In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve explores making time for educator learning with clinical faculty member at Indiana university, Cassandra Williams.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:25 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Cassandra: 00:53 Making time for educator learning. Cassandra Williams, a clinical faculty member at Indiana University, invited me to provide an online conference presentation on making time for educator learning. What follows is that presentation. Also on the lead into this podcast are links that will allow you to access the Powerpoint that went along with it, as well as links to a peer power program that I mentioned during the presentation. I extend a thank you to Cassandra for the invitation and appreciation for allowing us to use the tape.
Cassandra: 01:37 So welcome, Steve.
Steve: 01:39 Thank you. Thank you.
Cassandra: 01:41 So today he has a wonderful presentation for us. I can’t wait. I’m so excited. Making time for educator learning. Who has time? But thank you so much. So, on to you, Steve.
Steve: 01:55 Okay. Well, the the first piece that I want to address is the title, which is extremely purposeful. Years ago, I wrote an article called “Making Time” and I wrote the article because I had just finished reading an article called “Finding Time.” And I agreed with everything the author of the article said, except with the title. If people go looking for time, I don’t think they’re likely to find it. But if you decide that educator learning is a critical issue, then you begin by making time for it. So I suggest that the first question we really have to ask ourselves is, do we believe that educator learning is critical to increasing and impacting student learning? A scary example for me is years back, there were districts who created a late start days in order to give teachers a common PLC time first thing in the morning when they were fresh.
Steve: 03:06 And after a year or two of that, in many cases, they dropped it. And part of the reason it was dropped is the teachers said they’d rather have that time with their students than in the PLC. And what that tells me is the teachers weren’t finding that their PLC time was valued in that it created a learning time for teachers. So example, when I work with PLCs, I suggest the first driving question that the PLC is constantly asking is what do the kids need us to learn? I’m starting with the assumption that if we knew how to get better student learning results that we’re getting we’d have done it. Nobody’s holding back on the things that they know. So if we sit down as a group and we look at student work and we don’t like the results, or we want a better result, a deeper richer result, then it’s going to start with us figuring out what we need to learn.
Steve: 04:12 And for the administrators out there joining us to me, that’s a question as an administrator you want to constantly be asking to find out the quality of your PLCs. And that is to ask teachers, describe something that you recently learned in your PLC and how it’s impacting your students. And if people aren’t finding that they’re learning as part of the PLC, then it’s more likely that it’s what I call a PWC. That’s a professional working community. So people are coming together and they’re collaborating to get work done. And trust me, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s not a PLC. The purpose of the PLC is that we realize we as educators need to learn something in order to extend it from here.
Cassandra: 04:57 No, you know, I love that. And even thinking on how will we bring back the knowledge that we learned from conferences and what does that look like? That has been a challenge to say, oh, you did this conference on coaching now, how are you going to implement it? And how are you going to share it with us so we can learn from your experience? But yeah, these are all great. How do we meet the needs of students? What are we here for and how do we build on that learning? Yes, yes, yes. I’m excited.
Steve: 05:28 Okay. So, there’s three three ways that I wanted to look at this. First of all is, if you believe that teacher learning, educator learning, let’s push that, is critical, then leaders schedule it. And the best example I can give you – my wife’s an administrator in a international school and she’s in charge of the schedule of elementary school. When she sits down to do the schedule, the very first thing she schedules is the teachers’ common PLC blocks of time. So who is it that I want to spend the year working and learning together? And I begin my schedule by putting that in. And now I’ll look to build everything else around it. If you wait until the end of – you got the whole schedule mapped out, and now you’re sitting down to figure out how people can do this, it can’t be done.
Steve: 06:27 I was in a a conference talking about the need for people to to work and learn together. And it was a principal’s conference. And one of the participants said, there’s just no time in the schedules for teachers to collaborate. And said, wow, I wish we could talk to the people who do the schedules. They were all sitting there in the room. You know, it’s one thing for a group of teachers to sit and complain about the schedule. But when I got the people who made this schedule and you’re sitting there complaining about it, we need to take some responsibility. So that’s number one. If you believe it’s important, it’s planned and built in. Second, if people are working as teams, the teams can always create time for PLC, for classroom coaching observations, for learning to happen.
