Time.

Wednesday I introduced the concept of professional learning communities with my staff. They were a gracious audience, but when it came time for feedback, one thing rang loud and clear: We don’t have time to meet collaboratively. We need the only 30-40 minutes of prep time that is scheduled each day for our own use. I have mixed reactions about that- I believe that collaboration with colleagues will only strengthen students’ learning experiences, but “prep time” has become such a coveted luxury in many schools that the thought of being asked or directed to work with colleagues during that time sometimes leaves a sour taste in the mouths of teachers.

Last year we made major changes our master schedule. My goal was to provide time for teachers to collaborate during specials, so we designed the schedule to accommodate this. For the first time ever, teachers had their prep time at the same time slot as their other two grade level colleagues. Joy! How nice it would be for them to choose a classroom, bring their materials/laptops, and sit down for 30 minutes of productive collaboration.

Ha.

Turns out, you can’t simply invite teachers to collaborate and expect miracles to happen. Despite the conditions, teachers stil used that time to themselves. As a former teacher, I know what I did during my prep time. I checked email. I graded papers (simple work, not scoring essays with a writing rubric, which required thought and time, so I did it at home). I walked to the faculty room and got a snack. Or a drink. I popped in to the office to check my mail. I walked up and down the hall a few times. I called my husband on my cell phone. I popped my head into my colleague’s room next door to compare notes on a certain student’s behavior. Why does he always forget to bring his binder to science class? And that was pretty much the end of my prep period.

Time to myself that was a bit relaxing? Sure. Productive? Not usually.

I wonder how productive we are during our prep periods, and if time spent collaborating would be more productive for the sake of STUDENT LEARNING?

Turns out there are 6 key types of time which we need. This blog post by Ali Hale was shared via Twitter and caught the attention of many: 6 Types of Time. Her post describes the six types:

  • Creative and productive
  • Physically energetic and active
  • Playful and entertaining
  • Learning and developing
  • Reflective and spiritual
  • Restful and relaxing

and then goes on to explain that we need to identify which types of time to which we are devoting the most waking minutes of our life and to find the right balance to ensure our happiness and utmost productivity.

During collaborative team time, I want my teachers to be “learning and developing,” not “restful and relaxing.” It is work, after all. Our team decided to dive head first into creative and productive time to develop some other viable options.

In a K-6 schedule, this is tricky. My two support specialists and I have offered to take over a grade level of students (three classes each) for 45 minutes at the end of the day, every 4-5 weeks, to allow for grade level team collaboration. We will either present lessons that the teachers have prepared or bring the group together for an enrichment/hands-on activity that meets a student learning objective. I am thrilled at the idea of spending time teaching in the classroom! Scheduling is going to be a bear. Also my wise husband pointed out, “But won’t you want to be present at their team meetings?” So we still have a few kinks to work out there. I have instructional coaches at each grade level who are willing to “lead the charge” with collaboratively planning. They seem open to the idea that there are meeting norms and agendas to be followed, and they will be reporting meeting minutes in a log format. Last year I brought in subs for 1/2 day slots so each grade level could meet to work out some math grouping plans. That worked well, but as is everywhere, funds are tight this year, and I am not sure my prof. development budget would last me through a half-year of subs on a more regular basis.

I am reaching out to you for other ideas about how to build collaborative team time into a K-6 schedule.

When I hear people say, “We don’t have enough time,” I think of this quote:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

It’s not how much time we have that determines our productivity, it’s what we DO with the minutes we’re given. And last time I checked, we were all given 1,440 of those per day. Choose wisely!

3 Replies to “Time.”

  1. Let me start by saying that I am both in a PLC and an active union member (local president and long time negotiator). I believe in collaborating with my colleagues and treat prep time as MY time. (I’ve negotiated long and hard to keep it that way). These two things may seem irreconcilable but here is my story of how we are making it work.

    Last year (08-09), my district tried to institute Small Learning Communities of students centered around PLCs. They scheduled common planning time and told us how to use it. They put us into teams composed of who are considered some of the best teachers in the district. As teachers, we had input but the ultimate decision rested with the administrator. The whole thing failed miserably. The teams were dissolved by November and it was back to business as usual.

    There were a number of reasons why this happened. First, people need that down time during the day. Grading multiple choice papers, running an errand to the main office, making photocopies, or even just going to the bathroom may not be the most productive but they all need to be done. When people only have 1 prep and 30 minutes of planning, even a bathroom run can derail the whole common planning period. Second, we were told who our team members were. This was a recipe for disaster. If two people on the team disagree on a regular basis because they have different perspectives, philosophies, whatever, then the whole planning period is wasted and the team becomes disenfranchised. Talk all you want about professionalism, it just invites trouble. Finally, and this is most important, we had nothing to talk about. We all had a curriculum to follow. We all knew what we were doing already and there was very little room for creativity. Why waste my time meeting a group of people (Point 2) when I had my work / things to do (point 1)?

    In the lead up to 08=09, we had extensive PD on PLCs and I and my colleagues really did believe in it. It was the concept that was the problem but the execution. After it collapsed, we continued to talk about the concept and in February 09, we presented our ideas to the Superintendent. What it really boiled down to was this: We teachers are at the forefront. We work with the kids directly and know the challenges most acutely. Therefore, we make the decisions and everyone else (principals, guidance, APs, supervisors) works FOR us, the teachers. It is a sea change in perspective. A number of our Administrators HATE it but the principal and superintendent are supportive and so we are seeing some success.

    In ‘09-’10, The PLC (we’re the only one currently in district) makes the majority of the decisions. We make the schedule internally, guidance plays very little role and that schedule changes weekly to meet our planning needs. Much to the chagrin of our department heads, We have more or less thrown out the curriculum and moved towards constructivist, project based learning. On benchmark testing, most of our kids outperform the rest of the school. This has made common planning time relevant. We now have mountains of interesting, engaging, and fun things to talk about all focused around student engagement and success. There are days when we’re on campus well passed dismissal because we are so into what we are doing. One thing that makes collaboration easier is that we are all in the same room teaching. It is a 3500square foot space with 1-1 computing. This allows us to work together and use our prep time as we see fit.

    We are only 3 months in to this little experiment but it has been a wonderful experience thus far. I do not how relevant my high school PLC model will be for you but hopefully I have provided you some insight. The only advice that I can really give is to start small and let your teachers figure it out. You will be surprised at the creativity and original ideas that come from the process. Hopefully the experience will be as rewarding to them as it is for me.

  2. How is your school’s organization chart drawn?

    What would happen if you put your students at the top, with those who come in most contact with them immediately below?

    This approach radically changed my perspective.

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