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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lesson Planning for Leaders

Lesson Planning for Leaders

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

A few mornings ago, I noticed my wife’s lesson-planning book sitting atop the table in our breakfast nook.  She uses it at the Indiana State University Early Childhood Education Center.  I smiled nostalgically as I remembered the last time I used one about 20 years ago as a classroom teacher, then thought, Why didn’t I ever use one as principal or superintendent?  

Pondering how leaders could begin with the end in mind, as Covey (1989) reminded us from those highly effective, I thought of how a school principal might take the Standards and Standard Elements of the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) and work backward toward ensuring “coverage” of each during his or her leadership in any given school year. 

Turning my mind a bit further, I imagined how vertical articulation of leadership content could be delivered as a school’s organizational culture progresses developmentally through any planned program of a leader’s tenure.  A leadership curriculum, it would be.

I then I thought: Is our leadership Standards-based?  Do we use backwards design?  Do we even have a curriculum or lesson planning, per say?

Said other ways …

Do we move from the outcomes we desire, through next the framework upon which our decisions are suspended, and finally to the actions we take to reach those outcomes? 

Do we perform gap analyses or use pacing guides, even figuratively? 

Do we evaluate the intentionality of our leadership with respect to scope and sequence of what others can handle in followership?

Or … do we simply go to work and deal with urgencies?

I then wanted to examine the logic of my thinking, so in order to evaluate commonalities in teaching and leadership, I pulled from Domain 1 of Dr. Robert Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching Framework’s Learning Map (2011, 2010).  I noticed quite-the overlap. 

Take for instance the Design Questions from Domain 1, “Classroom Strategies and Behaviors”:

Design Question 1:  What will I do to establish and communication learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?
Design Question 2: What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
Design Question 3:  What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
Design Question 4:  What will I do to help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?
Design Question 5: What will I do to engage students?
Design Question 6:  What will I do to establish and maintain classroom rules and procedures?
Design Question 7:  What will I do to recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?
Design Question 8: What will I do to establish and maintain effective relationships with students?
Design Question 9: What will I do to communicate high expectations for all students?  (Marzano, 2011, 2010)

Consider a quick substitution of “staff” for “students” and “school” for “classroom,” in each question above.  Our better leaders ask these questions of themselves. 

So how does lesson planning for leaders fit in? As important, What’s left out of leadership if lesson planning is absent?  My guess is that it would be prudent forethought … as well as depth.

Broadening the panorama, I will go so far as to suggest that a bonafide leadership curriculum is necessary to help any principal span the gamut between professional standards as written and daily actions as required? 

Who would write such a curriculum? 

Leadership Teams? 
Boards of Education?  
College Professors?  

Let’s measure twice before we cut once on that one.

I have often suggested to K-12 leaders that we take time to THINK each day.  Would this “thinking,” let’s say with a lesson plan book in our Sunday armchairs, help us better to craft what we do to move a school forward?

In conferring with colleague Dr. Steve Gruenert on the need for lesson planning in leadership, he extended my thoughts as he typically does, noting, “Pastors use bibles, coaches use playbooks, the military uses the most current intelligence, parents go by intuition. Perhaps educators ought to use all four.”  

Dr. Gruenert also noted that leaders might best separate the leadership curriculum guide from the to-do list, as oftentimes, our to-do list becomes mistaken for the playbook.  He’s got a point.

I wonder how it would be received if I asked principals enrolled in my graduate classes to purchase lesson-planning books as part of their required course materials. 

Might be a learned experience, putting them to good use.


Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people.  New York, NY: Free Press.

Marzano, R. (2011). Marzano art and science of teaching framework learning map. LearningSciencesInternational Learning and Performance Management.  Retrieved at

Marzano, R. (2010). An observational protocol based on “the art and science of teaching”. Englewood, CO: Marzano Research Laboratory.


Dr. Ryan Donlan would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, reflections, and intended actions regarding lesson planning in leadership.  Please feel free to contact him at anytime at (812) 237-8624 or at

1 comment:

  1. I use a planbook! We have you remember the domains? I even completed a RISE portfolio last year. I feel like that is our planbook. Enjoyed the article! People (urgencies) by day...paper by night...