Creating Time

For those who work in education, and like many other industries, there is just never enough time. A few months back, I was introduced to an article “K-!2 Innovation: It’s About Time“. The author was  2015, Texas Teachers of the Year, Shanna PeeplesAs part of the article she wrote,

“Some of the most innovative, creative and powerful lessons I’ve ever helped to design were created from collaborations with colleagues in a small group given time to really think through a lesson.”

This reminded me of occasions when I have seen teachers provided with time to meet, plan, prepare, deliver and evaluate learning for students. A number of them reflected it was the best professional learning they had undertaken as a teacher, and some commented that it was the most they had grown as an educator.


Finding Time

Image courtesy of Doug Belshaw on Flickr under Creative Commons


So, how can we find time for teachers to meet, plan, prepare, deliver and evaluate learning in the classrooms to produce powerful learning for students AND teachers? Well, I provide a few possibilities….

(Now, there are a lot of numbers about to be thrown at you, and I am not great with  numbers, but please hang in there with me!).

School “A” is a secondary school in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. In NSW, the regulatory authority mandates the minimum delivery of 400 hours of English, Mathematics, Science and HSIE (History, Society and its Environment) to students across Years 7 to 10. However, at School “A”, they deliver 520 Hours of English, Maths, Science and HSIE across Years 7 to 10. (As an aside, can anyone inform me where the ‘value add’ is between hour 401 and hour 520?) Anyway, the end result is a combined surplus of 480 hours (across the four subjects over four years); 120 hours per year. If School “A” was to reduce those 520 hours per subject to 480 hours per subject, still 80 surplus hours over the fours years, then they could ‘find’ 160 hours of ‘time’ per year. Wow!

Now, just to give you an idea of what can be done with 160 hours……. (and please, hang in there with me) School “A” allocates 40 hours less (ie. 120 hours) towards the delivery of an entire subject in Year 7; that being, Languages Other Than English (LOTE). Also, School “A” allocates 240 hours towards Music/Visual Arts in Year 7 & 8 over two school years. As per its timetable, 120 hours per year = 3 x 1 hours lessons per week. 160 hours over the course of a year would compute to 4 x 1 hour lessons per week, or in other terms 4/5ths of one school day per week. School “A” has just ‘created time’.

Maybe, just maybe, School “A” could reduce the mandatory hours for English, Maths, Science and HSIE and redirect that time in the form of 3 or 4 one hour blocks throughout the week where the students are supervised at ‘yard duty ratios’. Students could work on interest projects while the vast majority of teachers could meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate learning in teams. Students could access open spaces, indoor, outdoor and virtual and collaboratively work on interest projects. Such an idea would require support and guidance for students to ‘self-direct’ their interest projects but c’mon people, stick with me here – I am just throwing up ideas! Again, whilst students engage in these interest projects, the professional learning benefit would be that teachers meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate together to improve the quality and facilitation of learning throughout the rest of the school week. And what’s more, there is no financial cost to this. NONE! No financial cost for what many teachers consider excellent professional development. However, it does require a new way of thinking about how we use time in a secondary school setting.

School “B” is a two stream primary school. School “B” employs two casual teachers every second Thursday. Those casual teachers are employed to replace 2 x Year 5 teachers for the first half of the day and then replace Year 6 teachers for the second half of the day. This occurs for Term 1 and allows them to meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate students learning. In Term 2 the same for Year 3 & 4 teachers. In Term 3 for Year 1 & 2 teachers and in Term 4 Kindergarten teachers get a whole day to meet, plan, prepare and collaboratively evaluate together. (Look, my secondary background limits my thinking here, but I am sure the creativity of primary principals and teachers could come up with something a lot better). Cost = employment of 2 casual teachers, 2 x $400 per day ($800) x 4 times per term ($3200)  x 4 terms per year ($12 800) per year. What’s the cost of school based, contextual professional development for teachers when done well?

There is absolutely no doubt these and other similar ideas would require extensive consultation with staff, students and parents. And, I know there will inevitably be people loudly cry out, things like – say, in the case of School “A’”, “We won’t get through the content.” But Puuuhhlllleeeezzzze, when did any student suffer from “not getting through the content” in Year 7, 8, 9 or 10? And, please show me the research which proves this. In the case of School “B”, there may be those who might say, “That won’t work because…..” Well, I ask that we look at how it CAN work.

