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.

Regards

Greg

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+”.

A Bold Idea To Better Use Time

In my current role I support and challenge Principals and Leadership Teams to lead their communities to attain improvement through inquiry. I enjoy my visits to schools, discussions with principals and engagement with their learning community. Most particularly, I admire the energy and expertise that these leaders and their teachers dedicate towards the learning agenda of the students who come under their care. They do this despite increasing demands on their time.

For quite a while now, my Twitter PLN, most particularly my #INF537 #dbblearn and @materdeiwagga colleagues, know I have been interested in how schools can use time to accelerate change in their settings. Over the last six months, I have noted “TIME” as being an increasingly precious asset. Over the last three months I started to note more closely note various concerns about “TIME”. Here are some direct quotes……

“We have more teaching face to face hours in Australia than most other countries in the world.”

“We looked into a project but got held up by reports, exams and marking.”

“We need more time to share our experiences of practice with each other.”

“We just don’t get the time to meet and plan.”

“There are competing demands on time.”

“We want to provide more opportunities to share practice which are aligned to the goals of the school.”

The hard nosed people reading this blog will argue, “It’s all about priorities! Just re-organsie your time and do what’s important.” That may be a fair comment; however, others may argue that schools are asked to do more and more without being allowed to let things go.  The reality is that governments and education systems continue to ask more of our schools, placing increased stress on the resource of time.

We need to approach this concept and use of TIME with Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset by embracing the challenge to use time more wisely! In doing so, and with a solutions focused approach to the challenge, I share one idea with you…. 

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. This is a combine surplus of 480 hours (across the four subjects over four years); 120 hours per year. Just to give you an idea of what can be done with that time, Music/Visual Arts is allocated 240 hours, over two years, for Year 7 & 8. LOTE (Languages Other Than English) is allocated 120 hours in Year 8. As per its timetable, that is 3 x 1 hours lessons per week for four years. WOW! What if?????

What if….. the 120 hours per year could be better used to address our era of rapid change by developing skills of students to use information to co-create knowledge and (hopefully) solve real world problems?

What if….. the 120 hours was used as a three hour block every week? In that three hours students could work on their Genius Hour project that promote the skills of collaboration (teamwork), critical thinking, creativity, innovation & leadership. After that was finished, say after 90 minutes, students could go home early and then teachers could engage in regular weekly professional learning. Teachers could……

  • work together in teams to plan, prepare, review and evaluate learning. WOW!
  • engage in planned, structured action research inquiry on a weekly basis using collaborative technologies which support student learning. 
  • rework a unit of work applying the principles of challenged based learning, project based learning or inquiry learning.
  • produce videos for Flipped Learning approaches.
  • rewrite programs using Learning Design Principles – UBD.
  • develop an online learning course for one of their subjects – did some say “anywhere, any time learning”?
  • work in teams to develop a social and emotional skills continuum.
  • prepare rubrics which attempt to measure collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving in classrooms – what does that look like?
  • reflect on, and engage with, evidence and data sources (quantitative and qualitative) which is focused on student learning. Then the teachers could develop hunches and design rich questions which they interpret from the evidence and data.
  • create “reflection routines” allowing for time at the end of each lesson for students to articualte and synthesize the important points.

Yes, such an idea would require extensive consultation with staff, students and parents. And, I know there will be the inevitable person yell loudly, “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? There will be also those who will say, “That won’t work because…..” However, I ask those who can, to make bold decisions about better use of time by ignoring the choir of

Yes, but

Let’s roll our sleeves up and produce the effort required to overcome obstacles which get in the way of finding time and make decisions which are in the best interests of student learning. I welcome comments from people who want to explore answers to these questions…..

  • How CAN we find the time?
  • How CAN we use it better?

I look forward to reading about your ideas.

Greg