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Redesigning Teaching and Learning: It's About Time

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By Scott Fuller, the Next Generation Learning Coordinator for Colorado Springs School District 11.

Ask educators around the country about the one thing they need more of, and they will likely tell you time. Redesigning teaching and learning takes a lot of time, especially up front. More time for ideation and empathy building, more time for unit and lesson planning, more time for professional learning. The problem, as we all know, is there isn't more time to be had. So how do we leverage our time to support and model innovative practice?

Vision Alignment
Initiative overload and uncoordinated program implementation are sure-fire ways to inefficiently use the time you do have. A comprehensive vision and strategic plan should serve as the roadmap for all initiatives in your organization. A well-developed vision and plan serve as THE work of an organization rather than something else to add on.

Assess and Clear
I often hear the phrase "I don't have any more room on my plate" when working with educators. Most of the time, this is because over the years they have not removed items that aren't working or are the remnants of old initiatives. Conducting an exercise, in which you examine everything currently on the "plate" to systematically remove anything not in direct alignment with your vision, should be an annual activity and can provide the needed incentive for educators to innovate. Ultimately, I am not asking you to add anything to your plate, I am asking you to get a new plate. Think of it of as a buffet where you take the great things that are working, but skip the outdated practice to choose innovative approaches.

Remove Labels
How are you currently using the time you do have? Most school leaders will tell me about their contractual minutes for staff meetings, professional learning community time, goal teams, committees, mandated professional learning time, behavior management, etc. I always ask schools to consider removing the labels and consolidating the total allotted time into one "bank" of minutes. From that bank, allocate time according to needs that align with your vision. This leads to personalization of how contractual time is used by individual schools and ultimately increased efficiency with the time you already have. This same concept can be applied to daily schedules. Why is it that we assume each day must look the same as the previous one when it comes to how long we spend exploring a particular topic?

Utilize Your Existing Resources
More often than not, schools have a pool of under-utilized talent in their organization.  We have great educators, parent and community volunteers, and in most cases a basic technology infrastructure at our fingertips. Schools must do more to get the most out of these existing resources. Investing in people as well as personalized professional learning enables educators to practice the art of teaching and become responsible innovators. Having a wealth of resources does nothing if we don't invest the time into learning how to best use them.

The Pace of Change
When working toward innovative change, it is critical to keep in mind the realistic pace of sustainable shifts. Because educators are passionate professionals who want to change the world yesterday, it is often necessary to remind our earliest adopters to be mindful about manageable scope and scale. For years, schools all over the country have had great teachers doing incredible work in their individual classrooms; however, rarely does that work shift across an entire school or district without a conscious effort. Schools must be mindful of providing a clear vision, skill development and resources to support that vision, and incentives to spread promising practice. Deliberate planning, sharing, and scaling of work ensures that innovative practice moves beyond a single educator onto the core beliefs of a school. 

When considering the issue of time in education, we must reimagine the current structures and work toward a radical shift in how we use the time we already have. Short cuts to innovative practice are seductive but ultimately destructive to the cause. The actual shift may take more than three years, but most great things do. After all, in education time is the currency and you will get what you pay for. Invest wisely.

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