Time and Schedules: Ally or Constraint?
Engaging students and getting them to invest in what they are learning remains the subject of articles, blogs, and books filled with researched helpful ideas, models for action and much opining. Student engagement remains an issue on the minds of educators because of its centrality to the success of our 21st century students. If all students are not engaged now, what changes do we need to make in practice to engage them? If all students are not prepared enough for college and career readiness, how do we make that happen? Many have answers for each of their individual situations, but the solutions remain out of reach for a variety of reasons. We need to capture the good intentions and support them with planning, time and resources.
Re-Purpose The Use of Time
Our value about the use of time, expecting almost all of it as scheduled as teaching time, runs counter to the current need to change the way teaching and learning take place. Where the focus is stuck on "covering" curriculum, "reaching" standards and "measuring" progress, the work days of teachers are scheduled with time, often defined in minutes, for classes, planning or meetings, and lunch. The lives of secondary students are organized by bells that tell them when to pass from subject to subject, room to room. At the bell, teachers fold up one class and open up the next. Bus schedules and building schedules are all about the minutes that define school days. For the community, this has become the expected ritual of schooling.
Educators across the globe have done research, found new ways to do things, and have shared them through training, writing, and videos. We all have the advantage of 24/7 access to these resources and all have had "aha" moments when we see what will work in our own environs. This is where we have to do a better job. In order to free teachers and leaders to explore doing things differently, we have to examine our structure. Is the structure serving the purpose of teaching and learning or has that purpose become secondary to the preservation of the structure? And which is a better approach...opening up the structure and allowing new practice to emerge or deciding how practice will change if supported by a different structure? We have seen few examples of successful implementation of new practice forcing implementation of a changed structure. Why is that?
New ideas are brought to schools constantly by teachers, by leaders, by parents and students. Some of them contain merit and fit the values, culture and plan of the school or district. Transparency and collective understanding about how learning will take place and what components will guarantee a successful implementation are essential. What has come to be called "drive-by" professional development presentations usually doesn't create sustainable change but well planned and ongoing professional development can. From the onset of a new initiative, leaders can be ready by bringing the community on board with what is happening, why it is happening, and what it will require.
Folks are paying attention to PBL (project-based learning) because of its value in 21st teaching and learning. As schools invest in the training of their teachers, it doesn't take much time before the teachers articulate the need for planning with their colleagues, for quality feedback, for more training, for changes in the way teaching and learning take place, reflection and the use of time. Other examples can be found in improving teacher practice through quality feedback, NextGen Science Standard implementation, Balanced Literacy, a move toward interdisciplinary courses like the humanities instead of separate English and social studies classes, inclusion of special education students, eliminating grades for students and replacing them with skilled feedback, the list is endless. All have their place in systems depending upon the needs of each particular system. But we still have an issue with time and structure. How radical might it be to begin to ask questions?:
- How do we know whether the jigsaw puzzle of current school schedules matches the bigger picture of our highest intentions for our students?
- Is our shared vision of teaching and learning inclusive of 21st century demands?
- Where can we find schools that have utilized greater structural flexibility to support new practice?
- What are we doing already that we could do better with more flexible use of time?
- Where do we stop because of our mental barriers and beliefs about what we cannot do?
- What do we need in order to move beyond what we believe we cannot do?
Time Needed or Time Wasted?
If the leadership is not prepared and the community support is lacking, change in teaching and learning will be limited, the results will be limited, and the children will be beneficiaries of either a narrow change in practice, or another failed initiative, both with time wasted. Yes, wasted time...when that time can be used proactively, to create a transformed faculty, schedule, and structure that would serve to carry the transformation through to successful and sustainable change. Then, time will be in service to each school's vision and design for learning, rather than being in charge of how teaching and learning takes place. Certainly there are limitations that exist, but until we can say that time is used to its best potential for both teachers and students, we remain unnecessarily tethered in thought and action.
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