Steve: 07:27 If I’ve got four fourth grade teachers, it doesn’t take any massive planning for fourth grade teachers to figure out that three of them can have all the kids for a 45 minute block of time while the one partner that they freed up is now having an opportunity to observe in fifth grade classrooms, kids that were fourth graders last year and bring that information back. And across the week, we could do it once a day for four days in a row. And each of the four teachers would have spent 45 minutes observing kids from last year in fifth grade classrooms. And we can now sit down and have that conversation. We don’t need the administrators planning the schedule. We don’t need substitutes hired. We can step in and make that time for ourselves once we know that it’s important and critical.
Cassandra: 08:23 Oh my gosh. Yes. You know, it’s just thinking outside of the box and, you know – space. I mean, that system sounds so doable. So wonder why more people aren’t just doing it.
Steve: 08:39 We got locked in the boxes. I traveled 3000 miles to consult in a school and I’m spending the day meeting with PLCs and I’m in this PLC and somebody said, you know, we really need the input from the reading teacher and the reading specialist but she’s not free the period that our PLC meets. I’m sitting there with them. I said, well, what if one of you went down and covered her class for the next 20 minutes while she came up and worked with the rest of the team? You know, it’s like, we can do that? Well, I don’t know. I didn’t read in the book that we can do it, but I didn’t read that we can’t. You know, I mean, I like, I wanted to laugh, but I kind of felt bad that we’ve created that situation where, where the teachers didn’t sense they had the empowerment to step out and do that. Now I did all of my teaching on teams and we were forever figuring out how to free somebody up in order for all of us to learn from freeing that person up.
Cassandra: 09:43 Yes. Yes. I love that. I mean, we’ve even split the class up and did it on a regular basis where we had rotations going to where we all had a little bit of the teacher’s students, where the teacher can go out for that type of learning. So yes.
Steve: 10:01 If you move it to a secondary setting, consider you decide that we’re going to take a day or two, and we’re going to give extra learning time to the English department. So any student who’s scheduled for an English class is going to go to a social studies class. As a social studies teacher, I’m going to have a double class and I’m going to do an activity that’s going to – you know, I got ninth grade kids doing a writing activity in my social studies class, which is going to be to gain everybody. And the social studies and English teacher could plan it together. But today, all of those English kids are in a social studies class. Tomorrow, all those social studies kids are in an English class and in two days, all those teachers gave that time to each other to figure out how they can invest that in learning.
Steve: 10:54 And if you decide it’s important, then the third issue that I raised there is just teachers will extend themselves. But they need the opportunity to see it’s important and valuable. I mean, if you go into school and say that you got a call that your child is sick and you need to leave school an hour early to get your child to the doctor, at a drop of a hat, there’s 10 people ready to step in and figure out a way to cover your class to do that for you as a colleague. Well, I don’t want to put teacher learning on the level of a sick child, but it would be the same stepping in if you saw that it was important and critical. And especially if we reached a point of collective efficacy, where I believe that you getting better at what you’re doing, benefits all of us. So your learning will be shared with me, or your learning shared with the kids has an impact back on me. We’ve created that environment.
Cassandra: 11:54 Yes. But you know, a lot of that environment just trust. And the empowerment, like you said, you know how to build that empowerment with your teachers to make those core decisions for the benefit of the students.
Steve: 12:06 Well, and so team becomes the word then. So if you believe that you are collectively responsible for student success, so I’m as responsible for the success of kids in your classroom as I am for kids in my classroom. That point then, we now need to create that opportunity for everybody to be a learner. So from this, I pulled two specific examples to share with folks. And this first one, I call peer pals. It’s one of my favorite ones to use in an elementary school. And I gave folks here on the slide, the background from a school in Texas that implemented it extremely successfully. And the the the link at the bottom will take you to a blog where I interviewed the principal and spelled it out in detail. But what they did was they took third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms, and they aligned all of them with the kindergarten first and second grade classroom.
