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How to Make Teacher Collaboration Time Powerful

by Dr. Marilyn Crawford

Dr. Marilyn Crawford of School by Design will be presenting session 2240, “Finding Significant Time for Teachers to Collaborate,” 9:30-11:30 am on Tuesday, December 4, at the Learning Forward Annual Conference, along with co-presenters Melanie Pondant, John York  and Cindy Johnson from the Longview (TX) Independent School District. In this session, participants will learn how Longview and other districts have created significant time for teachers to work together, without sending the students home or increasing budgets.

Teachers have a really tough job. They work with students with widely varying needs and are tasked with delivering instruction that can reach each learner in the classroom. We ask them to perform at a consistently high level, using innovative and interesting teaching strategies to engage all students in learning. Given these demands, are we giving them enough time and support for their own continuous learning? Are we doing enough to help teachers be their best, day in and day out? All too often, in this country, the answer is no.

In many countries around the world, leaders have taken on this problem by making collegial professional development time a truly embedded part of teachers’ day-to-day work. But in the US, examples of serious embedded teacher PD time can be difficult to find.

The key is to help leaders develop master schedules that include time for teachers to learn together, share ideas, and improve as colleagues while they do their jobs, not in an artificial or siloed setting away from the real context of the classroom. In our Annual Conference session, my co-presenters from the Longview (TX) Independent School District will show participants what their teacher time schedules look like, and we will share how School by Design (SxD) and the district partnered on the journey to implementing these schedules with an eye on continuous improvement.

A process for finding teacher time

In the session, we will share a five-step process that helps schools find quality time for teacher learning:

Step 1: Collect dataInventory your assets—time, staff, students, and courses―to understand their current use and give you the information needed to support decisions.

Step 2: Audit current realityUsing the SxD Skilled Interpretation Audit lets you analyze your use of assets through the lenses that matter—optimizing teaching and learning, efficiency, and equity, and access. 

Step 3: Create scenariosInvestigate smart, innovative ways to use assets through scenario planning and models.

Step 4: Decide what you want to doMake intentional trade-offs and choices to use your available resources in the most impactful manner.

Step 5: Act!Take informed action to support teaching and learning!

At the Learning Forward conference, we will share how these strategies have worked in Longview (TX) and elsewhere, giving participants an opportunity to think more deeply about how they might incorporate teacher time into their own schedules.

4 ways to ensure collaborative PD time is high quality

All time is not created equal. So how can leaders ensure that school designs create teacher collaboration time that is worth all of the talent and energy it takes to create master schedules that incorporate time for teacher learning? These are four ways to do so:

  • Create enough aggregate annual time for teachers to learn as part of their work―Currently, most teachers have very few days of professional development time. Not only do traditional schedules restrict PD to only specific times, but they also provide less-than-enough total time for teachers to deeply engage in their own learning. If we are authentic in our commitment to teacher collaboration, we must make sure that there is enough time for teachers to dig deep and gain real value from their experience working together.  
  • Create more time, each time―It takes extended collaboration time to get deep into meaningful, transformative work. We use 90 minutes as a minimum, and longer is even better. Most SxD designs use full-day PD as the design goal. Extended time lets teachers do deep work such as developing high-quality assignments and lesson plans, and scoring student work to calibrate expectations, none of which can be done effectively in short blocks of time. 
  • Distribute teacher time throughout the year―Make teacher collaboration a regular part of doing business and a standard part of teachers’ work life. This means shifting our thinking from the beginning and end-of-year PD days, with a few scattered in between. Imagine having a full PD day every week or two, the model that Longview will share. With this design in place, teacher learning is sustained and can be responsive to student needs and performance demands.
  • Implement quality protocols for PD―Using quality PD protocols for collaborative learning is key. For example, using a lesson study cycle where teachers plan assignments and develop lesson plans together; teach the lessons (sometimes filming their teaching); regather to score together and review their instruction, and use information and data to plan for helping students who didn't do well and improving their practice. Protocols such as these provide a clear purpose to collaborative work and link teacher learning to their classroom practice.

Come join us!

Longview leaders will share their work so you can see what this process looks like in practice and get ideas for finding time in your own schools and districts. We are asking teachers to do amazingly tough jobs, and we need to make sure we give them the time they need to succeed. We’d love to have you.

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