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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.
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!