Steve: 13:06 So every third grade student was set up to be a tutor in a kindergarten classroom. And equally every fifth grade student was set to be a tutor in a second grade classroom. So they then scheduled time once a week for the older class to go to the younger class and do their tutoring. Well, this week when third grade goes to kindergarten, the kindergarten teacher stays with the kids and the third grade teachers pick up a 45 minute common block of time for working together and studying together. Next week, at the same time we go back, and next week the third grade teachers stay and the kindergarten teachers pick up the time. So you’ve now built into into the week, into the month, two extra periods of time for teachers to think and work together. And you gave the kids a quality learning experience. This school was so excited with the results, they actually moved classrooms so that they put on the same hallway, the third grade and kindergarten and the fifth and second. So on the same hallway, all the kids had to do a step across the hall because the the kids really got into it. Teachers found students coming to them and saying, can I take a minute to run over and check in on my peer pals? She had a hard day yesterday.
Cassandra: 14:38 Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.
Steve: 14:42 It reached the level where as the year went on, second grade kids, for example, started to email their requests to their peer pal for the pure pal time. I’m struggling with this piece in math. So tomorrow during peer pal time, can you help me with this? And so, the kids were actually starting to come already thinking about what it was that they would, that they would carry out. So I’m always big on whatever you’re doing with time, it shouldn’t be at the cost of students. So I like this example because it created adult time while kids were engaged in a quality learning experience and activity.
Cassandra: 15:28 I love this. Where was this three, five, 10 years ago? Oh my goodness. I mean, just the power in one, the space and the time that teachers have available. Two, it’s empowering for kids. And they have mentors. I mean, you know, this reminds me of Kevin Burkholtz, and he saying how we need to empower our students to become leaders. And so this is that in essential, and these students are teachers, you know, mentor support systems, and this is amazing. So I love this idea.
Steve: 16:06 You can build these – so you can build a whole lot of the social, emotional pieces in here as well.
Cassandra: 16:14 Gosh, we’re going to meet this for the fall. Definitely. Especially the social emotional.
Steve: 16:18 So here’s one then, I moved to look at a similar play at the secondary level. And and I call it seminar day. If you take the total number of students in your school and you divide it by the total number of, I say, certified staff now, that differs around the country. In some schools, a paraprofessional, can be alone with a group of kids and other places that I work, that’s not OK. But I’m talking guidance counselors, nurse, librarian, as well as my administrative team. In most schools, when you do that, you end up with a a student to teacher ratio somewhere around the 12 to 15 count. I’ve been in schools already that it’s as low as nine. And when I figured that out, it really struck me that, I mean, can you imagine we’ve got to go to the public and say, we’ve got one adult for every 10 kids in the school, and we can’t figure out how we can find time for teachers to meet as learners during the school day?
Steve: 17:29 And most of the times, people are looking at 23 kids in their class, and not realizing that you can bring the number down to this when you look at everybody working with kids. So on a seminar day, what you do is consider that half of your staff call day, they’re going to teach a 90 minute seminar. And that seminar is going to be attended by a group of approximately 30 students. So if you do that, you’ve now have half of your staff that’s free for that 90 days and a block. So if you wanted to do PD, then you, even, if you brought in an outside person to do a workshop, you’ve got a 90 minute chunk of time. If you want teachers to meet by grade levels, so the freshmen teachers are going to meet and study an issue. Or you’re going to give time for people to have an extra 90 minute block of their PLC time, if by the way you arranged which teachers are doing the seminar versus who’s off during that time. So you have a 90 minute seminar. You can build in a 10 or 15 minute break in between for things to switch. And now the other half of the staff, B, picks up and they teach a 90 minute seminar while the other half of the staff has now been freed up.
