You can’t have more time, but you can change how you use it

Meredith Mehra is the Deputy Chief for Teaching and Learning with the School District of Philadelphia. Marisol Rivera Rodriguez is the principal of Juniata Park Academy, a K-8 school in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia. Mira Berk Solomon is the School Based Teacher Leader at Juniata Park Academy.


We’ve all been there: “if I only had a few more hours in the day, I could…”  It’s a lot like the “if I had a bigger suitcase, I’d be able to fit everything” theory. No, you’d just find more stuff to squeeze in there!

The narrative of insufficient time is familiar to all of us in education, regardless of role. And, unless someone is on the verge of unlocking the secret of how to get more of it, the finite number of hours we’re given is something we must accept. The thing we have some control over is how we spend that time.

A large percentage of our schools in the School District of Philadelphia have teacher leader roles that include instructional coaching responsibilities. This requires an opportunity to see someone in action and then find time to provide feedback. There’s that word again – time!  

Educators who engage in the observation and feedback cycle spend a lot of time getting into classrooms and meeting with teachers. It takes time to visit classrooms, and it takes even more time to schedule the debrief with each teacher. The time it takes to determine who can meet before school, after school, during their planning period, during lunch, or on a professional development day can make it challenging for coaches to provide timely, relevant feedback. Once a coach has finished juggling the matrix, there’s little time to do all of the other things on their list , let alone visit more classrooms.

In Philadelphia, we have been experimenting with how school based teacher leaders (SBTLs) who serve as instructional coaches could maximize their time. Rather than waiting to meet with the teacher outside the classroom visit, we practiced giving feedback to teachers in the moment.

This initiated a collaboration among the Office of Teaching and Learning, the principal at Juniata Park Academy and their SBTL. We started with enhancing the coaching toolkit of the SBTL to include strategies for delivering quick, non-disruptive feedback in the moment when visiting a teacher’s classroom. This included coaching moves like whispering, passing quick post-its, signaling, and using dry erase boards. Rather than waiting a week to schedule a meeting to deliver feedback, we wanted to deliver it in real-time.

Consider coaching in sports. Would a coach allow her player to keep doing the same thing repeatedly for the entire game, without interjecting? No way. We need to think about teaching in the same way. The feedback is more meaningful when it’s delivered quickly,there is an opportunity to implement it, and to see the outcome right away. This approach allows muscle memory to build around behaviors we want to replicate.

Getting coached in real-time may not be the preferred method for every teacher or every coaching focus area. Part of the SBTL’s development included identifying what factors to consider when determining if real-time coaching should be used. It was essential to appropriately match the strategy with the person and the context. In addition to enhancing the SBTL’s coaching toolkit to include real-time coaching moves, we also worked on how to make adjustments so that the feedback is delivered in a manner that is not disruptive to the teacher and distracting to the students. We also noticed what types of feedback are more appropriate for real-time coaching and what feedback is best delivered through a more structured discussion.

We tracked anecdotal data about teacher and coach practice. As a result of the time saved by implementing real-time coaching, the SBTL was able to increase the number of classrooms she visited each week. And, because feedback was provided in real time, teachers were more likely to implement it, see the impact, and implement it again.

All of the teachers engaged in the coaching demonstrated at least a one point increase on the Danielson Framework rubric for the component(s) that the coaching addressed. Teachers noticed a change, too. A 5th-grade teacher initially had transitions between activities that took over 10 minutes each. As a result of real-time coaching, transitions in her room consistently now take 1-2 minutes, thus increasing the time for instruction.  

The headline remains the same; we’re not getting more hours in a day. How are we empowering coaches to think strategically about maximizing the time they have with educators to improve and refine their teaching practice?