How To Appreciate Teachers? Give Them More Time.

May 7, 2020

There is no better way to appreciate teachers than by honoring their time and professionalism.  

Yet, in so many cases, time for deep, collaborative professional learning is minimal– 3 full days a year seems to be pretty standard, with common planning time during the day sprinkled here and there.

I recently conducted a programmatic review of a district that had not been able to budget full professional days for years.  This was rightly viewed by teachers and administrators as the greatest barrier to progress.

The need for professional development has been highlighted by the pandemic and the forced move to “distance learning”. 

In my home state of Rhode Island, the governor and education commissioner have responded to that need by issuing a common statewide calendar.  In it, they provide dedicated PL days as well as common vacation days.

This gives students a much-needed break. There’s no expectation of logging into a Google meet or needing to be on their screen. Some students, especially older ones might use that as study time as they prepare for AP exams.  But for younger students and their families, it’s a much-appreciated pause.

It also gives teachers protected time for professional learning without the expectation of also managing instruction.  As I talked with district leaders across the state, I found that the time is being used wisely.  Some are learning more about online teaching tools from district and state partners. Others are engaging in much-needed departmental or PLC teams.  Some of these meetings are synchronous, others are not.

It’s  wonderful that our state leaders recognize the need for protected professional learning time right now, as teachers are trying to navigate this unanticipated crisis.

Yet the need for professional learning isn’t crisis-dependent. 

And providing and protecting time for that learning should be a basic condition of the profession in this country (as it is in several other nations).

So, how do we create more time?

A few ideas…

  • State agencies can and should rethink “seat time” requirements–including the minimum number of days and/or instructional minutes.  We know, and this time is proving it, that with the right support and direction, students can manage time and assignments outside of the classroom walls.  
  • Districts can scaffold PD days so that district coaches and PL leaders (including teacher leaders) can work with groups of teachers over a series of days. That might mean a series of half days for students or some other formula that allows teachers time for collaboration.
  • Schools, especially middle and high schools, can allow for students to work independently and/or collaboratively  in libraries orsettings on or off campus and still have that “count” toward attendance.  That frees up teachers for more common planning time.
  • In elementary schools, forward-thinking teachers and principals can collaborate with outside agencies for authentic experiences on or off campus that give students meaningful learning while giving teachers collaborative time. Many grant opportunities can pave the way for this.  
  • We can increase the use of micro-credentialing or badging, allowing teachers to work at their own pace, on their own time.


Of course, once the time is created, it must be used well.  

To that I say, let your teachers lead the way.  

Far too many administrators are stuck in the compliance paradigm. 

  • We run sessions we think teachers need –and make sure there’s an administrator in the room to facilitate the work.
  • We have sign in sheets so we can track attendance.
  • We collect minutes and notes (and very likely never read them).

What if, instead, we trusted teachers to lead their own learning?

When I was an assistant superintendent, we created a district-wide professional learning steering committee.  Our district-wide Professional Learning Days (or Professional Development, as we called it then) had been met with “just ok” feedback.  In addition, the head of the paraprofessionals’ bargaining unit let me know that they were extremely dissatisfied with what the district had been providing for professional development.

So, we set about to change that–to put people in charge of their own learning.  Ultimately, two teachers became co-chairs of the committee and we collectively transformed the feeling of PD days.  Faculty and staff gave positive feedback and, more importantly, more ideas for improvement.  Some administrators attended sessions, others facilitated, some did a mix of both.  By the time I left the district, we had ideas and plans for even more personalized and asynchronous opportunities.

No babysitting.   No compliance.  Just lots of good learning–which translated into deeper and more joyful learning for our students. 

And with even more time, and more creative uses of time, we can do better and better by our students and ourselves.

So, let’s appreciate teachers with more than signs and gifts during a single week.  Let’s give them the time they deserve to hone their skills and their craft.  Let’s appreciate their intellect and expertise by giving them the gift of time. 


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“EVOLUTIONIZING” the Teaching Profession

September 21, 2016

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of listening and learning as four teams of teachers, including one from my own charter network, shared their stories of collaborative design thinking at the Business Innovation Factory. This “storytelling” event was the culmination of a six week project called TD4ED, in which teachers were given the space and time to consider a problem of practice and design their own solution.

While the four teams’ projects differed, a common thread appeared. Each team had clearly been energized by the autonomy given them and came out of the experience not only with a sense of empowerment and enthusiasm, but also with a tangible product to improve their schools.

Their enthusiasm was catching; I can honestly say that I teared up more than once, overwhelmed by this reminder of the collective power of teachers. But I was also left wondering whether I was doing enough in my role as a district leader to create the necessary space for such sparks to catch fire. After all, when I explored the concept of “change-mindedness” many years ago for my dissertation, I found partnership with colleagues as a key factor in contributing to that mindset. And the empowerment of teachers as a key lever for change guided my work in building professional learning communities when I worked as a consultant.

Yet, I know that I did not empower this team as much as this experience did. I wonder, have my core values changed? Or is there simply an incompatibility between the structure of school and the nature of innovation? What can we collectively do to give teachers the space, time and freedom to not only solve the problems in front of them but also to devise solutions before they even arise and to allow for the free-flow of ideas as Steven Johnson artfully discusses in his phenomenal book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation?

In describing the impact his team’s work can have on his school, one teacher used the term “evolutionize.” Indeed, thinking differently about teachers’ work and supporting their sense of purpose, power and partnership can both revolutionize and evolutionize both the profession and the field.

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