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Making Time for Collaboration

October 5, 2018

The edusphere is abuzz these days about school schedules. You likely have seen articles about the need for high school students to begin school later in the morning. Another popular study focuses on teacher schedules–that is, the time teachers have to plan and collaborate compared to their classroom teaching hours.

According to a February 27, 2017 article in Education Week, “U.S. educators spend far more time teaching lessons and less time planning them than educators in other top-performing countries.” The report concludes that this discrepancy deprives teachers of benefits that come from observing other teachers, collaborating as teams, and doing individual planning.

At Gardner, homeroom teachers spend roughly 87% of their school-week teaching or actively supervising students. The rest of their time is deemed Prep Time, but this often is misnamed because these precious minutes are devoted to classroom chores, responding to email, or even attending to personal necessities. At times, prep periods are erased completely because of the need to cover for an absent teacher or deal with an emergent situation involving students.

In my view, we can do better. In many ways, our relatively small size and limited resources challenge our ability to improve this situation. Still, some changes have been put into effect this year; and we look forward to studying this matter further.

This year’s academic schedule was written with the objective of providing full-time teachers at least one prep period a day (among other objectives, of course). In the past, some teachers have had no preps on some days and then an abundance of preps on others. We sought to spread out prep periods more equitably over the week.

Another development focuses on our early-release Wednesday schedule. Rather than hold all-staff meetings every week, a new meeting calendar has been implemented that provides time for team meetings and opportunities for homeroom and specialist teachers to meet for planning and reflection. Each of these meetings is preceded by a 20-minute All-Staff Huddle, which provides a weekly opportunity for all of us to share with our community. A longer all-staff meeting occurs once a month. We also seek to use these meetings for professional development.

By revising the Wednesday meeting schedule, we have significantly diminished the need for meetings during the school day. Such meetings further reduced teacher prep/break time, and they often were not very effective because of time constraints (35 minutes) and the difficulty of scheduling around a variety of teacher schedules.

School-day meetings also limited my ability to be in classrooms, working with students and teachers. With this new meeting schedule, I’m in my office less and with students and teachers more. As such, this move has been an important part of the school’s focus on relationships this year, which I wrote about in a previous newsletter.

Teacher burnout and well-being also are on my mind–as it is on the minds of school leaders around the country. Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers in part because of the amount of work they have to bring home with them at night and over weekends. This situation hasn’t been helped by how email and texting have turned teaching into a 24/7 occupation.

But a more significant issue than burnout may be demoralization. The study I referred to earlier noted that the lack of collaborative time has resulted in increased feelings of isolation among teachers. The focus on improving teacher schedules and opportunities to collaborate is in large part motivated by a desire to improve how teachers enjoy their chosen profession.

Schedules are as much a pedagogical tool as a logistical one. How a school organizes its schedule largely determines how students learn and how teachers teach. A schedule can promote some learning and cultural values while limiting others. We will continue to study our schedule to ensure it is promoting our educational and cultural objectives for our students and enhances teacher collaboration and well-being.

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