"Teach Less. Learn More."

“This creativity aspect is very important because in Finland we believe that risk-taking, creativity and innovation are very, very important for a society like ours. And particularly working in this global and globalized world it is more important than what you actually know and remember, it is more what you are and what you are capable of doing.” ~ Pasi Sahlberg

Watch this video!

Key Drivers of Educational Performance in Finland — Listen in as Pasi Sahlberg describes how Finland created the highest-ranking education system in the world. (22 min., 21 sec.)

In both Asia and North America, schools are driven by statistics and measurements that guide many of the decisions made about how to improve and excel. Meanwhile Finland continues to beat to it’s own drum, to think and to act differently… and to outperform data-driven countries. What I found most compelling about this talk was the data-driven evidence that suggests that educational reforms we are seeking globally are counter-productive. What scares me most about this is that it seems so many people I’m connected to online intuitively know this already, and yet standardization, test-taking and a ‘more time in the classroom’ focus seems to prevail in most of the ‘reform’ that is happening now.

In my last post I said, “more and more, I’m thinking that the changes we want… and need… involve truly questioning everything we do structurally and why we do it?”

More questions come to mind when I hear this talk and see the graphs Sahlberg shares:

"Less is More. Teach less, Learn More by Pasi Sahlberg"

In ‘Thinking about Change‘ I recently said,

“We have to stop counting a teacher’s ‘instructional minutes’ and start giving them ‘learning minutes’. We have to stop talking about ‘teaming’ and starting giving teachers time to be a team.

What if a teacher had 1/3 of the day to plan, collaborate and yes even prep for their classes? What if at least one course every year had to be co-taught with another teacher in the room? How would these structural changes open doors for some cultural changes in school?

1. Time- Pro-D, preparation, planning & play
2. Co-teaching & collaboration opportunities
3. Models & Mentorship

When I think about changes in schools, I want to believe that we can implement structural changes that encourage our teachers to be better, by design of those changes, not in spite of them. I want to believe that we can’t complain about a broken model and then try to fit a new plan into the same model.”

Less is more: Teach less, learn more.

This applies to students and instructional time too! (The US fits somewhere between France and the Netherlands.)

"Time Spent In Classrooms by Pasi Sahlberg"

The best graph that Sahlberg shared reminded me a lot about what Andy Hargreaves preaches in ‘The Fourth Way‘, “Responsibility before Accountability”. This was what I came up with after a presentation with Hargreaves:

Andy Hargreaves 'The 4th Way' - Pyramid by David Truss

Here is the graph shared by Sahlberg:

"Marketization-vs-Professionalism by Pasi Sahlberg"

The Finnish Way is to prioritize “Professionalism” over “Marketization”. I love the use of the term ‘Marketization’ as textbooks and testing are ‘big business’ and I question how much of the ‘Global Educational Reform Movement’ is influenced and driven by profit?

Less is more: Teach less, learn more. This approach can not be fostered in a model of ‘Marketization’.

“Risk-taking, creativity and innovation” are not fostered in a model of ‘Marketization’.

Professionalism is not fostered in a model of ‘Marketization’.

In a ‘market’ model there are always winners and losers. In education, every student needs to be provided with the opportunity for individualized success.

Who benefits from a sub-standard but highly standardized educational system? Reform suggests the restructuring, not redecoration, of an antiquated model. What model to you want for your students? What model do you want for your children? What model do you want for the future innovators and leaders of our world?

(Cross-posted on Connected Principals)

30 comments on “Less is more. Teach less, learn more.

  1. I was talking to my head of school recently about things we could do to improve our school, and I pointed out that something we really needed was collaborative planning time. We work in an MYP/DP school and the MYP program is designed so that teachers can plan units together, except that we hardly ever get to plan any units together because we don’t have the time in our schedules to do so.

