As students across the country are enjoying summer breaks, many educators and education reformers are using their time to, well, think about time. Some schools are transitioning to year-round schooling. Others are extending the school day into the late afternoon.
While most of the recent focus has been on student time, a critical piece of the discussion should be teacher time. “Time can and must allow for us to engage with other professionals in order to hone our craft and, ultimately, to serve our students better,” writes Dedy Fauntleroy on this month’s Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable.
For most teachers in the Unites States, collaboration time isn’t built into the school day—it’s stolen in tiny intervals: in the hallways, after school, in the copy room. Teachers spend most of their days in front of students, leaving their lesson planning and professional development to before and after school.
Current school schedules are keeping teachers away from our nation’s best educational resource—their fellow teachers.
“I never thought I’d say it, but less time teaching might make me a better teacher,” wrote CTQ blogger Kate Mulcahy in a recent post.
An International Perspective
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of extremely accomplished teachers at the International Symposium on Educational Reform (ISER) in Lexington, Kentucky. The group got to talking about how much time they have each week to collaborate with their colleagues and watch them teach.
The American teachers estimated their collaboration time to be, on average, about five hours a week, and their observation time at an average of about two hours a week. And these numbers are likely higher than the national average, since several teachers on the panel are involved in mentoring and other leadership positions that require them to observe and meet with peers.
Kimberly Shearer shared her schedule—one that’s fairly representative of other teachers in the U.S. She spends 30 to 35 hours a week in front of students, and though she gets planning periods and lunch each day, she often uses that time to meet with students.
In contrast, in Finland, a typical teacher might spend 15 hours a week—or a maximum of 24 hours—in front of students, said Mika Risku, a teacher-education researcher on the panel from Finland. The other part of the day is spent in professional development, planning lessons, and engaging with colleagues and parents. “If you want teacher leaders,” Mika asked the group, “when do you analyze the data and processes?”
Lauren Hill, an English teacher from Kentucky, shared that in her ten years of teaching in the same school as Stephanie Wooldridge—her colleague who was also at the conference—the closest she’d ever been to actually observing Stephanie teach was when she had to deliver a piece of tech equipment to her classroom. “And it was like being in a different country,” Lauren said. Both Lauren and Stephanie are members of Teacher Leaders Network and are actively engaged in our Implementing Common Core Standards initiative—which requires a great more time to build interdisciplinary lessons with colleagues, capitalize on new tools and resources, and unpack the data from new forms of student assessment.
We need to give teachers the opportunity to “travel” to their colleagues’ classrooms during the school day so they can infuse their own teaching with new ideas and strategies. These observations, which can be conducted live or through digital recordings, can propel productive and practical conversations, collaboration, and the much-needed scrutiny of one another’s classroom practice.
It's Time to Start
“What would be the value of five extra minutes in an educator's schedule?” Jessica Keigan asks on Teaching Ahead. “These five minutes might be spent learning about a new professional strategy, catching up on local and national policy or interacting with peers in virtual or real time venues.”
Five minutes is a good place to start—but we must do better. We must build dedicated collaboration time into every teacher’s schedule. Giving teachers time to work together and learn from one another will allow them to reflect on and improve their professional practice.
And it isn’t just Finland, either. Other top-performing nations, like Singapore, build in collaboration time willingly and without question. Mike Thiruman, president of the Singapore Teachers’ Union and former deputy in his nation’s education ministry, told me recently, “We would not think of having our teachers teach more than nineteen to twenty-one hours a week.” Teachers also receive 100 hours of professional development per year, at government expense. Is it not time for U.S. policymakers to follow suit and invest in more time for teachers so students learn more?