Steve: 19:02 And the really interesting thing at the secondary level. If a teacher plans a seminar and consider you just did this once a month. A teacher could plan a seminar, they could actually offer the seminar, the very same seminar for the rest of the year. You’re just changing the group of 30 kids who are attending your seminar each time. So now can begin to think, well, what do you want to offer during seminar time? You want to do critical thinking workshops? Do you want to look at creativity? Do you want to look at career exploration? Do you want to bring in speakers, who work with one group of kids in the morning and another group one group of kids in the first 30 minute block and another in the second block?
Steve: 19:59 Again, I’m going to come back to, I don’t want the kids to miss anything, but these seminars ought to be really powerful learning opportunities for kids. Now there are some schools, I frequently find in urban areas where the numbers might not come down this far. So then all I do is take a look and switch now to working with the staff in thirds, instead of working in half. Now, two thirds of the staff are in effect providing the seminars for the kids, while a third of the staff is off. So if your school fell into that category, you might want to call seminar day and kids do nothing that day but attend three seminars. My school day is made up of three different 90 minute seminars that I attended.
Cassandra: 21:02 Wow. Gosh, that’s, I mean, we can really do that in rotation and have so many supports, speakers. I mean, you know, teachers could facilitate this. I mean, this is really amazing.
Steve: 21:16 Think about kids. So as the teacher, you can get a two student partnership team that’s going to offer the seminar. The teachers mentoring and supporting the kids and being the ones providing the seminar.
Cassandra: 21:34 Gosh. And what does that do for the kids’ you know, self esteem. I mean, there’s so many things, positive things that can come out of this. Wow.
Steve: 21:45 So I’ll kind of wrap up, pull it together. This all for me goes back to the whole concept of collective efficacy. So we we’ve known all along that teacher efficacy was a critical point. That teachers had to have a belief that they can make a difference in the lives of kids, a difference that overcomes other issues from kids’ backgrounds, that they may have to bring into the school with them. But we’ve learned more recently that the thing that takes a big step above individual teacher efficacy is that collective efficacy. So that now as a teacher, I believe in my colleagues’ capabilities to make this happen. Well, I can’t see any way to develop collective efficacy without teachers building trust. And I can’t figure out how to build trust without getting teachers into each other’s classrooms and looking at each other’s student work.
Steve: 22:57 So when I have the opportunity to learn with you, when I have the opportunity to hear your belief and value system, as to how important student success is to you, then that builds the trust. And I can trust that if I went out of my way to create a learning opportunity for you, not only would you return the favor to me, but perhaps more importantly, you would put that opportunity that I provided you to good use, which meant that it was going to have payoffs for for students and student learning. It’s all about a belief system that says educator learning is critical to extended student learning. And I think no time is that more important than the time we’re in right now. This has created an awesome opportunity to increase educator learning. Educators got forced to learn things faster and with more risk than frequently we, as educators are willing to take on. But it’s gotta be that it comes back to have payoffs for kids. And I think if we believe it, we can make it happen. So that belief that I started with has gotta be at the bottom line here.
Cassandra: 24:25 And you know, that’s so powerful. And it’s cyclical learning. Like, it’s an ongoing learning process. It’s not a sit and get – come to this, you know, professional development, we’re all getting professional development simultaneously and we’re all learning and we all have the trust and we all can we all empowered to make change to our system. I mean, this is what the uptopia, what we want to happen in every school so I love it.
Steve: 24:57 And actually it has the adults modeling the environment that we want for kids. I mean, if you think about it, historically, kids have been doing a lot more learning than the adults have been doing in our buildings. And the environment we want is the kids taking responsibility for each other’s learning as well as their own. So we’ve got to create the environment in a school where educators can step forth and do that same thing.
Steve: 25:27 I hope you found some insights and possible strategies in the presentation that you can use for making time for educator learning in your schools. If you’d like to extend a conversation around this concept of making time, please feel free to contact me on please feel free to contact me at barkleypd.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for listening in and have a great time making time for educators.
Steve [Outro]: 26:12 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.