    So we are looking at ways we can do this, and one thought is that we move everyone from 15 out of 20 blocks per week to 14 out of 20 and plan to spend one afternoon a week after school working together. It’s not ideal, because some people would normally have commitments after school (like sports, or kids, etc…). Our staff normally plans solo after school for the day because we are so busy during the day, but this would give us another period during the day to plan, which we would be trading for planning time after school.

    There needs to be more conversation about teacher planning time and workload. Thank you for getting the ball rolling on this one.

  2. Thanks for the comment David,
    The Middle School I worked at for 9 years always gave ‘teams’ of teachers common prep times. Students did their explorations classes during this common prep. It worked sometimes, but not others with respect to course collaboration… on a team of 4 you always had someone on your prep with a similar prep load, on teams of 3 and 2 you often shared the same students, but not the same courses.
    That same district also had ‘learning teams’ where the team would commit to several “professional development” afternoons… half of them pulled out of their classes and half of them after school. These had an ‘action research’ format with a trained facilitator for each group.
    Of these two formats, I think the learning teams were much more effective in that there were learning intentions which go a lot further than just common prep time… this was also far more expensive to create, and we were lucky to have them in our district!

  3. Of course Dave is referring to Coquitlam School District 🙂 Yes, the learning team model has been quite successful through regular interaction through the year, 1/2 the time is paid, and teachers self-select their big question and individual research questions. An external facilitator leads and nudges the team along.

    But, isn’t the notion of this blog post title more about students? IE, they learn more rather than be taught? Maple Ridge’s Thomas Haney Secondary has a self-directed model for 9-12 students. It puts the learning more into student control – they choose when to be taught, when to get help, who to collaborate with, how to mash up subjects into learning outcomes, etc. It’s not perfect, but has potential (my 3 boys attended and graduated from this school). I think better and more intential use of technology to manage the whole process would go a long way to improving the model there.

  4. Yes Brian, Coquitlam! I tend not to ‘say that out loud’ as I’ve often said rather controversial things on my blog and I don’t wear a “These are my own thoughts” kind of disclaimer badge. Still, I only have good things to say about the district and the amazing people I’ve worked with there! (Present company included.) 🙂

    In response to “But, isn’t the notion of this blog post title more about students?” I’d say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

    I now need to repeat myself from a comment on my cross-post on the Connected Principals blog, (a hazard of cross-posting is two separate conversations on the same topic):

    In my ‘Thinking about Change’ post that I quoted above, I also said this,
    “Squeezing the 3 points above into a regular teaching day/week, as it is right now, seems a bit ridiculous. Our model is based highly on instructional time, not on collaboration and mentorship. As professionals, we spend a disproportionate amount of time performing our ‘art’, without feedback and without opportunities to learn from other professionals. It doesn’t make sense.”

    I think there needs to be a recognition that we aren’t in the ‘teaching business’, rather we are in the ‘learning business’, and if we aren’t constructing a teaching model that supports teachers in their learning then we need to redesign what a teacher’s day looks like!
    And so, yes, it is about student autonomy, thanks for your example… but I think my post was equally about teacher collaboration and teacher learning. I also asked in that comment:

    How do we embed ‘collaborative minutes’ into a teacher schedule? How do we create schedules that don’t just offer collaboration and teaming time, (such as common prep times), but rather schedule it as part of a teacher’s day?

    We need to figure out the teacher learning model and do it well, or I don’t think the student model will be scalable and effective across many schools any time soon. I like that you brought up the idea of using technology to manage the process, we definitely have tools now that we didn’t just a few years ago. And, in first asking “Why?” we want to use the tools, we can really start to develop some effective models of teacher collaboration to enhance both teacher and student learning.

    Way to keep the conversation and the thinking and learning going Brian!

