study of energy transformations in the cell) or Slope But No Slide (Unit that studies graphing). Experienced teachers often use two types of units: the resource unit and the working unit.

Resource units are storage folders or boxes or cabinets that contain resource materials for units. For example, a third grade class might have four science units- plants, animals, sounds, and colors. The teacher would then have four resource units set up to store materials, ideas, pictures, worksheets, etc. The management and learner roles of a teacher play a factor here. Teachers are always looking for new ideas for material that they teach. A file system to store these ideas is necessary so that the teacher can pull the file once in a while and develop revised unit plans.

Revision serves two purposes. First, it helps keep the learning process alive and active. Teachers are constantly looking for a better way to teach something. When a unit is completed, the teacher evaluates the unit and tries to improve or strengthen those areas that need revision. As teachers grow professional, they discover new approaches to try. The second purpose for revision is simply an avoidance of “burn out.” There are many factors that affect teacher “burn out.” One of these is the “rut factor.” Teachers are inundated by a myriad of tasks, duties and other demands. It is far too easy to let the primary job of the teacher take a back seat to other involvements. Teachers who try new methods, new ideas and new approaches tend to be more satisfied and happier in their capacity as a teacher. There is no scientific study that this writer can quote, it is a personal belief. Teaching is an active experience that needs constant new adventures for both student and teacher. It emphasizes the learner in both students and teachers. It maintains an excitement to the adventure of learning.

The working unit is the actual plan that will be implemented this year. It is a short-term plan that offers a direction for the daily classroom efforts. Units tend to play to the personality of the teacher. Prepared units always need to be adjusted to the individual teacher in order to work. Teachers are all different. Same as students are all different. Adjustments to anything are necessary. A teacher teaching a unit must decide the basics of “what, how and when.” WHAT are students expected to learn? HOW are they going to go about learning it? WHEN will they know they have learned it? Units require time to design but once designed properly, they can be easily and quickly revised. Again this is what separates the inexperienced teacher from the veteran. Veterans have units prepared. They just need to revise them occasional. The inexperienced teacher has to start from scratch. Developing good working units require several years of revision to get to a decent working unit. Once established, working units need occasional updating. The shell of the unit is used as a design for learning year after year.

WHAT are students expected to learn? In educational jargon, these are the objectives. In present terminology, standards and benchmarks are the buzzwords. Standards are broad outcomes of learning. The standards are used to develop specific objectives that can be implemented in the unit plan. A benchmark is what the standard outcome should result in terms of student accomplishment. A unit should contain the objectives that a teacher expects his students should accomplish. An objective contains two main parts: an action verb and an expectation. For example: A student will be able identify the four parts of a plant (stem, leaf, root and flower). “Identify” is the action verb. The teacher may qualify this by adding “on a diagram,” or “in a student-drawn diagram” or “on an actual plant.” These qualifiers are important when it comes to the When part. Well written objectives help in both the How and When aspects of the unit.

HOW are students going to learn these objectives? This is commonly referred to as methods. The method used by a teacher is often dictated by the objective. If a student is going to identify the parts of a plant from an actual plant, then he will need to handle the plant. Activities designed for the student to handle plants are called for in this unit. Activities are often synonymous with methods. There are some distinctions but for practical purposes here they are used the same. Will students socialize in groups to study this plant? Will a group grow a plant? Will an individual grow the plant? Will they do it in school or at home? Will this be a demonstration by the teacher or an individual student or a group of students? This is only the start of the questions. The list continues to grow. Again experience aids in the questions to be asked and answered. In developing the unit not only is the teacher deciding what needs to be learned but how it will be learned.

WHEN will students know they have accomplished the objective? Assessments are vital to allowing the student to recognize his completion of the objective. Assessments must be authentic, that is, they must fit the objective and the method. If a student has never seen a plant, the teacher cannot expect the student to name its part on a real plant. If a student is to accomplish an objective the assessment has to fit the objective. Criteria or assessment is sometimes included in the written objective. Students who are expected to learn basic addition facts in vertical columns should not be assessed using horizontal expressions. The assessment is designed for the student to recognize that he has achieved the objective. These assessments, of course, are used to evaluate a student and a unit.

