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.