  5. Hi Dave,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I also teach in ‘that’ district and totally agree with you about the learning teams. Although I appreciate common prep time with my team, I find that this is not the time where those pedagogical conversations we need take place. Instead, we fill this time talking about students, what’s happening in the school, meetings, etc. The learning teams are a much better venue for these conversations. I appreciate being able to choose my own pro-d which is far more valuable to me than any team meeting. I also appreciate being able to have those in depth conversations with other staff members who might not be on my team but have like interests. I appreciate being able to work in a district that is so ahead in their thinking when it comes to pro-d. What’s more, because of this model, I am much more aware of how I approach my teaching now and make sure that my students always have some say in what and how they learn.

  6. Thanks Carlan,

    Excellent point: “I appreciate common prep time with my team, I find that this is not the time where those pedagogical conversations we need take place. Instead, we fill this time talking about students, what’s happening in the school, meetings, etc.

    In my effort to describe, as you have, the value of dedicated time to pro-d with a network or community of peers, (in a dedicated time slot), I think that I also downplayed the value of common prep time which I think is very valuable… just for different reasons as you described.

    I’ve been talking to a German teacher (a parent at my school) and she is shocked by how much face-time our teachers have in front of kids… no time to think about practice, just time to prep for the next day’s classes. Chinese teachers here only teach about 50% of their day at school. I think this is a major flaw in the Canadian/US system… that teachers need to be pulled out of class to do professional development. Teachers need ‘learning time’ embedded into their day!

  7. I very much enjoyed this post. I appreciate your continuing challenge to make my classroom a place of learning and experimenting. Like most people, however, I just don’t know where to start. Innovation in your classroom can’t happen if you’re scared someone is going to come in and evaluate you based on a set of artificial criteria. Administrators say they support student learning, but if they come into your room and there are children “wandering around” or “not focused on instruction,” or (God forbid), “reading; disengaged from lesson'” you get a bad report. And there should ALWAYS be an essential question on the board. It is very easy to just follow the rules so that you can keep your job. Everyone on the same page. Face the front of the room (or sit in small groups). Be able to answer the essential question at the end of the lesson. Don’t talk out of turn. Copy these notes. It’s going to be on the test. And the next test and the next.
    I get disheartened.

  8. Great post Dave! One thing that jumped out at me right away watching the video is that whole concept of 10,000 hours to be an expert – if our students are in school almost 9,000 hours by the time they graduate than they’re just about ready to be “experts” at school. Just in time for college. How convenient.

    I completely agree with your post, and the need to change the way we structure school, but I can see what the challenge is: How do you account for those hours? How do you validate someone’s salary when they’re not in direct contact with students? What are they doing? Personally, this is something I worry about too (and I’m not in the US). Being a Learning Coach and not having many scheduled classes, I am always extra cautious to track my time to demonstrate that even if I’m not in a classroom I am working. I have been specifically told (in previous jobs) that admin wants a list of my hours and exactly what I’m doing each week, so it’s become force of habit. It doesn’t seem like we have a culture of respecting the professionalism of teachers, to trust that they will use that time for learning. Changing the culture is probably even more important (and more difficult) than just changing the schedule.

    One last thought, the whole concept of time for learning built into the work day fits in perfectly with your other recent post about balance. If I felt I could be doing some of my networked learning during the school day (which does benefit my school-related work, of course), it would go a long way toward helping me achieve balance. If we’re more balanced as individuals, we’ll be more effective as professionals as well.

  9. Yvonne,

    Kim’s comment is a better response than I can offer, “It doesn’t seem like we have a culture of respecting the professionalism of teachers, to trust that they will use that time for learning.” Or as Hargreaves says, we need “Responsibility before Accountability.”


    Yes, by college students are totally prepared and trained to do what the teacher wants them to do for the sake of the grade. Convenient… and sad.

    I read a post recently by Jeff Utecht, whom you have worked with, that said this:

    “Today at school I answered personal e-mail, updated my Facebook status, Tweeted, looked up flights for winter break, and even read articles that didn’t pertain to school.

    And they say we’re becoming less productive at work.

