While providing a training for teacher leaders on peer coaching the often-repeated statement/question surfaced. “Coaching experiences would be terrific, but how can we ever get the time to do this?” I wasn’t surprised as I have heard that question for over 30 years. Years ago, I wrote an article called Making Time because I discovered people were trying to find time instead of creating it. While school schedules can and should be created to make blocks of time for teacher collaboration, there are many options for teachers in pairs, teams, and departments to create such times for themselves.
Somehow, existing schedules, with teachers and students assigned to be in particular rooms at particular times, have blocked educators from thinking outside the schedule box. I recently worked with a school that had a seven-to-one, student-to-certified adult ratio in the building and they were telling me they didn’t see how they could create time for observing each other and having coaching opportunities.
Here are some ideas to trigger your thinking.
Begin by dividing the student population by the total number of certified staff in the building. Include administrators, guidance counselors, specialists, nurses, and so forth. (My experience finds a range of 9 to 20 students per staff – the average is about 13.)
In most cases, if half of the staff offer 90 minute seminars they can engage all the students and create a 90-minute time block for half of the staff to be involved in professional learning communities or activities. The seminars could be around any learning opportunities you want students to have such as collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, study skills, character education, etc. The teachers not teaching might be viewing videos of their teaching and coaching each other as well as PLC’s and PD learning. The next day staff switch roles. After the two days, each student has had two quality learning activities and each teacher has had an extra 90 minutes for collaborative learning. Holding seminars once a month would be a good starting point. If each teacher choses a different seminar topic the teacher can repeat it each month with a different group of students.
If you are working in one of the rare settings where the student to staff ratio is substantially higher, divide the staff into three groups and have 2/3 of the staff conducting seminars while 1/3 are collaborating. Three-rotations has each teacher teaching two seminars and having one collaborative time. For a change of pace think about having a seminar day. No classes. All students take part in three seminars.
A favorite strategy to create some extra teacher learning time in elementary schools involves older students tutoring younger. Third are tutoring kindergartners, fourth-first, and fifth-second. If once a week the classes are combined for tutoring time, one grade level of teachers stays with the classes while the other has 30-40 minutes of collaborative time. The next week the other grade level of teachers remain with the students. This provides students with great learning opportunities (In one school I worked with some students send tutoring request to their tutors in advance) and teachers with the extra time every other week. This is a great opportunity for teachers to coach each other from a video or observe other grade level teachers. See a principal’s blog on peer-pals in her school.
My partner, Michelle, is an elementary vice principal who recently created an extra block of time for teachers’ collective work. She provided a 90-minute learning activity for 118 grade four students with some support from her technology coach and principal. She selected the 90 minutes that preceded the usual 90-minute common time that she has built into the schedule, thus creating a 3-hour PLC block of time. Once teachers experience the value of having such time opportunities, it would be my hope they discover that they can create these opportunities for themselves. A middle school 7th grade team of 4 or 5 teachers can easily take an eighth team’s students for a combined learning activity. Creating the collaborative time for the 8th grade teachers who return the opportunity to the seventh grade team the following week. High-school departments could provide common opportunities within their department or across the departments. I can envision any period English classes join scheduled history classes for a joint learning activity. English teachers have that period for collaborative learning. The next week English teachers provide the opportunity for history.
As I ponder what might cause teachers to resist the kind of options suggested here, I wonder if it’s a lack of trust in their colleagues. Teachers want their students to not lose any valuable learning time. Are too many teachers concerned that the time students are spending with other teachers while the teacher is in collaboration is of insufficient learning value? Hopefully more observation of peers will build the needed collegial trust.