Wichita school district, teachers union clash over lesson plans, in-service days

05/02/2012 5:00 AM

08/05/2014 7:39 PM

Representatives for the Wichita school district and the teachers union clashed Wednesday over elements of a contract proposal that would require teachers to keep written, detailed lesson plans.

They also debated the role of mandated professional development for teachers, which district officials said is crucial to student achievement and union leaders said is often irrelevant.

“We get a lot of concerns” about the amount and quality of professional development, said Keith Welty, negotiator for United Teachers of Wichita, which represents more than 3,000 teachers.

“The sense that it’s relevant has been dropping to the point now where we feel we really need to step in and do something. … Teachers need it to be better. Teachers want it to be better.”

The current teacher contract calls for 11 in-service days during the school year. On those days, students do not attend school and teachers are required to attend building-based or district-wide professional development programs.

The union has proposed eliminating four in-service days with no reduction in pay. It also has proposed a committee that would restructure how professional development is created and implemented, and that it be “based upon the needs and input of teachers.”

Mary Whiteside, the district’s director of personnel, said reducing professional development days “becomes concerning, because the only way that students will continue to learn is if we as professionals continue to learn.”

Whiteside also presented union leaders with examples Wednesday of lesson plans that would meet proposed requirements for more detailed lesson plans.

The district’s proposal would require written daily plans that at a minimum include: content objectives, literacy objectives, components of the district’s instructional model (for example, an opening, work time and closing) and references to pacing guides or standards.

Currently, lesson plans are “required only in sufficient detail to provide guidance to the teacher.” Teachers also must make lesson plans and any other teaching materials available to their principals upon request.

Randy Mousley, president-elect of the union, questioned the value of detailed written plans, saying many good teachers think through lessons beforehand but write only minimal notes in their plan books.

Tom Powell, attorney for the district, countered: “Most teachers probably do. Some teachers don’t.

“What we’re looking for is some standards,” Powell said.

Greg Jones, lead negotiator for the union, said some district initiatives such as Read Well, a new kindergarten literacy curriculum, are so scripted that they make lesson plans irrelevant.

“If downtown is wanting to take away the teachers’ ability to be creative and say, ‘Here’s what you must do,’ then management ought to have the standards and objectives and all that in place,” Jones said.

Whiteside, the personnel director, said the district’s proposal wouldn’t require a particular model or format for lesson plans.

“What we believe is that thought-out process. ‘What’s my objective – for that day, for that lesson, for that unit,’ ” she said. “I don’t know where the fear is in sharing what you’re doing for that day.”

Negotiations over the Wichita teachers’ contract, which would begin Aug. 1 if approved, are scheduled to resume next week.

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