Underrated: The Value Of Time And Teacher Growth

Paul Barnwell highlights what several Kentucky teachers have to say about professional learning in their schools.

If you teach, you already know of the herculean effort it takes to lead an effective classroom. There’s lesson and unit planning, of course, plus the creation and maintenence of classroom routines, parent contacts, student tutoring sessions, assessing student work, and countless other tasks to keep up with.

And while many school systems have made admirable efforts to embed Professional Learning Communities and other collaborative structures into the school day, there’s still not enough emphasis on professional learning to catalyze widespread teacher–and student–growth.

Emphasizing time for teacher collaboration and learning leads to improved student outcomes. But the sad reality is this: many teachers improve in spite of professional demands, not because of them.

After all, our planning periods are often chock-full of the aforementioned tasks, plus making copies, organizing supplies, tweaking lesson plans, and even–if we are lucky–a chance for a quiet breather or collegial cameraderie in the midst of the hectic school day.

We are charged with teaching as many students as we can during a class period, then repeat. Repeat again. Somehow, without ample time for reflection and extensive collaboration built into the school day, we’re supposed to get better at our craft. And while it’s easy to extol the seeming benefits of more “seat time” for students, the reality is that everyone misses out on deeper and more effective learning experiences when teachers aren’t empowered and encouraged to improve, to be the learners that we strive for our students to be.

There are many of us who have attended conferences on our own dime. Or participated in Twitter chats, webinars, and informal Professional Learning Communities at coffee shops or in virtual spaces. Most of this professional learning takes place outside the school day, cutting into time for family, friends, and other aspects of our lives we value and carve out time for.

Enabling teachers to be compensated and encouraged to be collaborators, creators, curious thinkers, writers, and readers during the school day is, unfortunately, far from the status quo. Yet evidence from this CTQ-Global TeacherSolutions report points to higher student achievement when teachers have more time to collaborate and learn with and from one another.

Here’s what some Kentucky teachers had to say about professional learning in their schools:

Our school has embedded professional development during our contracted one hour/month faculty meetings. Our administrative team makes a very good effort of using their teachers’ time wisely, and our teachers greatly appreciate that! However, it’s challenging to provide effective and useful professional learning opportunities for a wide range of teachers (K-5th grades) in one short time setting.

As we think about changes to a teacher’s day, I think we need to value lifelong learning enough to make it part of the day, not time away from our families. I think that research, service, collaboration, reflection, supervision, and facilitation should be part of a teacher’s job, but each need to be valued within the course of a teacher’s day if we truly want to change schools.

As a teacher, I reflect on my own practice and set personal growth goals. I did this long before PGES. Many times the PD offered by my school or district do not match my own professional goals. I feel frustrated at times with hours of required PD that does not align with my goals as a professional.

Teachers, please chime in: What experiences or structures are most effective in promoting your own professional learning? Is this learning built into your school day, or do you find yourselves working on your own time? If you had another hour built into your school day, what would you do?