“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!”
Below is from my comment on Tom Grant’s post, CORE PRINCIPLES AND “PERSONALIZED LEARNING”, which also considers Andy Hargreaves ‘Catalyst of Coherence’ principle of “Responsibility before Accountability”. (My original references to this idea: posts 1 & 2)
I’ve been thinking a lot about these two [core principles] recently:
• Create time for staff to learn together, to make performance more consistent and effective across the school
• Embed the development work throughout the school’s systems and practices
It seems to me that educators in the west spend a disproportionate amount of school time in front of students and so the majority of what they do when not with students is simply to prep for the next day. (I’m actually in a BC modelled school and can say the same thing about my school here in China.)
But I’ve had some amazing conversations with educators from different parts of the world and it seems that accountability trumps responsibility for us where other programs like Finland and even Germany see it a different way.
To me the challenge is not to give teachers more free time, but rather to embed ‘learning time’ into the structure of their day. Sort of like a learning team, but not needing to pull teachers away from scheduled class to do so. How could this work in the current model? Should ‘instructional minutes’ be a ruler for which we measure a teacher’s job? If we are in the business of ‘learning’ then shouldn’t teachers make learning part of their day? Shouldn’t we be modelling learning in a systematic and embedded way?
Sorry to throw out so many questions without answers, I just wonder if we shouldn’t be looking at trying to create a structure that in and of itself becomes a ‘Catalysts of Coherence’.
It’s time for structural changes. We need to stop trying to build a better straw hut instead of building a brick house. The foundations of true change aren’t what we are going to do within the system, but changing the system so that the foundations of learning are ever-present, (for students, teachers and our community), and embedded in our new houses of learning.
Easier said than done! I’ve watched, year-after-year, as schools have struggled simply to maintain services in an era of budget cuts. It’s a painful modus operandi which leaves the status quo as desirable, since the alternative is to offer less or to stretch resources more. But I also think resistance may run deeper than this as well. As Kim Cofino eloquently said in a comment:
“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?“
Less teaching time is not equal to less work, but if this time is not used in a thoughtful and clearly outlined way, that will indeed be the perception (and in some cases the reality). There needs to be planned outcomes for this ‘learning time’, not prescribed to but rather designed by teachers.
– – –
This amazing project required teachers to meet on their own time, to work as a team across disciplines, and to model life-long learning to their students… as they openly share, the rewards were great! However, while the required meeting time with other colleagues goes outside of a teacher’s day, projects like this will be the exception rather than the norm.
I worked at a school where we did a Renaissance Fair. For just over two weeks core subjects were shut down and all Grade 8 students across six (and in some years seven) classes took ‘cross-disciplinary courses’ on the Renaissance. First, teachers designed courses such as “Leonardo Da Vinci and Inventions”, Warfare, Medicine, “Bard in the Courtyard”, Lifestyle, and Architecture. Then, students filled out resumes and application forms and applied to these classes based on their favourite ‘course’ outlines, provided in a brochure.
Each student took two courses, 80 minutes a day for 10-12 classes, in which they had to build/design/create cumulative projects that they needed to display/perform/present at a large Renaissance Fair in our school gym. It was an amazing project that took hours of preparation, planning and ultimately learning on behalf of the teachers. We did this on the backs of our student teachers. Every year we would have 1-3 student teachers for our Grade 8 teachers and while they taught, we organized. It was our way of creating the time necessary to get the fair ready. Leading up to the project there would be weekly before-school meetings with all class teachers, student teachers, and support staff (who helped our struggling students that very often shined in what they produced for this project).
These are two great projects that required a disproportionate amount of planning and learning by teachers compared to time offered within a teacher’s day. As someone who coordinated the Renaissance project, I’d often ask my self in the middle of the project, “Why am I doing this?”, and then when we had the fair, and I saw all the incredible student work, I got my answer.
– – –
To me the challenge is not to give teachers more free time,
but rather to embed ‘learning time’ into the structure of their day.
But we are challenged with this question:
“How do you quantify the difference something like this could make?“
And the answer is that we need to showcase what is possible when we embed learning and collaboration time into a teacher’s day. We need to find examples that work, and more than anything we need to think BIG. We have to be grand in our intentions with what we want to do with this time. We also need to justify and account for how we use the time and really have it improve learning at the student level.
Beyond that, district-level leadership needs to think about how labour is budgeted at our schools. Until this happens, most of the amazing cross-disciplinary projects that we will see will happen despite the structures that be, rather than because of them. We are in the learning business, teachers need learning time as part of their scheduled day.