Looking ahead, I ask those educational leaders who can, to make bold decisions and ‘create time’ by ignoring the chorus of, “That won’t work because……” We need to roll our sleeves up and challenge the thinking as well as overcome obstacles which get in the way of ‘finding time’ or ‘make better use of time’. Shanghai, Singapore, and British Columbia understand the need to create time for teachers to collaborate. Hopefully, Australia will too one day soon. After all, it is in the best interests of student learning.



Please note this article “Get Time Right; Don’t settle for Vanilla+”. Maybe the ideas suggested above, and below in the comments section, are “Vanilla+”.

23 thoughts on “Creating Time

  1. The definition of madness we’ve heard many times over is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Some innovative models Greg – and I’m sure with some detail and commitment, both would work. Whether we are looking at the models in your example – or others, there is little doubt that (good use of) time is a crucial factor in value add PL. (Good use of time is another thread perhaps for another day). We can’t afford to cry (time) poor, throw our hands in the air and give up. Students need our attention now – from staff dedicated and empowered now.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Rob. Of course, you are one who walks the talk in ways that you have supported teachers to immerse themselves in the use of technology to improve pedagogy. Well done!

  2. So, the amazing Tim Ferris says:
    Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

    About mid-2015 I began a campaign to eliminate the use of the word ‘busy’ in the school I work in because I believe it is unproductive. Creating time is the complete antithesis of being ‘busy’.

    When I ask how you are, I don’t want to hear your ‘to do’ list. I want to know how you ARE, in your heart. When I ask about how your work is, I want to hear about the things you have achieved, not how many things you are trying to juggle all that the same time.

    I have a feeling that for some people, saying they’re busy makes them feel ‘important’ or ‘necessary’, when the reality is, if you tell me you’re busy I think of you as ‘disorganised’ and in much need of some mindfulness practice.

    We are all given the same 24 hours each day. How we choose to use them is up to us. I love the notion of creating time in schools. There should be more of it!

  3. Hi Greg – thought provoking for sure!

    There are probably several areas that could be looked at to create time, depending on the school. I can already hear the History teacher in me shout “noo!” At the thought of losing more time. But why?

    Is it that I feel we aren’t “getting through everything”? I always feel that way. What if I felt that way but also knew the time I did have was better used because I was learning how to have a greater impact during that time?

    If schools are to remain relevant as places of learning they will need to accomodate time For inspiration, wellbeing and growth. Not just along “academic” (by which we almost always mean content delivery & some skill development) paths but also in terms of our dedication of time to collaboration & creativity.

    Thanks for making me think!

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. As a committed teachers of history I can understand how my suggestion in a reduction of face to face hours would have run shivers down your spine. As you also understand, a less than 10% reduction in face to face in the example provided, would, I am sure, “have a greater impact during that (face to face) time”.

      Best wishes for the start of 2016.


  4. Hi Greg – Thank you for your post.

    I was fortunate enough many years ago to work for a principal who believed that we could change school culture and improve student learning by allowing teachers to work together to plan, discuss, learn and challenge each other. This was well before all the literature on professional capital and PLCs. We were a small school in Sydney’s West…very high NESB and very low SES. Literacy enhancement was our focus, and capacity building for teachers was a primary aim of our school-based pd.

    We started with whole-school pd, and a focus on Year 7 Literacy across the curriculum. That first year, all teachers of Year 7 were given one period release in the timetable, and teachers were timetabled on a Professional Learning Team once per fortnight in a group of 3 or 4 which included a specialist teacher. The specialist was NOT allowed to lead the group. The group had a loose agenda of 1. Literacy Teaching and Learning 2. Other Learning 3. Forward Planning. Minutes of meetings came back to the head of Curriculum and the Principal, who fed back to groups and used collated knowledge to share ideas and innovations across the wider school.

    Eventually, our literacy plan covered 7 – 12 and all teachers were in a PLT once per fortnight. The program lost a bit of focus with a change in principal, unfortunately, but the results were amazing. Staff retention went up. NAPLAN growth was the best in the diocese. HSC growth was also well above average. Such a powerful paradigm…letting teachers actually talk to each other about what they needed, what their students needed, how they could get there together.