    What really is happening is the line between our work life and our social life is becoming blurred more and more every day.”

    and he continues:

    “Sure I use some of my work time to do social things, yet I get home from work after 3pm and answer work e-mails, text faculty members about a computer problem, and work on lessons and things that need to be done. So it’s an even swap. I’ll use some of your time, you can use some of mine.”

    But as true as that is, I think you are very wise to go beyond what is necessary to track your time and be accountable for it. You are in a rather unique job that many schools don’t offer and you’re helping to justify the value of that role, (as you use it).

    Are your blog posts about what you’ve done in your school ‘work’? When you read Daniel Pink or Don Tapscott, are you working? When you comment on blogs about the nature of our jobs, are you working?

    You mention my post on ‘balance‘, and because of the blurred lines between work and the rest of our lives, I agree with you and think it is more important than ever that ‘learning time’ needs to be fit into our work day… especially as professionals whose expertise should be ‘learning’.

    You really ‘nail the issue on the head’ when you say:

    “It doesn’t seem like we have a culture of respecting the professionalism of teachers, to trust that they will use that time for learning. Changing the culture is probably even more important (and more difficult) than just changing the schedule.

    I’m still trying to figure out the ideal model, ‘Learning teams’ as discussed in the first few comments, are definitely a working model, but a model that requires teachers to sign-up and is not embeded in their schedule.

    What can we do to adapt both the culture and the schedule of a school, to embed ‘learning time’ into what a teacher is expected to do?

  10. I do think reading, commenting and blogging could (should) be viewed as work, but I also think that’s very hard to understand for people who are not actively doing the same. The perception of people who spend work time not actively contributing to the school (although their learning will eventually develop into a school contribution) is not always a positive one – by colleagues or administrators. Therefore what we would consider “learning time” could look like “slacking time” to many others. Unfortunately in this kind of situation perception becomes reality, and suddenly there may be a loss of respect either for that person or their job. And, so we’re back at the question you left us with.

    Maybe we have to define what “learning time” means. By doing so, I know we will limit all that it could be, but at least it would be a start. And while we’re on that subject, space to actually be learning is pretty important too. How many teachers have to share classrooms, or are constantly interrupted when they work in the library or staff lounge. To be honest, I almost have to do my learning at home, because it’s the only space where I can fully concentrate. Another issue to address as we define learning time…

  11. Dave and everyone,
    I appreciate more than you know your taking my comments seriously. I do not work in a state that respects education at all. Our state education budget has been cut by 3/4 of a million dollars in 2 years. Our uber-conservative new governor and legistature are pushing for vouchers for children to attend private schools and for creating more charter schools (neither model is held to the same standards as public school). Our new governor wants to stop funding school buses and have a private company take that over. Districts would have to pay…while dealing with massive budget cuts. ALL professional development monies have been cut in my district. Teachers WANT to teach and learn here. We really do. I, like Kim, do a lot of my own learning at home…if teachers are not teaching here…and I mean in front of the class or sitting in on groups, we fall into the category of slackers. And that means our jobs are even less secure. I have some wonderful, creative students who would be fine with a lesson plan that says “This week you need to research, document and prepare a multimedia response to whatever.” (If I submitted that plan, I would be getting a phone call from admin!)I also have students who are conditioned to feel uncomfortable with inquiry. If I’m not in front of the class, they don’t know HOW to learn. This comment is long and bitter and shows my frustration and I apologize for that.
    I appreciate people like y’all who care, REALLY care, about teachers and learners and understand that everyone in every educational institution needs to be both.

  12. Hi Yvnonne,

    There is a disconnect here that I find disheartening. While Kim & I are trying to figure out a way to justify and account for a teacher’s non-instructional time, you are struggling with the need to account for every instructional minute of your day. The system you are in is simply not sustainable or healthy. I completely empathize and honestly wish I could do something to help. What scares me is that in the name of ‘reform’ it might not get better any time soon since the US government seems bent on the idea that greater standardization and improved test-taking will change the placement of America in the lower-middle of the pack in the ‘race to the top’ of the PISA rankings. Ironic given the advice shared in this post from an expert in Finland, the country that happens to be at the top of the ranking.

