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?

  • Eric Szczepkowski

    Helping Out


    I wanted to reach out after reading this, because I felt it falls under the same ideology.  We’re seeing a trend that students are spending more time studying on their mobile devices, and we’re developing an app called Ref-Ren (refrenapp.com) which encourages users to not only study on their mobile devices, but also create bibliographies and the ability to share them with their teachers and other students.  Would like to connect with you to see what you think!

  • bradclark

    Resource for This Convo


    Hey Paul, …about the idea of rethinking how we use time for professional learning purposes:  Not sure if you have seen this work, but the resources gathered there are fabulous.  May help to inform/frame how we reevaluate teacher time.

    • PaulBarnwell

      Thanks for the resource Brad-

      Thanks for the resource Brad–will check it out.

  • Sandra Trach

    Elementary Principal

    Great article! Excellent points! Here are some embedded professional learning experiences in our school: sandratrach.blogspot.com

  • KipHottman

    I have asked

    Hey Paul!

    I have discussed this topic with other KY teachers and asked if they have any time built in their schedules for PL.  The only thing somewhat similar was an extra collaboration period that a couple of teachers had at a previous school (not sure if it was in KY).  Where are there schools (in KY) truly focusing on time for PL built in the teacher day?  I have been searching but with no luck.  I am curious as to where this is working in our state.  Have you heard of anything?

  • Irene Salter

    How can you make this a reality?

    YES! It is absolutely essential to build in more planning and collaboration and co-teaching time. However, as an administrator, I’m forced to ask – can this be done without hiring more teachers and aides? Taking a look at the pre-post teachers schedules on the infographic, I’m left thinking that I would love to make these changes happen for our teachers. However, we’re struggling just to pay our existing teachers a living wage, let alone one that sets them up for a reasonable retirement. How can we build in co-teaching time and collaborative planning time and still balance the budget? Please share any ideas you have.