    Another innovative approach the principal took was to utilise Saturdays. All interested staff attended two full Saturdays to complete a Literacy in the Middle Years course. No way we could have released 25 teachers at the same time on a school day, but teachers attending both Saturdays were able to then nominate two release days of their choice at any time across the year (with approval to ensure this didn’t impact on school staffing/events). Relational trust was awesome, school culture was great, staff felt valued and were so committed to their own learning and that of their students.

    Several years later, I applied for a promotion position at another school. The principal there had heard of our growth and asked me what were the contributing factors. I told him about the PLTs and the Saturdays with release. His response? “That seems like a waste of a resource.” His response made me quite happy – I knew then and there that I had no desire to work for him!

    Thanks Greg – best wishes for the new year!

    Kind regards, ‘

    1. Hi Denise,

      What an inspirational and innovative leader your principal was – a person before their time by the sounds of things. It sounds as those the resource of time was valued by everyone, trust was displayed, and many benefits flowed, including test results. Thanks for taking the time to write and share.

      Have a great 2016.


  5. We are preparing students for their future not our past! The vast majority of schools curriculum is based on an industrialised model from the early 1900’s. Since then the world and technology has dramatically changed, think Downton to now!
    The time has truely come to look at how education works and and make it relevant to our students again. It will take a huge shift in thinking and risk taking in schools, learning from each other. Having the time to try new ideas and evaluate their impact on student learning, should be a priority along with teacher professional development.
    Most secondary schools measure their success by their HSC results and improvements to these are the basis of their SIP, rather than looking at the long game of student achievement, and creating something sustainable for the future.
    It would be very interesting to see new models of learning working in schools, my question would be, does this require a new generation of educational leader? or do leaders already exist who are willing to really see outside their current box?

  6. Hi Greg,
    Tried to post before but didn’t save, so here is the abridged version.
    We need to rethink our views on the structure of education, the current model (which is used by most schools) has been around since the industrialised model of the 1900’s. The world has changed immensely since then, think Downton to now! The models in place look towards a one size fits all view, we know not all children are the same, so how can this model be relevant to all of them.
    Changing how “things have always been done” will always be hard and require huge amounts of PD and time to plan, creating a model which works in each context, which may not suit the school next door. However, time is that important factor, when we have time and create time for ourselves to plan great things can happen.
    Focusing on real sustainable change, rather than external results, for SIP’s would be a good place to start. We need to keep that all important fact in mind “we are preparing them for their future, not our past”.

    Happy new year Greg

      1. Hi Amanda,

        Thanks for taking the time to reply, and more than once, too! It is a great question you pose…..”does this require a new generation of educational leader? or do leaders already exist who are willing to really see outside their current box?” I actually think that current leaders have it in them with the knowledge and ideas of how to better use time. However, the changes to using time differently will require much conversation with teachers and, in particular parents.

        See you throughout 2016.

  7. Hi Greg Happy new year to you. Creating time for the development of collaborative teams requires us to think way outside the Square. Here r some strategies we are trying.

    1. Staff meetings are now labeled as Professional learning meetings that are not tied to admin discussions. All Admin issues are shared via Email. This year we r planning to use Google Drive to share information. Four meetings a month are linked to a) PL year level based professional conversations planning, teaching and assessment. b) PL meeting around stage levels – discussions focus on literacy and numeracy continuum. c) PL meeting is a whole staff focus around knowing the new syllabus and sharing programs etc. d) PL meetings are focused on using the standards goal setting per year level. At week 5 staff present their journey to staff and at week 9 or 10 year level staff present their findings to the whole school. The staff have a whole school focus with Mathematics for 2016 focus. We r also thinking of inviting school council members and P&if to these sessions.

    We also use staffing CPLC of .4 to release staff in teams to visit other year levels to observe student engagement.

    Finally we provide our staff with a two hour block each week for planning assessing and reporting together. We are a three stream school so a team of three teachers provide the release.

    Greg the other change we made is that we moved from 21 separate classroom budgets to 7. All teachers in their year levels need to talk about resources and PD together and utilize their budgets. What ever decisions they make the teachers at the end of the day r responsible for ensuring the resources are appropriate to the student needs. Approval of resources or buying in of relief staff must have all three signatures of the year level teachers. The school bursar provides a spread sheet for the 7 year levels.

