We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that, reverse that.
My first ten years of teaching I participated in some amazing learning opportunities and some not so memorable. I recall the opening of school training where the teachers came to school four days before the students and two of the four days were the dreaded “required” training. We all knew we had to participate, but we also knew that the time spent was not going to impact our instruction on opening day. Most of us spent the time planning what we were going to do once they finally gave us our classroom keys.
However, not all of the professional learning I participated in was cringe-worthy. I loved learning new strategies and sharing ideas with my peers. Professional learning that challenged me and let me experience mathematics was my absolute favorite. However, I only had a few opportunities to participate in this type of professional learning. I had to find time outside the school day to attend workshops or meet with peers or share ideas with the teacher who I had the privilege of sharing a classroom with. Those conversations were meaningful and I was able to apply that knowledge immediately in my own practice.
In 2002, our district embraced a Professional Learning Community culture and at the time, I didn’t realize that I was embarking on a journey of truly understanding high-quality professional learning and experiencing job-embedded professional learning.
When we first started, it took time to learn how to work as an effective collaborative team. It took time learning from one another as we made sense of the standards, designed common assessments, and worked to collectively respond to student learning.
Think about your own professional learning and answer these questions:
- How did the experience make a connection between work and student learning?
- How did the experience ensure professional learning was focused on quality instruction and improved mathematical understanding?
- How did it create continual learning opportunities for learning, practice, reflection, and refinement?
- How did it grow you as a teacher and a colleague on a team?
- What were you able to immediately and routinely embed in your work as an educator?
Research says that professional learning should be ongoing and interactive (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). Here’s the challenge: TIME! Now, as a mathematics coach and consultant, when I ask teachers to reflect on their biggest challenges regarding teaching and learning, the number one complaint is time. Bad news – we cannot add more time to the day. However, the good news is that we can create opportunities within our limited time to ensure that we are engaging in continual learning. In honor of #teacherlove and Teacher Appreciation week, here are some ideas to give the Gift of Time to promote meaningful collaboration and continual professional learning.
TIME to watch colleagues teach
This year I have coordinated several instructional rounds and the collaborative teams have raved about being able to see each other teach. We start with three focus instructional questions (Example). The team members can either go observe each other during their planning period or the principal has provided substitute coverage. At the end of the rounds, we debrief and share the evidence observed that supports the instructional questions and opportunities for growth. Even though our observation is focused on three questions, every teacher has learned more than just the three focus areas and the teams can implement the new ideas immediately and ask for feedback from their peers as they try new ideas.
TIME to focus on student work
Most of teacher time spent on student work is the quick surface-level review of the work to score it or mark it complete. However, when using intentional mathematical tasks, student work can be a tremendous vehicle for teacher learning. Use looking at student work protocols to focus the conversations and have teachers look for the misconceptions and level of understanding. This conversation informs the choices of instructional practices and teams can share their strategies to promote deeper levels of understanding.
TIME to Plan
I’m not talking about surface-level planning. For example, “I am on 7.1 today and will be at 7.4 by Friday.” I mean focused conversations on the mathematical thinking behind the lesson, having already collectively determined the need for the lesson after making sense of the standards students must learn in the unit. Have collaborative teams share the mathematical “ah-ha” for the lesson – that moment when a light bulb of understanding shines for a student. Teams can share mathematical tasks and have conversations about why the task is the “absolute best” task that will elicit specific evidence of thinking that you and your collaborative team desire. I have seen teams have common planning time built into their weekly schedule or they are given one day every quarter to engage with their peers around planning and student work.
These Gifts of Time are examples of job-embedded professional learning, focused on student learning, and have strong connections between mathematics teaching and learning. They provide protocols and routines for continual learning by teachers on collaborative teams.
Sound off: What are other ways you have been given the gift of time to learn and grow as an educator with immediate classroom applications? I’d love to hear from you…
Darling-Hammond, L., Chung Wei, R., Andree, A., & Richardson, N. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.