When I try to help people develop mental models of professional development, I ask them to imagine teachers in a professional setting, sitting around a conference table, student work before them and student performance data on the walls, and refreshments to keep the energy high.
I ask them to imagine one of the teachers calling the learning team into session. Beginning with a "check in," each participant declares how the day is going and what he or she hopes to accomplish at this session. The teacher facilitator reminds the members where they are in the cycle of continuous improvement and the work before them for the day.
These professional development sessions are characterized by teachers who share collective responsibility for the success of their students, view job-embedded professional learning as a professional responsibility, and improve their practice and student outcomes on a daily basis.
After hearing the description, most people are ready to get on board. They see this model as much more helpful in meeting the daily challenges of teaching and learning than the professional development they are used to. And yet they are skeptical. The first comment is typically, "we could never find the time to do this at our school."
And my answer is - you can't afford not to find the time.
Fortunately, emerging research and best practices of schools are demonstrating that extending the school day benefits both teachers and students. And there are multiple ways to achieve this.
The National Center on Time and Learning advocates expanding learning time to improve student achievement and enable a well-rounded education. In its most recent report report, Time Well Spent: Eight Powerful Practices of Successful, Expanded-Time Schools, NCTL outlines specific practices that can lead to dramatic increases in student achievement and preparation for success in college and the workforce. Time Well Spent offers an in-depth examination of 30 expanded-time schools serving high-poverty populations with impressive track records of student success, and demonstrates how these schools leverage their additional time in order to implement other critical reforms.
What stands out for me is that the teachers in these schools prioritized their learning and collaboration time to achieve significant results for their students. "With more time," the report states, "these schools engage teachers in the significant work of analyzing student data, strategizing on common instructional practices, and honing their skills in the classroom."
Obviously not all high achieving schools used expanded time as a core strategy, but the growing database offered by the NCTL demonstrates that for those interested, options exist. The example schools in the report provide insightful answers to three questions: How did they find the time, how did they use the time, and how has the time impacted your results?
This report can provide the impetus for powerful conversations in schools serious about extending time to achieve results. Hopefully, for many schools, these powerful conversations will lead to powerful results.
Executive Director, Learning Forward