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Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Science | January 11, 2014

Speed Dating and Student Work: Half Days and a Senate Bill

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Stopwatchby Maren Johnson

We sat down at a table in the science classroom at 2:30, just 10 minutes after the bell rang at the end of the school day.  We were ready to go: three teachers looking at student work.  Oh wait, there’s a student at the door who needs an assignment—one of us went to help him, the rest continued on.  What were we up to?  We were trying to collaborate, and we only had twenty minutes.  One of our members had volunteered to facilitate, and we even had an informal agenda: 5 minutes—introduce the lesson and provide background.  10 minutes—follow a simplified high-medium-low protocol for finding characteristics of the student work.  5 minutes—debrief.  

Partway through the high-medium-low protocol, a recently graduated student appeared at the door with a big grin, coming back to our high school to say hello.  We were happy to see him (he was a very jolly student)—we wished him well and sent him on to visit the math teacher.  Then we continued looking at the student work!  2:50 rolled around—we got up and left the room.  None of us usually leave the school at 2:50, the end of the contracted day, but on that day, I had another appointment, and needed to go, meaning that our collaboration time truly was limited to twenty minutes.  Twenty minutes is the length of time collaboration would have to be if it were to fit within the normal school day, with no early release, late start, or other modified schedule.

For a variety of legitimate reasons, we do not currently have formal time set aside for teachers to collaborate in my school.  Despite the lack of time set aside, teachers do collaborate—as a fellow educator noted the other day, teachers are communal by nature.  Effective collaboration is also good for student learning.  Another reason to collaborate?  We were working on our TPEP teacher evaluation student growth goal 8.1, “Establish Team Student Growth Goals.”  There are many ways we could have met that goal, but we had decided to meet it by working together as a science department, and this meeting was part of our ongoing effort. 

So there we were working on our TPEP student growth goal.  Our goal was based around integrating an aspect of the Next Generation Science Standards into our instruction.  And we were trying to complete our meeting in twenty minutes, which, realistically, without any sort of schedule modified for collaboration, is the only time teachers have available.  

Was our twenty minute collaboration meeting a success?  Honestly, given the amount of time we had, and the number of interruptions, I think we did pretty good.  However, it was clearly not ideal—it felt like speed-dating with student work.

Are we going to be able to effectively integrate the Next Generation Science Standards into our instruction, and work on TPEP goals, if the only time we have to collaborate is in the twenty minutes after school?  No way!  We need more time. We are currently trying to implement the TPEP teacher evaluation system, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the Common Core State Standards.  These are important and valuable initiatives, but we as teachers are not going to be able to do a good job with them unless we have appropriate ongoing professional development and time to work in teams!

One potential source of this time?  Early release days.  We have a number of early release days in my district, and in addition, a few of the district’s schools have weekly early release time dedicated to collaboration, something that is new this year.  Before those schools started the new collaboration time, we discussed the scheduling possibilities in a series of meetings and then hashed out the details in bargaining--it wasn't that easy, but we made it work.  Further state constraints on the use of time would make these schedules which include collaboration even more difficult to configure. 

The legislative session starts on Monday.  Senator Doug Ericksen of Bellingham has prefiled bill 5982, which would limit late start and early release days to no more than 7 per school year.  Districts would be able to apply for a waiver from OSPI for additional days, but would then face a financial penalty.  Let me tell you, seven half days per year is not enough time for professional development and collaboration, especially when we are trying to implement teacher evaluation, Common Core standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards!  What’s missing from this bill? The funding of Learning Improvement Days (LID) before and after the student school year for teachers to meet, learn, and collaborate!

New standards and new teacher evaluation?  At this point, the question is not, “Can we do this?” but rather, “How can we do this?”  What we need are resources and time.

Comments

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I'd be okay with eliminating early releases, late starts, etc., if they instead funded one LID day per month where students did not attend but teachers could engage in meaningful collaboration. Local bargaining agreements could then figure out what proportion of that time is taken up by district or building meetings, and what proportion is provided to teachers for collaboration.

Actually, scratch that. We need what the other high-performing school systems in the world have: DAILY collaboration time. (1) reduce each teacher's overall student load, (2) increase the amount of preparation and collaboration time each day, and I'd bet the farm that the result is higher student achievement. We can write new standards and tests until our hands fall off, but nothing will change until the issue of time is addressed in a meaningful way.

It's a tough call. Thausman has a good point about half-days being a strain on families. It's something that can't really be dismissed, especially around levy time.

On the other hand, Maren hits it on the head pointing out that if we're required to collaborate, we should be doing it during paid time. There's absolutely no way to argue against that.

Personally, I would prefer paid time outside the school day for collaboration. Trying to cram on hour's worth of work into a twenty minute block of time at the end of a long day doesn't cut it.

As far as social media goes, that's an interesting idea, but that still takes time, and if it's required work, it should be compensated.

Hello Todd H.,

I agree with you that rich collaboration often occurs outside of the contract day. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't encourage the conditions for such collaboration to occur inside the contract day as well!

Collaboration is important to student learning, and teachers are professionals who should be paid for their time. We should not expect teachers to donate their time if they want to collaborate to improve student learning.

Teachers are now essentially required to collaborate because of TPEP evaluation criterion 8: Exhibiting Collaborative and Collegial Practices. If teachers are required to do this, time must be provided.

I agree with you when you say "Social media and technology allows teachers to collaborate in a more ongoing and dynamic way. There is not always a need to be sitting in the same classroom." Yes, that is completely true, and I have participated in a number of efforts to incorporate social media into collaboration. There still is no reason that time inside a contract day could not be allowed for social media collaboration. Focused collaboration, even if it occurs on social media, still takes time.

I love this bill. My district went to a once a week early release schedule a couple of years ago. One hour of the afternoon is individual planning time, per our collective bargaining agreement. The other hour is sometimes available for collaboration, but often it's consumed by meetings and administrative tasks. It rarely leads rich collaboration, which really occurs outside the contractual day. Social media and technology allows teachers to collaborate in a more ongoing and dynamic way. There is not always a need to be sitting in the same classroom.

That being said, I do value collaboration and believe good teachers make it a priority. But many students go home to empty households or, if they're lucky, spend the afternoon in daycare programs at parents expense. Early release days sound better than they really are. The reality is that, in my district we still only get one hour of collaboration time on early release days, and that often gets consumed by a variety of requirements and district meetings. True collaboration happens organically, it's not a product of early release. The benefit to students of being in school for an extra two hours far exceeds the benefit from one hour of job embedded collaboration time from my perspective as an elementary teacher.

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