    I’m reminded of this satirical video and hope that you can find some comfort in the humour!

    I think we are talking at 2 distinct levels or at least about 2 different ideas. One pertains to what ‘we’ do, which means all of us that read, comment, tweet, question, and/or blog about education in an online learning environment… which takes up a lot of our time outside of school. I started writing this just after 5am and went to bed with ideas about my response in my mind. Like you, I’m not sure that this time can be easily justified as effective time during school and can easily be perceived as “slacking time”.

    On the other hand, there is the so-far-undefined “learning time” that we have been talking about. And, another issue on that topic which you bring up which is “learning space”, needed for the learning time. Here is where I see a marriage of sorts. I’ve written a bit about “Learning Spaces” specifically talking about my blog as one. I don’t think we would get very far insisting that all teachers blog, despite the fact that it’s the best professional development I’ve personally ever done… but there is a point here that I think we can work towards.

    What if teacher “learning time” were made accountable in a digital learning space? What if groups of teachers had time in their day to share, reflect, learn and prep, and they were accountable to share what they have done in a digital space… where others can learn from them and when necessary, they can demonstrate their effective use of that learning time. In the same way that administrators visit classrooms, they can also visit teachers on this time to follow along, offer suggestions and even participate in the learning. We wouldn’t want this time to be prescriptive like Yvonne’s instructional time seems to be now, but we would want that time to be time teachers are held accountable for in a meaningful way.

    If teachers are just given an ‘extra prep’, that won’t necessarily be an effective use of school time. If they are given “learning time” where they are accountable to a personally or group developed goal to improve student learning in some way, then I think this could be a rich learning opportunity… and an effective use of a teacher’s time! If the learning were then shared in a digital space, I think this inherently increases the personal accountability (with an authentic audience), and it provides us with working models for how to effectively use “learning time”.

    Just me thinking out loud. I’m really interested to hear what others think?

  13. Thank you for sharing such a provocative post, David. I learned much from watching the video about the educational beliefs of Finnish people. Reading the comments from others makes me realize that we are very fortunate to be working in BC – many of us see the possibilities and change is happening.

    Regarding the quote from Jeff Utecht: “Today at school I answered personal e-mail, updated my Facebook status, Tweeted, looked up flights for winter break, and even read articles that didn’t pertain to school. And they say we’re becoming less productive at work. What really is happening is the line between our work life and our social life is becoming blurred more and more every day.”

    I am reminded of something Dr. Antoinette O’berg (UVIC) was quoted as saying in 1995: “The boundary between one’s work and one’s personal life is permeable.  Teaching is an ongoing search.  It encompasses everything.  When the boundary between the personal and the public is put into question, it becomes an inquiry into how to live.”

    It seems to me that Finnish schools embody this belief and many of us here in BC do too!

  14. I love the idea of being held accountable for the learning time, that would go a long way towards not only valuing the time but also directly improving teaching practice.

    One thing that would make a huge difference is giving this time to all teachers. Part of my comment was referring to the fact that there are some teachers with lighter teaching loads (like mine) who might be scrutinized more closely (to validate our time), but if everyone was participating in this learning time (together or individually) then everyone would have an idea of how valuable it is. Certainly it would promote more creative thinking and hopefully more reflective practice.

    I want to promote this idea with my headmaster, who is very innovative, but I know it could be a hard sell – not because he wouldn’t be interested (he would) but because it would be hard to convince the board to have more teachers who do less teaching… How do you quantify the difference something like this could make?

  15. Love the video! Thank you. You’re right, the post is about non-instructional time…unfortunately, we aren’t allowed that right now. But I believe in what we do and I know that the kids who pass through my class have had the best of me. I appreciate your kind words.

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