    We believe that every second counts for student learning. So creating time in an overcrowded curriculum in a contemporary era of schooling means we need to be creative critical thinkers and reflective at all times. Best wishes for the year David
    Ps happy to share templates etc with others

    1. Hello David,

      Happy New Year to you. Some great ideas here. All evidence that you see the priority of, “creating time in an overcrowded curriculum in a contemporary era of schooling means we need to be creative critical thinkers and reflective at all times.”

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Best Wishes for 2016 .


  8. Greg, great to see many replies to your excellent post – maybe because it is Summer break in Oz?
    There is no easy answer to the time issue – although you have clearly pointed out valid errors in judgment in two schools. Yes, I firmly believe in and have seen the power of collaborative learning among educators – not just f2f but virtual as well of course, and given a chance most educators will take advantage of the opportunity to construct better learning environments alongside their colleagues.
    I think the deeper issue here is a conservative stronghold being maintained in schools that regards ‘control’ of learning more important than ‘time to learn independently’. A flattened connected pedagogy means that learning takes place anywhere, anytime, with anyone – it has not boundaries, and especially disregards hours per year! I say put the learning more in the hands of students and allow them to dictate how and when they learn – and make them accountable for their own learning progression. Teachers can become what I call ‘Learning Concierges’ and collaborate together in the process of learning for themselves and their students and other learners globally.
    PS I write more about this in my book coming out in April

    1. Hello Julie,

      ‘Learning Concierge’ is a metaphor new to me. I wonder if the teachers will get ‘tips’?

      On a more serious note, there is no doubt that the current ‘timetable’ in schools, both primary and secondary, does not properly represent the possibilities afforded by new (yet to be fully realised) contemporary learning environments.

      Best Wishes for 2016.


  9. Greg,

    Thanks for the post and link. These examples are anything but “vanilla+”. Vanilla+ is moving from 50 min blocks every day to 60 minute blocks five out of six days, which is where a lot of schools “end up”. We are seeing these great examples of schools that are creating real time for students and teachers to collaborate together and separately to follow their personal and professional passions, and to re-tool to a deeper learning experience. Keep those exemplars coming!

  10. Hi Greg
    Enjoyed your post. One thing that i have seen in my current school that is linked to your post, is the time given to the establishment of teaching teams. Our teams share large office spaces, these spaces are linked to the learning areas. This team culture is further supported via planning time after school and whole blocks of time during the term (up to half a day). The next step for us is to explore how to do this better, as our results have shown solid improvements across these year levels and we could be be very close to make significant improvements.
    Take care

  11. Hi Greg

    Creating space, aka time, is not difficult. It takes creative thinking – as per some of your suggestions, a willingness (and who would not support the concept) and leadership with vision beyond the immediate nuts and bolts issues. Time for leadership teams to delegate and ‘trust’ middle leaders.

  12. Hello Pauline,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I, like you, seem to think there is universal acceptance of the concept to ‘creating more time’, and I am of the belief that senior leaders understand time is a precious resource. However, as a person who has been in senior leadership in schools, it is not necessarily a question of trust in middle leaders, it is a question of trying to balance the priorities of numerous middle leaders so that they do not become competing interests within a school/system setting.

    Onwards and Upwards in pursuit of ways of creating time so that it is better utilised.


  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on ‘creating time’ Greg.

    I agree that anything is possible if you have staff open to the possibilities and be committed to working together to find a solution. In a primary setting it can be easier to ‘save’ time as it is often possible to integrate KLAs thus covering more content. What I do like about your examples is the created time being used to work collaboratively to enhance learning outcomes for students.

    Not being familiar with the logistics of high school timetabling, it raised the question for me as to the extra hours being allocated to KLAs. Is the extra time producing desired results for students? Are the hours about student outcomes or teachers covering curriculum content? I read somewhere today (probably on Twitter – apologies I can’t remember who) that if all we teach students is the curriculum we have failed them.

    How do high schools (I’m thinking more in systemic and private systems – you know, the more you pay in fees, the less students attend!) cover the mandated hours and still achieve well in published results? What do they do to make the most of their time? I suppose the question I’m pondering is it more about pedagogy or time management?
    Best wishes,

  14. Some great questions, Rachel.

    It is interesting….. I cannot find anyone who can demonstrate the ‘value add’ of extra F2F hours, yet many can tell me the benefits of teachers meeting, planning and preparing as teams.

    Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts and have a great 2016.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s