The working unit is vital to the success of a teacher. Updating the elements of a unit are needed to maintain the unit as an effective teaching instrument. The three basic parts of a good teaching unit is the objectives, the methods (activities) and the assessments. Other things can be included, such as, a list of needed materials, technology needs (web sites and videos), worksheets to be used, tests or rubrics, bulletin board ideas, etc. The “other things” are organizational aspects of a unit that help to save the teacher time by all the needs of the unit in one place.


The lesson plan is a plan for the day. It is specific and time sensitive. Listed in the lesson plan is the objective, the activities and the assessment. The activities are the prime part of the plan. The activities should be laid out in sequence of their occurrence and the approximate time to complete the activity. Timing is a key to success. Inexperienced teachers point to this as a major problem. Lesson plans are too short or too long. It takes a few months for the new teacher to hone their skills at timing.

Daily lesson plans are the “bread and butter” of the teacher. A clearly stated objective will clarify the assessment. Well thought-out activities that develop the objective will lead to the assessment. The well-planned lesson reduces classroom management difficulties. The greatest difficulties arise in classrooms of the teacher who has not planner well. Students need direction. Students who are left to design their own plan will probably do just that.

The importance of daily lesson planning cannot be stressed enough. Any experienced teacher will tell the new teacher to plan out every minute of class time. Teachers do not have to be talking all the time or directing every activity. Students do need to be actively engaged in an activity designed by the teacher. Teachers need to be aware of what is happening in the classroom and why it is happening. This is referred to as control. Teachers who control their class are directing activities and children are not creating their own adventures unless this is the teachers’ activity. Loss of control (a classroom management issue) is often the result of poor planning and is probably the single most frustrating aspect of the teacher’s job.

In conclusion, a teacher who plans well will succeed. Inexperienced teachers find this the greatest challenge. Sound planning will only come with time. Teachers must plan curriculum, units and lesson plans. The majority of a teacher’s time is consumed by planning. With time, the teacher finds themselves planning in their mind as they eat dinner, watch TV, drive their car or as they fall asleep. Good plans equal good teachers. Creative planning equals effective teachers.


Entry filed under: Teachers.

The Teacher as a Learner The Teacher as the Assessor

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Beth  |  December 28, 2007 at 3:05 am

    If you include all your work related tasks, how many hours are you working?

    Do you think that it’s possible for teachers to achieve work-life balance? How?

  • 2. fm44  |  December 28, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    I am required by contract to be at school for 7 hours. During that 7 hours I have about 2 hours of “prep” time. The key to a “work-life balance” is using your “prep” time efficiently. I would say that my first five years of teaching, my school was no where near enough and I was using home time to complete tasks (planning, correcting, writing notes, etc). Five years is a good benchmark. After the five-year mark, teachers have enough confidence or experience to use time in school to complete most tasks. The problem in the post five year period is the “committee call.” This can be a killer. You must learn the magic word “NO.” In my last year of teaching, my wife told me that she was consideration a surrogate dinner mate. This is such a good question, I will add a blog post in the near future on time and teaching. Thank you for the question and the idea!!

  • 3. nokchameren  |  August 17, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    hey can you give me a reference of this topic I am totally confused

    • 4. fm44  |  August 18, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      You can also do a Google search on “Lesson Planning” and see what you come up with. I am not sure about your confusion. Planning is vital in almost any activity we do. We plan a trip to the store. We plan a vacation. We plan the courses we need to take in college. We plan a lesson to teach!

  • 5. Samuel  |  September 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    A man who teaches is a manufacturer of knowledge

    • 6. fm44  |  September 19, 2014 at 11:53 pm

      There definitely is a relationship between one who teaches and knowledge. I have a problem with the word “manufacturer”. I tend to think of the teacher as an explorer of knowledge. Knowledge is there to be discovered. I certainly can understand your use of the word but I am not sure if I ever created or made what is known. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  • 7. Unit 29. Teacher Roles | TKT Blended 2014  |  October 3, 2014 at 5:20 am

    […] Planner […]


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