What If We Changed Our “Supply Plan” Message?

Last week was a very strange week of school for me, as I was at the Board Office doing presentations on three of the days. With our unexpected Snow Day, I was really only teaching for one day. I’m fortunate to work with an amazing partner, and I had the same terrific supply teacher in on all of the days that I was away. It’s still hard not to be in the classroom though. Not only did I miss seeing and working with the students, but I felt disconnected from what they were learning. Every day, my partner and I document a lot of the learning through photographs and videos that we share on our class blog. We use this documentation to identify students’ strengths and needs and to plan for next steps. While we often discuss long-term plans/goals, our plans change regularly based on these daily observations and conversations, and I missed being a part of this last week. 

This is why I was so excited when I came into class on Monday morning and saw this video recording.

(Please note that there was actually more to the original recording, but I edited some of the talking out in order to avoid sharing student names in the Instagram post.) Not only did the entire video show me how the children interacted with each other (Social Skills), but also how they took on different character roles (Drama). I was able to think about how we might be able to extend this interest and bring in more literacy connections (Language), as well as some teachable points related to character development and role play (Drama). 

While my brain was buzzing with possibilities, I noticed that Donna Fry commented on the post.

Screenshot 2016-03-08 at 19.32.56

Her comment got me thinking even more. For the past three years, I’ve always left an iPad for my supply teachers, and asked/encouraged them to take photographs and videos of student learning. I still remember a supply teacher that I had when I taught Grade 5. She would regularly tweet me photographs of what the students were doing and learning. She even signed up for a Twitter account after coming in to supply teach for me, so that she could more easily share this student learning. I loved her willingness to share, and the fact that I could so easily plan for the next day based on my observations of the student work that she tweeted. 

I think there’s something to be said for what Donna is suggesting in her comment. Does this need to be done digitally? No. Maybe it’s through notes written down based on conversations throughout the day. Maybe it’s through completed work samples. Or maybe it’s done through a recorded conversation or a short video of the learning in progress. But when we ask supply teachers to “share insight into student learning,” do we raise the value of the work that we leave for them, and do we give a different impression to students and teachers about why this work matters? I think we do, and even speaking personally, I think we need to do this more often. What do you think? Maybe it’s time to reconsider supply plans if we haven’t done so already. 


6 thoughts on “What If We Changed Our “Supply Plan” Message?

  1. Aviva,

    It sounds like you have had some great supply teachers who have taken the time to get to know your students and the routines you have established in your classroom.

    I think that asking supply teachers to document and record learning is great and in FDK it might be a little easier given that their is another adult that knows how things are usually done. I did not have much success leaving an iPod for supply teachers to use to document learning in my room last year, even when I had a few responsible students who could help guide the process.

    I think that as classroom teachers we have a responsibility to our students to help the supply understand them as learners. Leaving details about our classroom routines and expectations is one level, but info about each child takes it one step further. Ultimately it makes their job easier. So if it is in the form or notes about each child, or in a video, the goals is the same – see them as individuals and help them have a successful day at school.


    • Thanks Sarah for your comment! You make an excellent point here about helping the supply teacher understand the students as learners. Most people laugh at my supply plans, as they are quite long, but that’s why I arrange to email them to the teacher the night before. About four pages are dedicated to the students. I describe each child — strengths and needs — and some strategies that work. My supply teacher that was in last week mentioned to me that this was the most useful information. Then she knew how to support each child in the classroom, without feeling as though my partner had to do everything. On one day, we were both out presenting together, and with two supplies in the room, these notes mattered even more.

      I’d love to know how others let supply teachers know about their students and what they need to succeed. I never considered a video recording before. What an interesting thought. I wonder if others have used different approaches, and with success.

      I’m sorry to hear that the photograph/video option didn’t work very well last year for you. I will admit that this approach worked for me in some cases better than others. But I wonder if even a low-tech option could be used to share some observations on days when we’re away. Have others found a way/ways to make this work?


  2. I love it as a supply when I get the opportunity to document student learning for the teacher! It helps the students a lot as they realize that it is not a wasted day, but rather one that counts like any other. In the times where I have been able to do this, even often on my own device to share back to the teacher, the response has been quite positive. The students love to share what they’ve done and it helps, I find, with classroom management because it gives them a purpose for what they are doing.

    Your suggested approach to the guest teachers in your class, to me, feels welcoming and respectful, treating us as the professionals that we are and as part of the team or classroom community. I am not in your board, but I would love to cover for a teacher who treats occasional teachers the way you do.

    • Thanks for the comment, Melanie! I really appreciate getting an occasional teacher’s perspective, for as I speak about preferences, I’m only sharing from my own point of view. I think it’s wonderful how you try to leave an insight into the learning, and this is something I would definitely appreciate. Is there something that you think teachers could do to make this easier or support you with this task? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


  3. I think there are lots of things that teachers can do to help empower occasional teachers to document learning, although I will be first to admit that some of the equation comes down to the particular occasional and their comfort and skill level. Documenting the learning of students I just met is a skill that has taken me time to develop, and I still do a better job when it is a class that I have been in before. And I will be first to admit that how well I do with that is still pretty inconsistent. Here is a short list of ideas of how to make it easier:

    Leave authentic, student-centred learning tasks for at least some of the day. It is hard to document when you have to lead a full-group activity (unless you are somehow recording student input).

    Give the same types of activities that the students would do with you. Often occasional teachers are left with worksheets or textbook and answer type lessons. If this is not how things usually work, kids will write it off as not important and then there will often be many management issues to deal with. I circulate during this time and make note of how students are doing to the fullest extent possible, but these observations, while still somewhat informative, don’t come close to the type of documentation that can be done when you can have meaningful one-to-one interactions with students that go beyond prompting kids to return to task.

    Make sure that tasks given match the ability level of students. If I have to scramble to try to come up with a way to accommodate/differentiate on the spot with little preparation because little Johnny never does the work of everyone else and is completely at a loss and nobody told me, I can not document student learning. At that point, it’s survival mode. This is also true if little Susie finds the work easy and is done in about 30 seconds, especially if Susie needs a lot of attention.

    It is very nice to have the plan the night before where that is possible or to have time between when I get the plan and when I have to teach it. If I can internalize it and make it my own, I have more creative energy to expend on documentation. If I don’t have that time, then I constantly have to refer back to the plan and it takes away from time with students as well as documentation time. To this end, it also helps to know how much flexibility there is with the plan and which tasks are less essential/what the most important understandings the teacher wants their students to have. Plans that include routines and expectations in detail and information about students (especially the key players) are ideal.

    Honestly, I think you are on the right track. If there is something in particular you want documented or if you want something documented a particular way, leave instructions and the necessary tools, but otherwise, just setting an occasional teacher up to be successful can go a long way. I know that I do my best work when I am welcomed, made to feel like an important part of the team/community, and shown respect and appreciation for the work that I do. Really, I think that’s true of anybody. By asking an occasional teacher to share insight on student learning, you are signalling to them that they are welcome and a valuable member of the team/community. I would expect that most of your occasional teachers will rise to the occasion.

    • Thank you so much, Melanie, for such a detailed answer. This all makes so much sense. I must say, it’s clear from this response that you also care about kids and know what they need to succeed. I think that students are very lucky to have you as their teacher, and as an occasional teacher, there’s no doubt that you positively impact on many students!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *